Homeschool Planning, Expectations and Child-Led Learning

I’ve been reflecting a lot on our first year of homeschooling and what worked best for us. There were days that went so well and others that went terribly. I have a tendency to force things sometimes, particularly art and handwriting. I have this idea of how things should look and sometimes I forget that I’m working with a 7 and 4 year old…

The two things that could ruin a perfectly good day were – not planning our day out and having unrealistic expectations of my children and myself. As I plan for the upcoming year, I am constantly taking these two things into consideration. 

A few living history books we will read this year. Many more are on my Amazon list or will be checked out from the library.

Last year my oldest, Draven, was in 1st grade and we used Ambleside’s curriculum guide that follows Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching. I have really grown to love the use of what Charlotte Mason describes as living books to teach children a range of subjects from history to geography to science and beyond. Oftentimes you can combine subjects with living books. 

A few months into last school year I made adjustments as some of the books have difficult language for a six year old, and sometimes for his mom as well. This year I’m feeling a bit more adventurous and have created my own syllabus based around living books and tailored to our interests (a copy is at the bottom of this post if you can’t wait). I did keep a few books Ambleside suggested and we are following their bible guideline because I think it’s spot on. 

Read aloud literature selections for Draven. The third book from the left is My Side of the Mountain, one of my husband’s favorite childhood books.

We won’t follow the syllabus exactly every week but it will be used asmore of a guideline so we don’t leave anything important out and stay on track for the year. We may not even get to everything because sometimes we end up spending longer on a book or subject matter or discover something else that interests us. This is where child-led learning comes in and where it’s important for me to keep my expectations in check. While I’ve created our curriculum around my children’s current interests, I’ve also left room for things that spark new interests and am willing to deviate a little from our original plan. So keep in mind as I share my syllabus, that it is a working document and will most likely be edited several times as our interests develop. My plan is to share resources, successes and failures throughout the year. 

Independent reading for Draven based on current interests.

Our day starts around 7:30 with breakfast. I typically read a few poems aloud while they eat. We don’t analyze anything at this time, just read and enjoy the words. We also work on memorization before leaving the table. For September we will be reciting The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegience and Karate Concepts 1-4 (something they must memorize for belt tests at their karate school). After breakfast we move to the backyard or living room to practice yoga. My kids love doing yoga with me and especially enjoy meditating. This doesn’t last longer than 10 minutes and it’s a great way to get focused for the day. They may practice their karate forms at this time as well. We always end our yoga time with prayer and daily intentions. 

Give Your Child the World has over 600 book recommendations from around the world. We will be studing a continent each month using these books and also working through our Pin It Maps curriculum.

The majority of our work is done between 8:30 and 12. Draven will work on math independently after a little instruction (we use Math Mammoth) and I will give Cullen his reading lesson (we are working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons). I realize it’s early to teach reading (Cullen is 4) but he is very interested so we will through the lessons as long as he stays engaged. I will read aloud several stories for both boys and we will work on a map project (using Pin It Maps) or watercolor painting. We use Waldorf’s wet on wet water coloring technique. It’s quite easy and always turns out beautiful (expectations friends).

Examples of Draven’s original books, narrations and science diagrams from last year.

The kids will then have a bit of free time to play while I get lunch ready. After lunch, the paintings are dry and we use them as base for Draven to write his narration and Cullen to write letters and simple words. They create beautiful backgrounds for their work. If you’re unfamiliar with narration, it is simply the retelling of a story back in your own words. This is our writing, grammar and spelling rolled into one activity. Last year, I had Draven tell me each narration after a story while I wrote it down. I read it back to him and we made changes together before he copied it onto his paper. As he copied, we focused mainly on handwriting and punctuation. This year he will be writing his narrations from memory which is much more difficult but will allow us to go deeper with grammar and sentence structure.  After the boys are done writing, they will add an illustration to go with their story.
A few of our favorite science resources. The open book on the bottom left is Cellular Biology by Super Smart Science Series. I highly recommend these books! The boys also enjoy working through the Awesome Science Experiments and playing with their circuit board.

After narrations are complete, the boys may work on a science project, craft project, or Spanish, which is done Online through Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids. This is their only source of technology in our school day and a treat they look forward to.
Read aloud selections for Cullen. The top right book is The Jesus Storybook Bible which has the sweetest stories and most beautiful illustrations. My other favorite is Over the Hills and Far Away, a collection of nursery rhymes from around the world.

Mixed in throughout the day, the boys are helping with household chores and their baby sister. Cullen may play with Storie while Draven and I read a difficult book and Draven may read books with Storie while Cullen and I practice sounding out words. 

Several of our nature study resources. Much of our free play will be centered outside in the garden or on nature walks. The brown nature journals are by Molskin. We use colored pencils to draw and label plants and animals.

We are so fortunate to be involved in a wonderful co-op this year that meets every Monday for additional literature, art and science studies. We also attend classes at our local library and parks, lead a Wild Explorers Club, regularly go on field trips, train in karate and Draven will begin guitar lessons this fall.

Below is our syllabus for September which outlines our core reading, written work, memorization and all other activities. I also created a weekly schedule to reference until we get back into the flow of regular school days. I’m happy to send one or both in excel form if you comment below with your email. Currently, I’m researching Waldorf methods for Cullen and Storie and plan on sharing our daily rhythm soon. Happy homeschooling friends!

Operation Police Project

“Everyday he sees people on the worst day of their life,” she said.

I let that sink in.

My friend was talking about her husband who is a police officer in Austin. Strangely I had never thought about his job that way. I have always had the upmost respect for police officers; they protect our neighborhoods and keep our families safe. But until recently I never really thought much beyond that. I didn’t think about the deplorable things they must see, the disrespect they endure, the life or death decisions they may have to make, the uncertainty they must feel when pulling someone over, the beloved families they leave each day not knowing if they will see them again.

And the plain and simple fact that they don’t have the luxury of having a bad day.

Everyone they serve is having a bad day. 

I want our officers to have more good in their days and just feel valued by the people they serve. 

The kids and I normally do small acts of kindness together throughout the year like handing out granola bars to the homeless or taking food to the food bank but it just occurred to me that we could serve our police officers. This would be so easy to do with children and a special way to show our appreciation to those who really need it now. Plus, police officers are like super heroes to my boys. So Operation Police Project begins! Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with so far but I’m hoping some of you reading this may have more insight and offer suggestions.  

  • Take snacks to our local police department like cookies, fruit or chips.
  • Make handmade cards to just say thank you and drop off at a local station. 
  • Talk to a police officer and tell them thank you when when see him or her out. 

  • Offer to buy an officer coffee or lunch at a restaurant. 
  • Tell the police officers you know (and their families) that you appreciate what they do everyday to keep us safe. And keep telling them. 
  • This last one is more for my husband and me and it’s to simply be kind in all interactions with law enforcement, even when, especially when, it’s hard (see my post from last week). 

I would love any suggestions friends, especially from those of you close to a police officer. We want to serve them in the best way possible! 

A few notes:

The lovely pictures of our family were taken by the talented Amy Melsa. 

Don’t forget that politics and the media thrive on division. We don’t have to choose friends. #blacklivesmatter #bluelivesmatter #chooseunity

Compassion, Kindness and Gentleness

We just arrived home yesterday from our family vacation on the coast of Florida. For some crazy reason we decided to drive the 788 miles from Texas with our three kids. My husband thought it would be a good idea to leave around 2am so the kids could sleep for the first leg of the trip. So off we went last Saturday in the middle of the night.

We hadn’t been driving for more than an hour when we got pulled over. We were on the side of the highway so the officer came to my side of the car. I had my window rolled down and he asked us to roll the window down behind us (they are heavily tinted). He shined his light in the back where all three kids were sleeping. I was already annoyed (mostly at my husband for speeding) but at this point I snapped at the officer telling him that my baby was asleep. He immediately let us roll the windows back up and asked us where we were headed. We told him we were going to Florida on vacation. Then he explained to my husband that he was going over 15 miles above the speed limit and that’s why he stopped us. He asked if there were any weapons in the car to which my husband replied yes and pointed to the glove box. He asked him if he had a concealed weapons permit and my husband said no. End of conversation. He looked at my husband’s license and sent us off with a warning telling us to be safe. And that was that.

My goal in sharing this is not to condemn the officer who pulled us over or make broad generalizations about the mindsets of our police force who risk their lives each day. But as the week went on and the tragedies started happening I really began to wonder if our traffic stop would have been different if our skin was a different color. I was outraged, devastated, and felt completely helpless. I looked around and everyone everywhere seemed to be enjoying their vacation without a care in the world but I couldn’t stop thinking about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. My husband patiently listened to me sort through everything that happened. I monopolized conversations and sobbed through our date. Then finally he gently pointed out that this is not a police problem or a black problem or a white problem, it’s a heart problem. We have barriers up that prevent us from uniting but we must begin to break down the walls that divide us if we ever want peace. And I realize now that this change has to start from within. So I made a list, because that’s what I do, and I’m sharing in case anyone else is struggling with where to go from here. Here goes:

– I will pay attention and speak up when I spot injustices because silence is acceptance. 

– I will teach my children from a non-European perspective, our country’s real history and how it was founded on the exploitation of African slaves and indigenous people. 

– I will commit to seeing things not through my own privileged lenses but through others whose life experiences and realities are so much different than mine. 

– I will strive to make real, genuine friendships with people who are not like me even when it is outside my comfort zone.  

– I will wrap my arms around the people I know in my community who are affected the most by prejudices – my black brothers and sisters, my LGBT brothers and sisters, my Hispanic brothers and sisters and the police officers I have the privilege of knowing. 

– I will try to spot and overcome my own racial biases that were ingrained in me and be brave enough to confront them. 

– I will surround myself with people who challenge me and gently guide me to think outside my very small worldview as a white American. 

– I will remember that everyone’s individual experiences shape how they see the world and be kind and patient with those who see things differently than me. 

– I will engage in rational, non-emotional dialogue with others who’s views may be different than mine in hopes that we can better understand each other. 

– I will choose unity over division always. 

We are so much stronger united friends. May we all choose compassion, kindness and gentleness.