And so it begins…
We are officially in our second year of homeschooling, although I have to admit it almost feels like our first ‘real’ year. Last year was Kindergarten in the midst of a massive home remodel, so we had to keep things fairly flexible for sanity’s sake.
This year we have our books and learning aids organized in a special cabinet (instead of cardboard storage boxes) and unlike last year, there’s actually a real table to sit around as we do our lessons. Oh yeah man, we’re pretty legit.
As I ruminated over last year and planned for this upcoming year, I found my reasons for choosing homeschool a second time mirroring our reasons last year— we want to have our kids home so they can partake of our, um, ‘unique‘ lifestyle and so they can be free to learn and explore their passions outside of societal boundaries and expectations.
(And before anybody even goes there, no, I don’t think homeschool is for everyone. Truly, I don’t. Therefore, the intention of this post is not to judge or condemn anyone who chooses public schooling. Heck, who knows? Our kids could end up there sometime in the future. As much as I love it, homeschooling is not my sacred cow.)
As a second-generation homeschooler myself, I love the overall shift I’ve seen in the cultural perspective of homeschooling. As a homeschooled kid growing up in the nineties, I was often prodded and harassed about not attending public school. When it came to the idea of home education, most people were at the least, quite skeptical, and at the most, pretty hostile. As a result, I became very comfortable answering awkward, and often inappropriate, questions from acquaintances and random strangers about my spelling ability and level of socialization.
(Side note: I do think that’s part of the reason I’ve always been so comfortable being a freak… Which led me to choose homesteading, and milk cows, and blogging as a career, and well, you know the rest of the story… But I ain’t complaining.)
Anyway, it’s been encouraging to see people’s acceptance of homeschool change for the positive, overall. Oh sure, I’ve still had a person or two flare their nostrils and say through clenched teeth, “Oh really…” when I’ve told them we’re homeschooling the Prairie Kids this year, but those people are much fewer and far between than they used to be. (And when they do that, I have to fight to urge to say, “Seriously honey… that reaction is SO 1995…“)
Of course, homeschooling can be done poorly. But so can public schooling. And so can just plain parenting for that matter. But when done right? Homeschool is a beautiful thing.
As we go into our second year, I have to say my schooling-style is somewhere in the middle between full-on unschooling and a more rigid, classical-style education. I like being in the middle.
I’m not your typical homeschool mom with a giant planning binder and every teeny detail mapped out, and we don’t have a schoolroom that mimics a traditional classroom. Not that there is anything wrong with those things in the slightest– it’s just not who I am.
That being said, I’ve found keeping a loose structure to our school IS vital to my sanity. There are too many moving pieces of my life to not have some semblance of routine in our homeschool activities. We’re definitely not rigid, but I do make a point to have the kids dressed, fed, and with their chores done so we can start by 8am. Trying to cram other tasks or projects in before we start school generally ends in disaster.
Our First Grade Curriculum
I went back and forth and back and forth over curriculum this year. At first, I thought I wanted an all-in-one type curriculum, but after looking through many, many options, I decided to piece together my own curriculum once again this year. I just couldn’t find something that really fit Prairie Girl’s specific strengths and weaknesses, and many of the packaged curriculum sets I looked at seemed like they had a lot of fluff in them. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s fluffy. Give me solid, proven basics, please– I can’t stand busywork.
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We worked through a good portion of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons last year, and Prairie Girl did well with it. She knows all her letter sounds, and is fairly comfortable sounding out 3-5 letter words. But while she can technically “read,” her level of mastery isn’t quite where I’d like it to be, so I decided to take from a different angle and try The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. The initial lessons are pretty remedial, but I already see her confidence being built back up after the summer off. And bonus– Prairie Boy (almost four years old) sits at the table with us during reading and has been picking up on his letters and sounds at the same time.
Language arts have always been my strength, but Prairie Girl seems to gravitate towards math… We went with Singapore Math this year, which I really like so far. There are three books for each grade/level– a teacher’s guide, a textbook, and a workbook. The teacher’s guide explains the nuances behind the concepts and shows how to introduce them with blocks, cards, or other aids. The workbook and textbook correspond to drive home each concept. We’ve been using our set of Unifix cubes quite a bit too, which works well as Prairie Boy can practice counting or patterns with the blocks while Prairie Girl is working on her problems from the textbook.
We are using Handwriting Without Tears. It’s fairly basic, but the lessons are inviting and easy to understand. I think we did have tears one day, but that’s just a six year-old girl for ya….
This is one area of our curriculum where I’m really taking the unschooling approach– because our life is one great big science experiment, y’all. I do have The Curious Kid’s Science Book and several human body books we’ll do projects from occasionally, but the Prairie Kids get a hefty dose of science in our everyday life. This week we did an experiment from the Curious Kid’s book about floating and sinking… And I promptly realized they were rather bored with the “experiment” because they spent a large portion of the summer dunking stuff in the stock tank to see what would float… So yeah…
A few other science examples from our homestead life:
- The kids were front and center when we pulled a giant grub (bot fly larvae) out of what we *thought* was an abscess on the barn kitten a couple weeks back. I was grossed out, but they thought it was awesome. And that jump-started multiple conversations about the life cycles of insects. (And no, you didn’t see that on my Facebook page, because I was too scared to post it… haha)
- Last month we bred our cattle via artificial insemination–a little tricky to explain to a 6 year-old, but still…
- Last year Prairie Girl and I hid in the grass and watched Oakley the milk cow have her calf. Afterwards, she helped me clean off the afterbirth, which prompted further discussion about placenta, colostrum, meconium, and so on.
- We pick fresh herbs for supper most nights, which is the perfect time for plant identification lessons. Prairie Boy can easily identify most of the herbs in the garden by both sight and smell. And they get to taste-test as they go, of course, which is extra learning incentive…
- Prairie Husband always has some sort of project happening– right now he’s working on building a new shop. The kids are constantly out in the middle of his projects and pick up on a surprising amount of information. Last week Prairie Girl told me a nut had fallen off her bike. I told her I’d go out and fix it for her in a bit, to which she replied, “It’s OK mom, I already fixed it with a wrench.” Sure enough, when I went out to check later and she had dug through the tool box until she found the proper-sized wrench to re-attach the wayward nut properly to her bike.
I heard glowing review after glowing review about The Story of the World, so decided to give it a try this year. So far, it’s a hit! Some days we sit on the couch and read chapters aloud, and other days we work on corresponding craft projects or map work. Our Lego pyramid and Nile River was pretty sweet, if I do say so myself. At first I just purchased the textbook, but ended up grabbing the corresponding activity book after the fact. Because my brain doesn’t have capacity to come up with ultra-creative crafts on its own.
We’re not perfect…
…but I’m really enjoying homeschool on the homestead this year. And just so you don’t get the wrong idea from the idyllic-looking photos above, we definitely have days that look more like this—>
But we persevere. Because isn’t that one of life’s biggest lessons anyway? Just keep going and don’t quit on a bad day.