Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How We Homeschool

Over at 4 little men and girly twins she's talking about homeschooling. She's beginning this great journey in the fall & had some questions for us veterans out there. Since this marks my sixth year of homeschooling, I figure I qualify. Since there were quite a few question, I figured it demanded a blog post of its own. You may want to grab a cup of tea or something as this may get a bit lengthy. Here we go...

What curriculum do you use?
I am a very eclectic homeschooler. I do not use a boxed curriculum & I do not get all of my books from one source. I do not do "school at home." We use a large variety of different things. Here are some of our favorites from this year.

Why I love it: It's a great fit (IMHO) for elementary aged students. The main book reads just like a story book. Each chapter has a story in it that fits the time. It's quick reading and longer chapters I split in to two readings. After all I'm using this for both a second grader & a sixth grader (yup, even my 12 year old is using this). What I really love about it is that it comes (purchased separately but I highly recommend it!) with an Activity Guide. This guide is fantastic. Each chapter has a coloring page, a map, a list of review questions, supplemental reading books (fiction & non-fiction) & a ton of hands-on activity. We do very few of the hands-on stuff I admit, but we really love the rest. I actually tried some different stuff over the last two years with B & we keep coming back to STOW. We will be using it next year as well.

Why I love it: I don't have to teach it. What? What ever do you mean! Okay, I don't use this program as it's meant to be used but it is so working for us! One very smart thing I have heard over the years is to invest your money in your weakest subjects. Math is so it for me. I've never been good at this & I so don't want that for my boys. So I'm willing to spend a bit more on a program that makes math way easier for them & me. This is a hands-on manipulative based program. Oh yeah, so why don't I teach it? It comes with a DVD of Steve Demme  (the founder of the company & long time math teacher) teaching each lesson!! Now, supposedly I am suppose to watch these little clips & then go teach my boys. That seemed a bit redundant to me. I have them watch the lesson & do their pages (two a day typically). If they run in to roadblocks, I can help them at that point. It's been really working for us.

Why I love it: This is another program I don't use as it's been designed to be used. I was first exposed to this about four years ago when I tried doing a Language Arts co-op with a friend. She taught her kids & mine while I wrangled an 18-month-old & 4 year old (my two youngest). This is a teacher intensive program to learn but not to teach. There is a lot to this program. It's meaty. I've learned something about myself in the six years I've been doing this. I don't do so well with teacher intensive stuff. I want to crack the book & teach. Period. BUT this program does allow for that. I teach the boys the sounds of the 70 phonograms. Then I use The W.I.S.E Guide for spelling lists. That is what that particular book is basically - a book for of spelling lists of 20 words. I add in some other activities but overall that is what I do for spelling & it works for us.

Why I love it: Again, I was introduced to this book when I tried the LA co-op a few years back. I bought my own copy. It sat on my shelf & collected dust for the last five years. Then I finally pulled it out. Writing is definitely a weak area here. Once I really looked at what this book had to offer I started to kick myself for not using it earlier! This is a level based writing program rather than grade level which is great since I started both my boys on Level 1. This was the kicker for me...there are lessons plans in the book AND you can use this for grades K-12. ONE book will get you through ALL your writing for ALL your kids for ALL their schooling! You simply cannot beat that. I really can't say enough about this program. Just one final word teaches grammar along with writing which is another thing I really like about. For another review, click HERE.

Those are the tried & true ones we've used this year & that we will continue to use. I'm looking forward to trying Simply Charlotte Mason's 106 Days of Creation in the fall. I also have the boys incorporate their AWANA in to their school day as well, but B will no longer be participating in the fall (it only goes to sixth grade) so I'm on the look out for a new program. I heard about a free Bible curriculum at one of my Yahoo groups last week & it looks really great. I'll be sure to post about it if I like it.

Tips or suggestions that really work well for you?
I try to keep it simple - for all of us. While that math program looks wonderful, if it's going to take my boys (or even me) a really long to complete, I'm not going to do it. 

Remember that boys are more active. They need to move. Do not expect them to sit at the table for more than an hour without getting up. I actually try to schedule some "breaks" so that I'm only working with one boy at a time for certain subjects. That allows the other one to go off for a bit & regroup. Now that the weather is nice, I even send them outside for breaks. Just the other day - after a long bit of writing (something else I try to limit) - I had them get up & do jumping jacks, push-ups, hopping, and crunches - just to take a break & get the blood flowing. They kept asking "why" but kept doing it & finished with smiles on their faces. Love that.

What does your daily routine look like?
Sadly,  I really don't feel like I have a routine but that probably is our routine. My goal is to start school no later than 9am. That is when the boys can have a snack so we start our school day with a read-aloud (I'm currently reading Little House on the Praire). They eat. I read. It works. We have some routine in that I have a meal scheudule simply to keep them from bugging the life out of me with "can I have a snack" questions all the time.

I really like to have school finished by lunchtime (no later than noon). I babysit a toddler who needs to nap then. She sleeps in a pack-n-play in the living room so I try to keep it quiet. We school at our kitchen table so it doesn't always work. We really do try to roll with what the day brings us.

How do you organize all of the books and things that go along with it?
This is one thing I still need help with - a lot of help. We live in a small mobile home. I school at the kitchen table. It's surrounded by "clutter" to the nth degree. I have an old china closet that I store a lot of stuff in but a lot of that "stuff" is leaving via our states used curriculum sale in June.     

I also have a tall three shelf bookcase that holds our current year's book on the top shelf & a lot of science books on the rest of them plus various other genres. I also have five bookshelves crammed in to my living room. One is for my personal books, one is for hubby's personal books (these are each tall 5-shelf units), one is a two shelf unit with history & geography books, a second two shelf unit holds art, music & math, one holds chapter books & picture books & the last holds my scrapbooks &  more chapter books. We love books here. I also have more books on top of my entertainment system & packed away in a closet (themed ones we're not currently using). 

I definitely need to get rid of some things & organize some things. That's one of my projects for the summer.

Do you do one on one or all of your children together?
If you want to stay sane & you have more than one child, do NOT do them separately. Trust me on this one. Even though there are four years between my boys, we do all of our school work together. Here is a sample of our day:
  • Gather at the table for reading time (I read - they snack)
  • Do their AWANA verses - my oldest usually does this in his room. I know he is making progress as he is earning awards at AWANA.
  • Do their math. Obviously they are doing separate levels but we do it at the same time.
  • Do math drill. Again - different levels but done at the same time. We use Calculadder btw & I love it! Get the CD version so you can print out all the ones you'll need.
  • Spelling (here is where I give one boy a break while I work with them one-on-one)
  • Writing - done together
  • Then either science, history, art, or music or some mix of all of them - but all done together using the same materials.
In the fall I'll be adding in a five year old to the mix so things may have to change, but I do try to have them all do as much as possible together. Otherwise it would take up the entire day.

Do you supplement with outside classes... art, music, science, etc?
At this point, not much for two reasons. We live in a very rural part of the state. Let me eleborate on that for a second...I live on a dirt road. The closest grocery store that is larger than four aisles is a 30 minute drive away & that's not even a large town. It has four stop lights I think. In essecence there is just not a lot of opportunity for that type of outlet here. 

The second reason is income. We are a one-income family. As such, we are very frugal on what we spend money on. I try to have the kids invovled in activities that they can either a) all do together at the same time & b) cost little to nothing. 

But we take advantage of opportunities that come our way. Last summer Barry Stebbing came out to Maine - in a town just a 30 minute drive away - to teach three days of classes. I thought that worth the time & money so we participated. And it was a lot of fun!

We also participate in sports through our town's rec program. Most of the regular season sports are free. Right now N is playing baseball & it's not costing me anything but time. This summer the boys will take two weeks of swimming lessons (an hour in the morning) at the lake & that only costs me $10 per child - up from the $5 the last two years. 

While I would love for the boys to do music lessons, there is one more thing I have learned over all these years...manage your time well. There are oodles of opportunities out there. Evauluate them. Make sure they fit your life & your schedule. It is so very easy to over schedule & the you are on the go so much, you defeat the purpose of staying home.

Do you participate in a local homeschool group?
Yes and no. There is actually a growing trend in the state of Maine for not going to a homeschool group. About five year ago (just before I had to register B) the law in Maine changed. We are now a "letter of intent" state which has made homeschooling much easier. Prior to that there was a long application that had to be filled out (I think it was about eight pages) where you had to tell everything from what curriculum you were using, to your schedule, to what homeschool group you were part of - it used to be a requirement to homeschool in the state. Now that it no longer is, many have disbanded.

A few years ago I joined up with one that meets about 30 minutes away from me. We were going strong for awhile there but now things have dwindled down. I was unofficial leader of it & I tried to have a monthly meeting where we could discuss future events and just support each other. Sadly for the last year at least, there has only been 2-3 of us who are showing up out of a group of 40 in our directory. 

If there is a group in your area though, I would highly recommend connecting with others who go through this same journey. It's nice just to be able to talk to someone who knows what you are going through.

Does your husband participate with the teaching?
I would love for him to but it's just not feasible. My hubby works in a town that is an hour drive south of where we live. He leaves the house by 6:30-7:00 each morning & isn't home until at least 6:30 each night and that is if he doesn't have a meeting to go to after work or a deadline that keeps him late. My hubby "participates" by working hard so I can be home. 

Although, I know that when the math starts getting harder, I can call on him to help me out. He is a civil engineer and has those skills that I sadly lack. 

Do you do lots of outings?
I don't feel that we do a ton of outings, but I do try to go somewhere fun at least once a month. I really just keep my ear out for fun events that are going on & then evaluate if we can go or not. Just last week we all went to a local natural history musuem to listen to a talk on owls & see a T-Rex skull. It was about a 40 minute drive away & cost me $8.50 to bring six kids (I had some tag-a-longs) & myself. 

Once the summer months are here & winter weather won't cancel plans for us, then we typical do more outings. An outing day equals a homeschool day here as well. I call a field trip "a day" & not try to do any other formal schooling. I may try to tie in the outing later, but I give my boys that day to just have fun & learn as much as they can from the day.

Has it been expensive for you?
My hubby may disagree, but I don't think it has been. We do a budget & we have a set amount set aside for homeschooling. I may sometimes have to put off a purchase, but I also read a lot on the internet. I am always finding freebies that I can use to incorporate in to our homeschool. In fact, I'm planning to try a free Bible curriculum with the boys to see how it goes. Freebies abound out there including completely free total curriculum plans. One of the big name ones are Ambleside Online which is a Charlotte Mason based curricluum. I use parts of this in our actual homeschool (their picture study is excellent). The other is called An Old-Fashioned Education. I don't know as much about this one but it is a complete K-12 curriculum and did I mention it's free?

anything else I should know?
I think I've covered a lot but I'm sure there are questions out there. Just ask in the comments section & I'll add a PS to this post to answer them as best as I can.

Homeschooling is a journey. One thing you need to make sure of...make sure it is the right thing for your family. I truly felt God's leading on this journey for us. I see us going the long haul all the way through high school. I'm sure something could come along to change that, but at that point that is my plan.


  1. Awesome post! You have given me some places to look! I think I am going to try the writing program that you recommend, too! That is something we are really lacking around here! The program my oldest is in he HATES! I am always looking to improve our experience! Thanks again!!!

  2. Fantastic post! If I were a new homeschooler I'd read this over and over and bookmark it!

  3. I loved reading this! Thank you for taking the time to share such wonderful insight.

  4. Can I come over and be one of your students?! LOL. Your homeschool posts are always a bright spot in my day because you project wholesome positive learning that is fun as well.

    Your daily rhythm is right for homeschooling(IMHO) - the secret is to know your limits. Keep it simple, slow and steady - patient perseverance is the key. Anything else is a recipe for burnout. Actually this is the recipe for life too, isn't it?! Pray, be at peace, and have faith.

    Great post. We have used Calculadder in the past and loved it.

  5. I really should do one of these homeschool posts sometime. I have never really posted much about our homeschool on the blog... GREAT POST!

  6. Fun post to read even to this fellow "veteran"!

  7. Great post, Lisa! I am going to come back and re-read it again tonight when I have more time. I love reading about what others are doing in their homeschools.


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