“a weekly portrait of each of my children in 2014″
liam // I found you inspecting a spider, studying the way it slowly moved along the garage door. You’re always so full of wonder.
burke // You all received a microscope and telescope from Jordan and Christa last Christmas. This week, you’ve taken particular interest in the microscope, observing the composition of everything from leg hair to Squeak’s food.
blythe // I bought a new laundry basket this week and twice found you playing hide-and-seek in it, your hair camouflaged by the woven grass.
olive // I find you jumping on my bed regularly, which I mind less now that our yard is bare of a playground or swing. This particular time, you needed sunglasses. And your layers of mis-matched stripes, too.
When I was pregnant with Liam over a decade ago, I walked into a local baby store planning to itemize a few things we would need. I had expected the process to be easy. I would enter the store, write down a few favorite items, and leave. Instead, I was paralyzed. In each category from breast pumps and bottles to monitors and carriers, I discovered several options, each touting some award they had won or the latest technology or the best safety ratings. Overwhelmed, I promptly turned and left the store. I had no idea what I needed.
I felt similarly when I first entered the word of homeschooling and had to begin choosing curriculum. The vast variety of options and styles buried me. Really, I get it. Curriculum varies because homeschoolers vary. We all have different goals and styles, but when you’re first beginning, it can be too much, even enough to send you packing out door. It’s one of the reasons I have tried (sporadically) to share the resources I use here, to give you an idea of what we use and how we use it. Before I continue, let me first tell you: you don’t need to outfit a full classroom to begin homeschooling. Over the years, we have accumulated a library worth of books from used book stores and gifts, but we began with a very small cabinet containing art supplies, reading and math curriculum, handwriting paper, and a chalkboard wall. It can be that simple. What I share below is in the context of my own children who now run the breadth of grammar school–Olive (age five, Kindergarten) to Liam (age 10, 5th grade). To save money, I have bought several gently used curriculums via homeschool classifieds (craigslist for homeschoolers) and also keep my ears open for local book fairs, especially the ones where parents have tables to see curriculum they are finished using. I also try to keep a mental tab of supplies we need and list them on our chalkboard wall, so when family or friends ask about birthday or Christmas gifts, I can refer to it. These are helpful tips because if you haven’t noticed yet, the tab to homeschool can rise as quickly as baby necessities (which every parent knows you don’t always need anyway).
With that said, using curriculum offered me a concrete point of reference, a stepping stone into confidence as a home-educator. Over the years, I have learned how to teach complex math and grammar concepts to my children, how to correctly pronounce letters or organize them to spell a word. I have learned about the elements of shape and the parallel histories of different religions and cultures. Although I leaned heavily on teacher guides with my oldest, I do less now for my younger ones, using what I have learned to lead or direct our days. I have a very eclectic approach to education. I began staunchly in the classical camp and have over time borrowed methodologies from Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, and even a bit of Waldorf. This is the glory of home-education: it will and can change shape in different seasons of life. We currently rely heavily on what Charlotte Mason referred to as ”living books,” books that teach you through interesting narration, like the Burgess Bird Book or the Story of the World (see more book ideas via Ambleside). Inspired by classical education, I memorize tons of facts, poetry, and Bible scripture alongside my children each year using Classical Conversations curriculum. We use several different types of manipulatives (concrete things that represent abstract concepts) whenever possible as Maria Montessori encouraged. We do limit our technology usage, which is becoming more and more difficult as my kids get older–let’s talk more about this another day–and try to spend as much time as possible outdoors when it’s not August in Texas. (wink.)
Since I regularly get questions about the curriculums/books we use each year, I thought I mights share a few with you here. I hope you see this list in the context above. Honestly, there are several wonderful choices out there. This is currently where we are:
READING // When my boys were learning to read, I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This reading program was both economical and easy to use without planning. The first 20 lessons or so are quite simple and give the child a sense of progression and accomplishment. Although it does teach phonetics, it’s not in the linear approach most reading lessons use. It trains the child to read with the phonetic symbols, which can sometimes be confusing for parents. It is a great program, and more importantly, it works! With my busy-bee daughters, I switched to All About Reading, which complemented the spelling program we were already using and gave them color sheet or cut-and-paste activities with each lesson. They love it. The program uses a mixture of memorization of phonograms, pre-made activities (your child can cut and paste), and leveled readers. The downside of AAR is it’s a tad expensive, as you have to buy each level as they progress (on average one level per year). Also, for children (or parents) who don’t enjoy pre-made activities, you may find this curriculum cumbersome.
MATH // Saxon (if you’re interested in Saxon curriculum and are new to it, here’s a brief Saxon placement test to know which level to begin with). Right now Saxon is 20%off here. We began with Saxon after it was recommended to us several times in the beginning. We switched to Teaching Textbooks for a year, which was easier for me (and a really fun curriculum), but I realized I didn’t keep as close an eye on where my son was, meaning I didn’t know how to review the concept in the same way TT did. We switched back to Saxon the next year. Other recommendations: MathUSee
SPELLING // All About Spelling (Blythe). This program is multi-sensory and wonderful for younger spellers, but can become tedious for older children. I’m using Phoentic Zoo this year for both of my boys. It’s an auditory approach to spelling and begins with older elementary age students. They have a placement test also if you’re interested and unsure where to begin.
HISTORY // I have used the Story of the World for years and love it. More importantly, the kids love it. We have learned so much, even though we’ve progressed slowly through the four volumes. I love the curriculum’s flexibility for ages and time. You can easily adapt it to your family’s needs or just listen the audio. You can read more of how our family uses this curriculum over here.
SCIENCE // We have never used a formal science curriculum. Instead we read tons of library books, create occasional experiments, and take plenty of nature walks, especially in the cooler seasons. Several years ago, my in-laws gave our kids these Character Sketches, read-a-loud nature studies/stories that teach a Biblical principal and where that principal is illustrated in nature. This is fairly conservative curriculum and directs a lot of teacher direction to the father, which would be ideal but doesn’t always work in our family homeschool routine. Just so you know. (Wink.)
HANDWRITING + KEYBOARDING // I’ve used Handwriting Without Tears from the beginning at the advice of a dear friend who is also an Occupational Therapist, and I’m so grateful. I love it for so many reasons and have included it in several of my preschool posts. If you’re interested in HWT and want some ideas of where to begin, I wrote out what you’ll need here. Also, HWT introduced a new keyboarding program this year I plan to try. I’ll let you know how that goes.
ENGLISH GRAMMAR // In the early elementary years, I have used First Language Lessons and at other time they have simply memorized parts of speech, lists of prepositions and irregular verbs via Classical Conversations’ curriculum. I’ve also led an English grammar and writing class, called Essentials, through a local chapter of Classical Conversations for the last four years. This year our family is taking a break to give some room in our budget and routine. I plan to use the grammar curriculum with both of my boys still this year because I’m so familiar with it. Unfortunately, it’s such an intense and differently structured program, so CC prefers you’re apart of a campus to use it. Alternatively, I recommend First Language Lessons or Shirley Grammar.
WRITING // In the early elementary years, once they can easily write their letters, my children do tons of copywriting and dictation. Sometimes I have used a formal curriculum like Writing With Ease, but in recent years have leaned more toward pulling sentences out of our current read-a-loud or a recently read poem. The kids often practice dictation with their independent reading (having to summarize what they read in a chapter) or during our history reading. This year, the boys and I will use one of the Institute for Excellence in Writing‘s Theme-based writing, most likely this one.
I recently read a Twitter chat between a cluster of homeschooling moms mourning that one had recently been asked which curriculum to use for a three-year-old. Although these moms were well-intentioned in their encouragement of one another allowing young children to learn naturally, their very public chat seemed to simultaneously outcast a different group of homeschooling parents, possibly the ones who lean toward a more traditional approach or who are new to homeschooling in general. Although I tend to agree with many of these women’s philosophies now, I felt compassion for this anonymous woman asking about curriculum. At one point, I would have asked the same. I didn’t have a clue about homeschooling when we began, and although I felt confident as a parent, my traditional public schooling had created a sort of dualism within me regarding education: things I learned at home and things I learned at school. Over the last few years, these artificial walls have been crumbling, and I’m becoming more relaxed and confident with my own style and my own children’s triumphs and struggles. But it hasn’t always been this way. In the beginning, I planned and organized and used more formal curriculums at younger ages. I wanted my kids to be school-educated–an isolated category in my mind at the time. Most importantly, I wanted to alleviate that nagging question, “had we done the right thing?”
Perhaps that word right or best is the most confounding when removed from a specific context. For instance, what is right in relation to how we each learn or manage our family? The beauty of parenting is the unique journey. As parents, we will always have something to teach and something to learn. This is how we come to need other people in our lives–even when we choose different paths. Even within households, parents will vary in degrees, and children can be as different as moon and sun, connected and individual in purpose and disposition. At five, one of my children balked at math lessons while another at the same age requested them. One of my children learned to read fluently at four and another not until age seven. I have friends whose older children still struggle with reading for various reasons. They have learned other ways to inspire their children’s learning in the process. I know parents who formally structure their days and others who allow their children to choose the day’s agenda. I know amazing parents who homeschool, who particpate in part-time homeschool programs, and plenty who send their kids to school and find ways to enrich their education during breaks and summers. Is there a right way? Certainly not. And I hope that in this process, we are always generous with grace for one another and our children. Educational preferences and learning styles are as personal as any other family routine. There can be overlap with another family’s choices, but in the end, it’s your story; be courageous and considerate when sharing your own.
*I took this image on my phone, so it’s a little grainy.
liam // You finally finished another level of math this week, through much perseverance, I might add. Most days, you’d rather draw or read or play. You’re currently working on a series of graphic characters for a story you and your brother are working on together. I love the care you take with each one’s details.
burke // You are forever my daydreamer, drifting into thoughts like the clouds.
blythe // Although you have a determined personality, you love to be silly. This side of you often shows up in the most unsuspecting moments.
olive // You’re going to a brief dance camp with your sister this week. I found you practicing in the yard in one of Blythe’s old costumes, focused. You put all of yourself into whatever you do.
Due to poverty, several families in Ghana are regularly forced to sell their children to those who promise a better life for their kids–a life with food, housing, and education. Instead, these children become slaves in the fishing industry around Lake Volta. For the last few years, our friends at Mercy Project have been working to change a cycle of child slavery in the Ghanaian fishing industry. Through building relationships within the community, educating Ghanaians on aquaculture fishing, Mercy Project is rescuing and rehabilitating these child slaves, collaboratively working to educate and ultimately restore these children to their families. You can read more about their entire process here.
So why am I sharing this with you? Chris Fields, the Founder and Director of Mercy Project, is also an avid runner. As a result, Mercy Project began a local marathon here to help raise money for the work happening in Ghana. Well, right now, Chris is in a contest for the December cover of Runner’s World, where he hopes to share more about this work. Although I don’t often ask these sort of things here, I think the Mercy Project’s work is important enough: Would you please vote for Chris today? It won’t cost you anything and takes 10 seconds, literally. You can vote once a day until the contest ends August 15.
Thank you, friends. (And so you know, I was not compensated in any way for this post.)
Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. — Henry James
Last weekend we traveled south to a sweet family wedding near the coast. With buying and working on our home this summer, travel has been minimal, more often equating to spurts of quality moments and experiences in the everyday normality. I use the word normality loosely. Although the weekend was brief and our beach time even briefer, it was good to lather our souls with sand and salt and sun for an afternoon. We rode a ferry and climbed the jetties, watching sea turtles dive for food and various fish wiggle by us. With sticky bodies, we moved to a more remote beach, where we floated on the waves, collected mollusks, jumped from the dunes, and chased the sun and seagulls until our bellies grumbled for dinner. It was the most beautiful of summer afternoons, the most beautiful summer gift.
I woke up this morning at roughly 3:00am unable to go back to sleep. After tossing around for a while, I decided it was a good time to catch up on this portrait project here–one of the many parts of this blog that has suffered in all of our transitions. Have I told you yet how difficult it is to maintain normal routines while living in a house you’re renovating? I thought so. Just double-checking. Each day we are focusing more on closure to projects and putting things in their proper space, and I admit, it feels really good, like sleeping in your bed after traveling. It’s the return of something familiar. I’ve been working on some exciting things for the Wild and Free conference coming up in September; are any of you going? I would love to meet up if you are! Like most everything else in our life right now, we’ll be doing a few things differently with our homeschool next year, so I’m beginning to brainstorm what our homeschool routine will look like and create my school shopping list. I’ll share more of that soon. As for this space, due to limited time and our currently scattered lifestyle, I’ve turned down or postponed several collaborations here this summer. I’m hoping as things settle more in our home, it will settle here also, bringing back some familiarity to what feels slightly spastic. ( p.s. If you follow this blog via email or any other medias, I apologize for giving you five posts at once. )
liam // Your dad warned you of snakes in the sand dunes, and you replied, “ok.” and ran straight for them, jumping from the highest peaks.
burke // The sand was littered with mollusks, which you began collecting until you realized they were still alive. Then you promptly returned them to the beach.
blythe // You floated alone through the water like the ocean and all that was in it was yours. I had to wade out to you when it was time to go home, much to your dismay.
olive // You swam and played with your siblings for a bit and then retreated to the sand where you happily played alone in your endless sandbox.