I love books. It's pretty evident if you come into our house and see books on every flat surface, as well as on our bookshelves. So it's probably not a surprise that they are a foundational element in our homeschool.
When AW was 5, I was pretty sure I did not want a homeschool curriculum. I wanted us to play and read books. Then I heard about a brand-new literature based homeschool curricula called Torchlight. It was secular, even humanist, and based entirely on reading lots of good books and talking about them. Sign me up! I quickly learned that a similar secular curriculum, Build Your Library, existed and could even be combined with Torchlight.
Since then, we've used a combination of the two. But I see a lot of confusion about how these two curricula work. I thought I'd give a basic overview and some tips. The two programs have a slightly different structure, but the overall concept is the same. This post is not a comparison, but a guide to using literature based curriculum in general based on my experience with these two specific programs.
What do they cover? Torchlight and Build Your Library both cover literature, science, social studies, art, and poetry. Torchlight also includes music appreciation.*
1. What level should I choose?
If you are new to homeschooling, it seems obvious that you would pick the numerical level that corresponds to your child's grade level. There is actually a lot more flexibility when it comes to homeschool levels. Read the descriptions and see if there is a suggested age range. Look for a yearly theme that appeals to your and your family. Or start at the beginning. The flexibility of the levels means that you can combine multiple ages for these subject areas. Sometimes there are suggestions of how to scale up or down, or you can ask for suggestions in the curricula specific Facebook groups.
2. What comes in the curricula?
Your PDF download is the result of many hours of labor researching and planning. That's what you are paying for. Both of these curricula include a full school year's worth of lesson plans, with book lists, suggested activities, suggested supplements, and discussion questions. I can't stress how much work goes into these materials and how valuable they are for the price.
3. What do I still need to acquire?
You have your lesson plans and a list of materials, but getting the materials is up to you. That means all the books, games, etc. This is where it *can* get pricey.
4. How do I afford all these books??
You have several options.
5. Do I have to follow the schedule exactly?
No! We use these lesson plans as a jumping off point. I rarely follow the week's plans exactly. Sometimes we do all the activities, in our own order, sometimes we take a break and do other things, and sometimes we move weeks around (this gets harder when you are doing chronological history).
6. What do I do for reading and math? Why aren't they included?
While content areas are easy to scale up and down, kids often work at multiple grade levels in reading and math. By keeping those subjects separate, it allows the educator to provide individualized learning. You can pick whatever programs work for your family. If you have an older proficient reader, then the literature study in these programs might be enough. If necessary, add in spelling and grammar. If you have a kid still learning to read, you will need a reading program (preferably comprehensive phonics instruction).**
7. I don't want a curriculum, but I love the book list! Do I still have to buy the curriculum?
Technically, you can view the book lists on the websites for these programs. And you could just read those books. But I don't think this is an ethical use of the curricula writers' labor. I think the book lists alone are worth the price of the PDF download.
8. How do I combine these programs?
The levels roughly correspond to each other. I use Torchlight as my "dominant" program for planning, but supplement with ideas from Build Your Library. You can also do it the other way around. It's a bit of work, but I'm obsessed with having #allthebooks. So there you go. Don't try to do both programs completely or you will be utterly overwhelmed.
A final note: I am not affiliated with either of these programs and receive nothing for writing this blog or recommending these curricula. They are just programs that I have used and enjoyed!
*Some people like to add in additional science at some levels.
**There are some unschoolers who do not find explicit phonics instruction necessary for their families. However, most kids will benefit from some sort of phonics instruction even if they teach themselves to read. As always, follow your kid's needs!
There are so many people planning on homeschooling because of the pandemic, and things can get a bit overwhelming. I thought I'd share about our resources in case it's helpful, and then you can ask me any questions. This is going to be a very big post.
First, think about what kind of homeschooler you are. Do you have a homeschool philosophy? If you're not sure, try this quiz. You can read more about some of the styles here.
In our house, we tend towards a combination of unschooling and Charlotte Mason. But I like to call us Relaxed Eclectic Homeschoolers. We do use curricula but we don't tie ourselves to lesson plans. This is important, because below is a really long list. There is no way that you could do all of these things completely. But we like to pick and choose from an a la carte menu rather than a prix fixe menu.
Another important note: We are secular homeschoolers. That means we do not promote any religious beliefs as fact within our homeschool. Most of our materials are secular, but we have the occasional curricula with Christian content for various reasons. These will be clearly marked.
These curricula combine multiple subjects. All of our all-in-one options require additional literacy and math, which we like because then we can work at the proper level in those two subjects.
These are workbooks that cover the content covered in public school. DC absolutely loves them and does them voluntarily. Sometimes AW loves them, sometimes not, but they are great for my low energy days when I still want to get something done.
Torchlight Level 1: Myth and Magic
This is a literature-based secular humanist curricula inspired by Socratic inquiry. It includes lesson plans:
You pay for a PDF download and then purchase additional books and resources. Then add in your own phonics and mathematics curriculum. There are also recommended extensions and supplements, including games.
This is our primary foundation for our weekly studies.
Build Your Library Level 1: The Ancient World
Build Your Library is a secular Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum. We like to use its resources to supplement Torchlight. BYL covers:
Exploring Nature With Children
ENWC is a multi-age Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum with weekly themes. Some of the weekly themes and featured poems are Christian. We used this with our nature co-op pre-pandemic and skipped the religious stuff. This could be a complete curriculum for those who are delaying academics or can be supplemented with the missing core subjects.
Each week includes:
Blossom and Root: The Early Years Vol. 1
This will be our first year using Blossom and Root but we've heard good things from the secular homeschooling community. It is a nature and play-based secular curriculum. It is geared towards 2-4 year olds, but we will be doing many of the activities as a whole family. Each week includes:
A Year of Playing Skillfully
This is a Christian sensory and play-based curriculum. We will probably still pull activities from this curriculum, which we used with AW and DC. Most of the Christian activities are centered around Easter and Christmas. Each month includes a Bible verse to focus on and many of the directions suggest pointing out the wonder of God's creation. I found it worth modifying at the time because it was so developmentally appropriate and the activities were absolutely fantastic. There is also a book with similar ideas by the same people called The Homegrown Preschooler. It can be used for ages 3-7, with supplementation to introduce academics for older children as appropriate.
Now for the individual subjects. Note: Literacy is the "how" of reading and Literature is the "content" of reading.
Logic of English: Foundations C
We have used Logic of English from the beginning. It provides an incredible phonics foundation, and I've been amazed at how much *I* have learned. I can't recommend this program enough. It works on phonics, spelling, introductory grammar, and handwriting.
This is an online phonics program. DC loves it. AW isn't crazy about it.
Epic is an online library for kids. I put it in literacy because AW loves doing read-along books which have helped support her growth as a reader.
Brave Writer's Jot it Down
This writing program is about establishing a love of writing in children, ages 5-8. The child primarily dictates to the parent, keeping the emphasis on creativity rather than mechanics. There are ten writing projects, one per month, but you can repeat or extend them as much as desired. This will be our third year implementing these techniques and doing projects inspired by this philosophy.
In addition to Torchlight and Build Your Library with their literature and poetry offerings, we love our Poetry Teatimes where we take turns choosing and reading poems while eating and drinking tasty things. This is part of the Brave Writer philosophy but not a specific curriculum.
I don't have a whole lot to say about any of these individually other than that Beast Academy is for 2nd grade an up and is a math challenge sort of thing rather than a complete math curriculum on its own. Math Seeds is online only and is part of the Reading Eggs family.
Right Start Level B
Beast Academy--text and online
Preschool Math at Home (CE only)
Torchlight has science in the plans, but it's light on science for us so I add in additional resources. My kids want to do hands-on-science everyday...they don't always get their wish, but I like options.
REAL Science Odyssey Level 1: Life
This is the recommended science extension from Torchlight and it's a full science curriculum. We love it and it has actually primarily replaced the Be Naturally Curious units in Torchlight for us. We do use the human body books listed in Torchlight because it's a favorite topic. 100% secular.
This is a series of books that uses fantasy stories to teach about the properties of different herbs. It pairs well with a game by the same company, a game called Wildcraft. AW has an interest in foraging so these books are primarily for her. There are online supplements to round out lessons in addition to just reading the little novels.
101 Coolest Simple Science Experiments and A Little Bit of Dirt are on the list just for additional hands on activities. They are completely supplemental.
Torchlight and Build Your Library largely have history covered through their literature selections and nonfiction spines (primary texts). Torchlight is based on Curiosity Chronicles, which uses Socratic dialogue. AW prefers the audiobook to me reading aloud, but I like having the text handy to look at the illustrations when we listen. She likes the interactive notebook activities the best. There are also Minecraft challenges which we have adapted to be used with LEGO.
Ok, obviously this is a big one for me since I've been developing content for this company for five years. But I passionately believe in our products! Each box includes 1-2 high quality hands on activities, 2-3 supplemental activities, coloring pages, and an 8 page full color magazine. We try to source materials from the originating culture and provide multiple viewpoints.
We've got art study covered through our various other curricula. For making art, I plan on using Drawing with Children and the Usborne Book of Art Ideas. This is another area where my oldest is insatiable, so I need to have lots of plans ready to go for making art. She also needs lots of time to explore her artistic creativity independently, so we will make sure to leave time for that as well.
All of these options are just listen and learn with minimal work on my part!
Classical Kids CDS
Classics for Kids Podcast (free!)
That's the whole list! Again, just as a reminder, we won't do all of this all the time. It's a menu. We can have "seconds" on things that interest us or just move on. I should mention two other resources we plan on using this year: Sitting Still Like a Frog for mindfulness and Cosmic Kids Yoga for moving our bodies.
"Classical education in the fall, Charlotte Mason in the Winter, unschooling in the spring."
-Paraphrased from Julie Bogart
"What I mean is that there is a rhythm to the way learning happens here; there are upbeats and downbeats; there is an ebb and flow."
It's been awhile since I posted on the blog. It's been a wild ride this year and last year! Last summer, we had some tough times. We were dealing with constant construction on the house to fix the tree damage, one of the kids was struggling with increased anxiety, and we got a new developmental diagnosis for one of the kiddos.
We decided to put DC, age 4, in preschool. He spent the year at an absolutely wonderful play-based preschool with an amazing teacher. He thrived on the structure, the routine, and, I think, the separation from family. He needed space to come out from the shadow of his oldest sister, and this was the best opportunity he's had so far. He's now 5 and getting ready to start public kindergarten on Monday! It was a tough decision but I'm feeling comfortable with it. AW will be starting first grade at home on Monday. CE, at age 2, is still just a tagalong.
We took the summer pretty easy. Year-round school didn't feel like a good fit now that we are tied to the academic calendar for DC, so I'm just aligning the two school calendars to keep life simple. We visited Dutch Wonderland and the two older kids went to Ocean City with Himself and Himself's family. Now we are gearing up and I'm going to tell you a little about those two quotations at the beginning of this post.
Julie Bogart and Melissa Wiley are two veteran homeschoolers who have so much wisdom to share about their experiences. I identify deeply with both of their statements. With the excitement of a new school year, not just for but for AW, we dive into something that looks a little bit like "school." I have a schedule and lesson plans and we will probably follow a curriculum for awhile. Over the winter, we do tend to be a bit more cozy and focused on just books. In the spring, we get cabin fever, and her creativity tends to run wild. We don't go quite so linear fashion as Julie describes, but we have ebbs and flows more like Melissa's. When she described this rhythm in her homeschool, it sounded just like us. We'll stick to the plan for awhile, but then fall down a rabbit hole and go with more child-led learning for awhile. We planned on studying the Stone Age for the month of January, but stuck with it for the rest of the school year. Sometimes AW hits a learning plateau in math or reading. Then we stop, take a step back, and let her back burner those skills while we go more child led. When we come back to those subjects, she is refreshed, eager, and far more cooperative. It's taken me awhile to trust that process, but I now feel very good about it because I've seen the dividends of this approach.
So what's our homeschool plan for the year? Well, it looks like a lot. This doesn't mean we are going to do all these things all of the time. They are just the resources I plan to pull in when it's my turn to drive the homeschool bus. When AW is driving, we'll likely head to the library.
Well, I figure since it is officially the first day of summer, I should wrap up what we did for most of spring.
These three resources really brought music study to life for my kiddos. My kids can proudly identify Beethoven's Fifth and many of the instruments in the orchestra thanks to the book Welcome to the Symphony. We listened to Beethoven Lives Upstairs several times as well as selection of Beethoven's music. They have been humming the fifth for months now. I can't recommend these enough. Thanks, Torchlight!
We went on our first camping trip of the year down at Virginia Beach, at First Landing State Park. It was an amazing campground and fantastic experience camping with friends. It was chilly, but we all had a blast.
We combined History Unboxed and Pin it Maps for our studies about Plymouth, Jamestown, and St. Augustine. My kids really enjoy looking at maps, so even though they are young, we've had fun with Pin it Maps so far. The timeline in the picture is the one from History Unboxed.
One morning, I woke up and asked AW what she wanted to do. "Go see the bluebells!" she told me. So we dressed for the rainy, muddy weather, and headed to a local park with a bluebell trail. It was very muddy and flooded in places, and eventually we had to turn back because the water was too deep on the trail (connected to rushing water). We enjoyed ourselves immensely. Rain pants are my new favorite thing: the kids got super muddy (I even fell in the mud), and we just stripped them off before getting in the car.
We bought some new games, did some science, and enjoyed lots of time on our front porch. We did our morning time out on the porch more than once, and did reading lessons with chalk.
Then, in May, I had a really bad day. I completely lost it. I got ugly. Everyone cried. I had to leave the house. It was my lowest parenting moment ever. So, what did I decide to do the next day? Take three children 5 and under on the Metro, by myself, to the National Gallery of Art where they would have to be on good behavior.
Himself thought I was crazy. Maybe I did too.
But it was exactly what we needed. It was a brand new experience. I went with low expectations and a plan for how to make it work. It was pouring rain, and we all got a little damp walking the few blocks to the museum. Then, we started with lunch (the most important part of the plan being well fed children). After we ate (an extremely expensive lunch), we stopped in the gift shop to buy a few postcards of Impressionist works from the museum. We used them to have a fantastic scavenger hunt. When we had been walking around for about an hour, the kids were done, and we high-tailed it out of there. We spent three hours getting there, two hours total at the museum, and three hours getting home. But it was totally worth it. We had a great time, the kids got excited about seeing art we'd read about in the Katie books by James Mayhew, and we reconnected.
Speaking of art, AW asked to have more lessons in art. I've been trying to meet that need. She did these portraits of girls from her dance class as gifts for them at the end of the year. She gave them each their typical hairstyle, in the correct hair color. Each one is in a different ballet pose. I just love them.
After dance, we did one round of swim classes. I was so proud of these kiddos and their hard work. DC especially made huge progress.
CE turned one, learned to walk, ate ice cream, and basically did everything she could to keep up with her big sibling. We've used sign language with all three kids, and she has taken to it the most of all three. Her current signs are: dog, nurse, more, eat, water, shoes, hat, and down. She understands a few more, and a whole lot of what we say.
I also rearranged the library/schoolroom. I realized that one reason we weren't using it was because we didn't have a sofa to curl up and read together. The other reason was because we didn't have a table we could all sit at together. I bought a new sofa for the basement for $20 on Facebook marketplace (yay) and brought up our old brown couch which fit perfectly. We've had the drop leaf table for awhile, but it needed organization and a new orientation before it could work for us. CE has been tearing our game and school shelf apart for a little while, and I have another child who can be extremely destructive with any art/school supplies. So, now it's all locked up when we aren't using it. But when we are in this space together, it feels quite cozy and intentional. We just used it for the first time today, because I've been sick all week (still not at 100%), and I really liked it. We cleaned up before closing the doors each time, a habit I'd like to maintain. AW said school was the best part of her day today.
That's about it for now! We school year round, but our "new school year" will start in July. We'll likely leave off math and reading for a bit longer, just because we're traveling. We have another week before we take a wee break.
It's also getting time to make us super duper homeschool official: this will be the first school year that I am required to notify the school district of our intent to homeschool and provide proof of progress at the end of the year. It will be AW's official Kindergarten year (we are really calling it Kindergarten Part Two). I'm excited for a good year ahead. Although we didn't *have* to start school when we did, I've enjoyed the learning experiences of the past year(s), and I feel like I've learned a lot about who we are as a homeschooling family. I know lots will change in the years ahead, and I can't predict what our family will need from year to year. Still, I'm feeling pretty good.
Facebook's "On This Day" featured informed me today that two years ago today, we had our first births here on our mini-farm. Our female rabbit, Juliet, gave birth to 11 kits.
Last year on Father's Day weekend, we had our first home-grown hatchlings. The eggs were laid by a collection of hens, three hens sat, and one hen took the two successfully hatched chicks and raised them.
This year, I may have gone a bit overboard. I ordered 25 chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Fifteen are meat birds (Red Rangers) and ten are hens of varying sorts. I also received one free exotic breed chick with my order (I'm going to guess it will be a rooster). I also ordered an incubator. I put 12 eggs in the incubator. As of this moment, four eggs have hatched. One was not fertilized and never developed. There are seven still in the incubator, but no further signs of life. Given that I had some trouble with the humidity sensor, I'm pretty pleased with the outcome. Now I have one broody hen (the one that raised the chicks last year) sitting on a clutch of about eight eggs.
Whew! That's a lot of chicks. And let me tell you, they are super cute. So were the wee little bunnies, once they got some fur on them. And I am deeply invested in these little fluff balls. I am sad when we lose a chick, and I was really stressed out that I accidentally opened the incubator while one of them was trying to hatch (drops in humidity are dangerous). One got wet yesterday and I carried it around for awhile in a washcloth to dry it off (I lack a hair dryer). I check on them frequently. I love having these little baby birds.
So then they grow up. And I eat them. Just like I did the rabbits. A lot of people say they couldn't eat food that they raised themselves because they get too attached. I do understand that point of view. I have made the occasional emotional decision. Our former rooster, Ned Stark, was supposed to go to the chopping block with 12 other roosters, but was switched out at the last minute because I'd bonded with him when the other roosters were picking on him. On the other hand, when he attacked my kid...I had no problems putting him in chicken and dumplings.
How do I reconcile this?
Well, I think it's really helpful to know from the beginning that these animals are food and not pets. For the most part, we don't name the food. Our breeding rabbits get names, but their offspring do not. We occasionally name a hen. But we pick tragic names, like characters from Game of Thrones or Shakespearean tragedies. Just as a reminder.
My goal is to be a good caretaker and give my animals a good life. When it comes down to it, I got into this hobby because I wanted to know that the meat I eat comes from a well cared for animal. I've gone through a vegetarian phase or two in my life. It was never because I thought killing an animal was cruel. It was because I thought that the way commercial livestock production works in this country was cruel. Even buying organic, grass-fed ground beef at the store isn't a guarantee of quality of life. I much prefer to buy food from local farms where I can meet the animals. But that's an economic privilege. I can't do it for all of our meat. So, we got into raising meat ourselves.
My birds aren't free-range, because my small flock can't withstand the number of predators. But they have a spacious run, a nice coop, and plenty of food and water. They get to be chickens. We are working on plans to let them have some time in the garden during some parts of the year. Our meat birds and rabbits are pastured on grass.
When it's time for my animals to go, it's quick. It's outside. The time in which they are afraid is as short as we can make it. We try to use as much of the animal as we can. And I get to feel connected to my food.
One of the big homeschool questions on the internet is: What does your schedule look like?
Ok, so here's my schedule:
6am-7am: Wake-up and have Mommy Alone Time
7am-8am: Get dressed and get kids ready for the day
8am-9am: Throw in laundry, eat breakfast and drink coffee with Himself
9am-9:30am: Morning clean-up
9:30am-10:00am: Together Time: reading stories from Torchlight and singing songs.
10:00am-10:30am: Kids have snack, I put CE down for nap
10:30am-12:00pm: Kids play and I do chores
12:00pm-1:00pm: We eat lunch as a family
1:00pm-1:30pm: Reading lesson
1:30-2:00pm: Math lesson
2:00pm-3:00pm: Quiet time for big kids, nap for CE
3:00pm-5:00pm: Torchlight activities, subscription box activities, or free play
5:00pm-6:00pm: Kids' screen time, I cook dinner
6:00pm-7:00pm: Family dinner
7:00pm-8:00pm: Putting kids to bed (later on Fridays, Family Night)
8:00pm-10:00pm: Clean up and prep for next day then: Work (Monday-Wednesday), At-Home Date Night (Thursday)
(On our days out, we are usually gone from 9-2 and do lessons at 3 instead)
Oh look at that pretty schedule.
This is the schedule I have written on paper. Here's what happens more often:
7:00am: Kids jump on me and wake me up. I struggle to wake up because I stayed up too late the night before or had trouble sleeping.
9:00am: I am still in my pajamas. 2-3 kids are still in their pajamas. I still have coffee left in my mug. Himself heads downstairs to work. CE is already ready for a nap because she was up early. I leave the kids running amok and go put her down for nap.
10:00am: I have finally gotten CE to settle down for a nap. The kids clamor for a snack. I microwave my coffee.
10:30am: We start reading aloud. I hear complaints that they didn't get to choose the books or requests to watch television.
10:32am: There is a fight over who gets to sit where on the sofa. We manage to recover and read for awhile.
11:00am: I remember my coffee is in the microwave and hit the button again. I put on podcasts or music while the kids fight over crayons, Legos, or play dough.
11:30am: I wander downstairs to talk about lunch.
12:00pm: We eat lunch. Or rather, the grownups eat lunch and the kids abandon food on their plates.
1:00pm: We might read, play a game, or do lessons.
2:00pm: Quiet Time. Sometimes it happens early. But Quiet Time is a pretty firm part of our day. It happens pretty much every single day that we are home because I'm an introvert. I might not get my full hour. CE might not nap. But I will lie on the floor and zone out if I can. It's vital.
3:00pm. Snack. My kids know 10:00 and 3:00 are snack times, and they hold me to it. Usually they ask to do projects in the afternoon, until AW starts begging me to watch TV
4:59pm: Close enough. I put a show on the TV. The kids alternate days for who gets to pick. I cook dinner.
7:00pm: I'm pretty regular on bedtime. We start on time unless dinner took longer than expected to cook, and we are almost always done by 8:00 (officially, not counting children wandering downstairs because they "can't sleep" in the two minutes since I left the room).
We are pretty regular with our evenings. I'd like to be better about the clean-up and prep part. But joking aside, I do have pretty solid anchors in my day. We are done with breakfast by 9:00, when Himself starts work (and we often leave the house at that time). We eat at 10, 12, 3, and 6 pretty much everyday. And like I said, quiet time almost always happens and it's usually close to 2pm. But in between those times?
I love the idea of Tidal Homeschooling. It fits our family pretty well. Sometimes, the kids are really independent and creative. Because of their ages, I rarely interrupt imaginative play, art creation, or peaceful sibling interaction to do any sort of formal lessons. We've been more in the unschool groove in the past few months, as CE has taken fewer naps and declined to follow a predictable schedule. They are still learning all the time. My main goal is to be present, available, and strew materials for them to explore. When they say, "Mommy, can we do a project," I want to be ready to grab that moment.
They love being read to, so that is really a major part of our day. If I can remember to stay calm myself (which isn't always easy), the best solution to non-stop squabbling is to find a way to sit together on the sofa and read. Sometimes, just with one kid. We do Poetry Teatime several days a month because the kids love it (mostly for the snacks and sweetened tea, I suspect, but they seem to like the poetry too). We listen to podcasts and music regularly in the car.
We have been taking a purposeful break from Logic of English because she's hit a bit of a plateau. So we play board games like Happy Hats and Super Why's ABC to practice. She reads BOB books to me, to her sister, or to visiting ducklings. She writes letters and labels drawings. I point out phonograms in the environment.
One of my favorite bits of wisdom: Curriculum is the servant, not the master.
So I love having all of these resources ready to go, but we aren't doing school at home. My vision involves having my kids love learning, know how to find information, pursue their passions, and keep their curiosity and imagination intact. It's not a race to learn to read, multiply, or recite the Gettysburg Address. So we do what's working in the moment.
And I do refer to the pretty schedule when I'm feeling lost in my day. But it's not posted or enforced. It's a guideline. Just like curriculum, the schedule is the servant, not the master.
AW will be six in September and DC is three, so I feel like I'm right in the sweet spot of this age group right now.
If you ask on any homeschool Facebook group what you should use to teach your preschool and kindergarten age children, you will get the following response:
Just let them play!
Read lots of good books.
There's no rush to start school.
All three of those statements are excellent advice. Children learn amazingly well just by having constant interactions with the world around them. So why do we need a whole blog post about this topic?
Well, I'm really good at reading lots of good books. We have checked out hundreds of library books over the past three years, and my bookshelves are overflowing with finds from used book stores. We don't read-aloud every single day (*gasp*), but we do most days. DC and AW each get their own bedtime story every night unless we are out or it's family night (because we stay up later). I scour book lists for ideas, check out library displays, and let the kids wander and choose books from the picture book shelves (they can check out one book for each year of their life). Sometimes we pick a topic and dive deep.
But reading isn't enough for my kids. They beg for projects, especially AW. I think part of it is that she loves being creative. I think they also both love doing learning activities because it's something we do together and they love the connection. If I were someone else, I might be able to just make that happen in more organic ways. But I am who I am, and I sometimes need externally imposed structure for motivation. Where do I go?
I planned on delaying academics until age seven. It was part of my motivation for homeschooling. But I have at least one more academically minded kiddo, maybe two. We needed a little bit more for AW. So how about academic curriculum?
Wow! That looks like a lot! Does that mean we do school all day every day? Well, yes and no. But that's a story for another post.
No one argues that bullying is a major issue in classrooms today. Some people argue that it builds character or resiliency. If I homeschool my child, then they will not be exposed to anyone they don't like and they won't learn to handle tough situations. Or so people say.
Let's be clear: bullying is abuse. It might be verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. If bullying behaviors were carried out by an adult, whether or not it was to a child or another adult, we would condemn the behavior. And certainly, many people condemn bullying. But do we ever argue that we should leave a child in an abusive environment because it will build character? No. We don't.
So if my kids aren't bullied, how will they learn to be resilient or handle tough social situations? Here are some examples of my kids being resilient.
AW takes a combination ballet-tap class. It's challenging for her, and she has a love-hate relationship with dance. She loves being in class. Watching her on the monitor in the waiting room is a joy. She is absolutely engaged and she always comes out with a big grin on her face, absolutely energized. But she's impatient. She wants to dance on point (sorry kid, you have years of work and growth ahead of you) and she doesn't like stretching. She doesn't like to change for dance class and every week she tells me she doesn't want to go. We push past the discomfort of getting ready for dance because the reward is worth it. Her growth in dance this year has been wonderful to watch. This girl has dance inside of her and she dances all day long, whether or not she takes a class. But now that she has had some formal instruction, her movements have taken on new grace and purpose. She has an interest in ballets and their music. It's been a growth experience for her, but with a gentle and caring teacher.
Recently, AW was faced with a challenging social situation. We were at a friend's house, and the friend asked her to keep a secret. The friend was breaking a house rule (nothing earth-shattering but a very reasonable rule) and told AW. AW replied that we don't keep secrets at our house. The friend got upset and said she would be mad if AW told. My little girl came out of the bedroom, looking very worried. She told us the "secret" and the friend's mom thanked her. I was so proud that she stuck to our family values even under pressure from a friend. AW also has to balance when some of her friends don't get along with each other. She feels the conflict very deeply and struggles to be friends to both kids and help them play with each other. It's something for her to work out on her own, although we talk through the situation frequently. She's learning all kinds of social skills, but in a safe and supportive environment with other kids who are really good kids.
What about getting along with kids they don't like? Well, AW has hardly ever met a kid she didn't like so it's hard to say. But my kids fight with each other like cats and dogs, so they are certainly learning to manage frustrations with other people. DC is a little more selective with friends, so I imagine we will have to spend more time learning these lessons as he gets older and more interactive with other kids.
And resiliency? Well, my kids are handling the upheaval of a tree falling on our house. It's very difficult to convey just how terrifying it was. One of my kids has really struggled with the fear of it happening again, and we are working through that fear. That kid will come out of this event with tools for managing anxiety. That's resiliency right there.