The questions have started coming. The Trader Joe's cashier. Extended family members. The dental hygenist (while she was cleaning my teeth.) People are curious when they see a five-year-old out on a Tuesday morning or when they hear I'm about to have four kids and they're unsure how my children's education will work out logistically. They've heard the homeschool horror stories of neglected kids or overly-sheltered kids, or the unbelievable success stories of families who sent six kids to college before the age of 12. But what does homeschooling for normal people look like?
Different for everybody! As for me, a super-disorganized ENFP with imaginative, strong-willed children who like to think abstractly? At the preschool and kindergarten level, I take a 95% "unschooling"/"carschooling"/"lifeschooling" approach. I see all of life as education. We do a ton of field trips, we involve our kids in as much real-life stuff as we can, and we strongly encourage question-asking. I've checked the "things my preschooler/kindergartener is supposed to know" lists and, aside from some reading-skill expectations that I find unhelpful for 5-year-olds anyway, my kids can do anything they're supposed to be able to do in school...and it's not even possible to calculate everything else they're learning from playing in dirt and starting their own business and reading all our books and simply living real life.
The other 5%, our formal homeschool time, is what I want to share here. If you feel like homeschooling is impossible for you, come to my house and see what a mess I am, and you might be convinced that you can make it work for you too. We don't use desks and we almost never use worksheets. I generally don't do any prep beforehand. Doable is more important to me right now than desirable. I might want to do a lot more for my homeschool, but what's most important is what we actually end up accomplishing with consistency!
I try to initiate formal homeschool four times a week. It takes about an hour. I've bought, researched, and even made my own curricula, but I've found an eclectic approach to be much more effective for our family.
I included links and prices for everything because homeschooling doesn't have to break the bank, but I didn't use affiliate links because I want you all to know my recommendations are genuine!
Now let's talk about the subjects!
I let my three-year-old ring a service bell to start school. Then I set up the one-year-old with some Legos and we jump into their least favorite subject to get it out of the way!
My son and I suffered through about 40 lessons into the top recommended teach-your-child-to-read book, but it made him hate reading. My main goal is for him to love reading, not for him to be able to read by a certain age. So reading books together is really the best thing I can do for him. But in our formal homeschool time, we typically use My First Banagrams tiles ($15.) My three-year-old's job is to find the letters I ask of her (I often let her pick which word we're trying to spell.) I then give my five-year-old a word, and his job is to sound it out slowly and figure out what letters he needs. Then I'll switch out individual letters (pool/cool/tool/fool/drool) and he learns how to read them.
To help their handwriting, occasionally I'll get a sheet of paper and use a highlighter to write the words I want them to practice. They can trace over my words with their pens before they try them on their own. I've been amazed at how well they can do this after we take long breaks from practicing. Ditching the books to develop fine motor skills in other ways (like playing in dirt or doing art) is surprisingly helpful!
The one-year-old usually ends up wandering around the house, so I just try to make sure the doors are closed. Homeschool always goes best when the littlest is napping, but that only happens if I'm willing to sacrifice my midday alone-time. I'm usually not ;)
Next is the kids' favorite subject: American sign language! I taught myself some sign language and spent consistent time in the deaf community for a couple years when I was single, so I have a bit of an advantage in passing along the signs to my little people. But ASL is so easy because most of the signs make sense, so really anyone can do this.
I use signing primer cards I found at a yard sale ($5.90 on B&N.) The kids learn three new signs a day and we review about twenty. The kids absolutely love it. Every few days I ditch the cards and the kids and I work on sign language to a song. They struggle a little bit with getting their tiny fingers to cooperate, but they amaze me with their focus, recollection, and accuracy. We'll figure out grammar at some point (and hopefully we can make some deaf friends!) but till then we can build, build, build our vocab!
When I was in school I knew how to test well and get good grades, but science is one of those subjects that I never really understood. The textbooks just didn't click with me. As an adult, sitting on the dirt outside or listening to my husband describe his mechanical endeavors---seeing science actually happen---is the most beneficial way to learn. However, we need to learn from books too, so I've found Usborne books to be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, they're expensive ($12-15 each), but I consider them quite a worthy investment and I've been able to find many of the books used and cheap on ThriftBooks. The information is presented clearly, accessibly, and beautifully, with helpful diagrams and lift-the-flaps and all kinds of ways to interact with the material. And remember, these are not textbooks that are thrown away after one child uses them; we reuse these books again and again for many different ages.
Doing experiments is, of course, hugely helpful in teaching your kids about science. Pinterest is an overwhelming resource for that. But I prefer experiments that add no extra stress or cleanup to my day; when explaining the digestive system, I can feed them corn and we can discuss the path it takes through their body, then watch how long it takes to, you know, digest it. When discussing chemical and physical change, we can make cookies. When studying insect biology, we can grab our magnifying glass and look at a bug.
But for the book-reading, we just pick a topic that interests us and read as much about it as we can for awhile.
We use an abacus ($11) primarily. I take turns with the kids asking them math equations, and they move the beads to solve them. I can ask my 5-year-old, "What's eight divided by two?" and in an instant he can figure out for himself why the answer is "four." It works great for their ages.
This is my favorite subject, and the kids really love it too. I bought the Tapestry of Grace primer curriculum a couple years ago (it's about $100 for the curriculum itself---most of it is reusable for multiple kids---and it took $200+ more to buy all the books they recommend; most of them were used from Thriftbooks. You can get most of them for free from the library, but I like to be able to access them all the time. The kids often choose a book about Abraham Lincoln or ancient Egyptians for their bedtime story!)
Though Tapestry of Grace curriculum was great, my diligence was not, so I ended up shedding most of the prep work and just reading the recommended books...and more. We read non-fiction and historical fiction, encyclopedias, atlases, and picture books. Building our family library is one of the best investments we could make, especially since these books are not for particular grade levels but to be benefited from by everyone. They're diverse in content, length, artwork, and format, and we can always expand our topical database temporarily through the library.
So we just walk through world history and geography and soak up as much information as we can. A couple years ago my son pointed to somewhere random on the globe and said "What wars happened here?" and that taught me so much about capitalizing on curiosity! (I also need to learn these things for myself so I can teach them, ha!)
(This is separate from family devotions or scripture memory time; I can talk about that in another post.)
I like to finish the homeschool session by opening up a Bible storying cloth ($10) that I bought a decade ago from the International Mission Board. Missionaries sometimes use storying cloths to teach the Bible, especially to illiterate people, so it's extremely helpful for children. From Genesis to Revelation, simple pictures offer us glimpses into the story of God. I give each of the kids a turn to choose a picture and tell me the story that happened there. My 5-year-old, ever a theologian, likes to add his own commentary and ask his sister follow-up questions (which she doesn't exactly appreciate.) I then let them choose a picture story for me to tell them, and I try to tell them every detail I can remember along with some commentary on how that story points to Jesus and how it affects us today.
This is really great for their listening skills and teaching skills. When they share the story, they're learning to be more effective communicators.
And that's it for our formal time! Outside of our designated "homeschool time", we do art (SO much art), read a lot of books, develop life skills as they help me with my tasks or observe my husband, play outside, etc. It's messy and frustrating and I oftentimes have to take a break in the middle of school to discipline a child or just because something else comes up...but that's okay! Real life is messy and imperfect and God gives grace upon grace upon grace.
So that's how we do homeschool, for now. I'm sure more formal time and bookwork will come as my kids get older, but for now it's as interactive and extremely easy for me to implement :)
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My name is Hope.
I'm 26, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 6, 4, 3, and squishy-baby. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today