07 February 2015

How We Homeschool

Even though a fair number of the homeschool population are bigger families, I still get a lot of 'how do you homeschool so many different ages?'  I also suspect I have a few friends/family that don't think we do it well enough, and since I've never really put it out there, I thought I'd give an overview of just how it is we homeschool.

The most important thing to know about homeschooling is that, just as every family is different, and every child is different, so too is every homeschool different.  On that note, here's how we homeschool!

Our Routine

The day starts extremely early around here.  Matt and I usually get up around 5 or 5:30am, I make a lunch for him while he gets showered and dressed.  It's not unusual for Reagan or one of the boys to wake us up, but often they only wake up just early enough to say goodbye to Matt when he takes off ridiculously early to NYC.

Once Matt is gone, we make something for breakfast, which could be anything.  If we do oatmeal or cereal, it's pretty quick, but sometimes we opted for eggs and toast, or pancakes and bacon.  Those days might be pajama days :P

Karol often comes down already dressed to catch up with her early riser siblings, so she's eating when they're dressing, usually with a book in hand.  That kid is inseparable from her books.

So anywho, after folks are all dressed and ready for the day, we do Circle Time.  I should note here that Circle Time and the general flow of our routine is patterned after what the kids did at Nazareth Nursery.  It made for a very smooth transition since the kids were playing, eating, exercising, and learning in the same order.  Circle Time opens with a game I call "Mommy Says."  In the summer, the kids can run around outside after breakfast, but once it gets cold we need to have some exercise to get the wiggles out.  Next comes morning prayers, the pledge of allegiance, and a loud and off key rendition of God Bless America.  After that we do group reading in math, history, science or religion.

After Circle Time, the days vary.  We educate year round and do a block schedule.  So on "red" days (M/W/F), the big kids do their book work using a very lazy version of the work box system.  The younger kids usually occupy themselves with Duplos, fun worksheets, an educational app on the iPad or iPhone, or if I'm desperate, a LeapFrog DVD.  The work boxes have 6 compartments and each one has an assignment for one subject.  This always includes handwriting, language arts, and math.

We read a chapter from each of their religion books on Monday, there's a worksheet on Wednesday, and if there are enough good worksheets associated with that chapter, another on Friday, otherwise no formal religion on Friday.  On Mondays they each read a whole story from their reading books out loud to me.  There's also often an extra book, science or history, in their workboxes to be read on their own (or I read it to them, if it's more advanced).  A good deal of the work box work Karol and Patrick do independently, or they just need to come to me when they have a question.

It's at snack times and lunch that I do most of the 'hands on' teaching or lecturing.  We approach education from the Classical Method, meaning we start at the beginning and work our way through history chronologically.  Science also has an 'order' to how it is studied, diving into a different subcategory each year.  When all the children are gathered for meals, I read from the Bible (the original, not a children's version) or from language, literature, history, math or science books that would interest all four of my students.

After the big kids finish their work boxes, they are free to pursue whatever academic interest they choose.  Often Karol and Patrick play math bingo, or work with one of the math manipulatives from their Montessori shelves.  Sometimes they prefer to get creative and we throw together an art project.  Karol usually has 2-4 books she's reading, so she's often on the couch with a book or two.

On "gold day," we have what we call "Preschool/Free School."  That just means I do preschool activities with Max and Reagan, and Karol and Patrick are on their own to work on subjects like music, art and foreign languages.  I dedicate a couple of hours to doing a couple of activities from our preschool level Montessori equipment, letter of the week activities, and Max also has a kindergarten level math book he's started working in.

Both Karol and Patrick are using Duolingo to learn French (and I'm using it to brush up on my German), and Karol is studying piano through Hoffman Academy.  Patrick will often practice coding - luckily the internet makes up for my computer science deficiencies!  Both kids like Splash Math - an app I absolutely love (it's totally worth the $9.99/grade).  Other than these, they're free to roam the Montessori shelves or read any of their school related library books.

Searching for the letter of the week.

Sometimes I come across more traditional worksheets that look fun and print them out.  I gave Karol a packet of about 6 worksheets all based on an excerpt from The Little Princess.  I don't ever present literature in excerpts (part of the Classical Method is reading whole, original works of literature, rather than bits and pieces taken out of context), but Karol's already read both a children's version and the original Little Princess, so I figured she'd enjoy the worksheets.  Not only did she have fun filling them out, but she was inspired to re-read the original yet again.  In one day.  She is a very fast reader!

When the school bus drives by around 4pm, I tell the kids, "School's out!" And I encourage them to play, if they aren't already.

While this is the boilerplate, there are still lots of days spent at the library (we have three in Fairfield!), a museum, or the beach/park/trails/lake.

Library fun!

Our Curriculum

For the young kids, I stick to Montessori Method as best I can.  For the big kids I use this Montessori resource and also follow the rubric in The Well Trained Mind for the Classical Method.  Even the baby has a 'curriculum!'  I've read Montessori from the Start four or five times now.

As for school books, we got a lot from Catholic Heritage Curricula, including:
MCP Mathematics
Language of God grammar series
Little Folks reading program
Faith & Life religion series

We also use First Language Lessons series for a deeper understanding of grammar and the Story of the World series, both written by the same mother and daughter that wrote The Well Trained Mind.

I've recently added the Life of Fred math series to supplement our math books.  It's math - from kindergarten to calculus - laid out in story form, and it's turned out to be a huge hit with every single kid.  I'm surprised at how many real mathematic concepts the author has weaved into a genuinely fun and relatable story.

So there you have it!  I know I didn't mention handling an infant or making meals (which is the ultimate juggling act) throughout the school day--perhaps that's for another post.

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