Homeschool

Falling In Love With Charlotte Mason? Me!? Really!?

Books! Books! Books!

I had heard a description of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy during an online homeschool conference quite some time ago. And from that, I was convinced that it wasn’t for us (I know now that the brief description I heard wasn’t the best). Since then, I had more brief encounters with some of Charlotte’s ideas; and I maintained that it was a good option, but a little too old-fashioned and stuffy for us.

Emily Cook changed my life. I saw a talk she gave for the SEA Homeschoolers online conference and her emphasis on literature was everything my book-loving heart was after. I immediately bought her book (A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling). It arrived two days later (who doesn’t love Amazon Prime?). I finished reading it two days after that. Her modern touch was just what I needed to feel like Charlotte Mason could work for us. It was also reassuring to feel like it’s ok to have a relaxed environment. In fact, it’s even encouraged. It’s so much better to have a comfy, warm, nurturing environment for our homeschool.

At my core that was always what I wanted most. I mean, we chose to homeschool for that reason. To be different than the public school environment. So far, I haven’t had any real problems doing that. This young age is easier. It feels fine for us to spend the majority of our time playing, and dedicate a small amount of time to important concepts like learning to read. I have worried about how to continue this calming, comforting set-up as the kids get older, while still providing them with a superior education and the tools they need to succeed in whatever adult life they choose for themselves.

Emily showed me the light. Her book has so many amazing suggestions. It’s an amazing guideline to follow. But the best thing is that she doesn’t make you feel like you have to follow it. Many of the homeschool guide books I have read, or talks I have seen (and there have been a lot), have been very “my way or the highway.” I think most of you know that I don’t like being told what to do, haha. Emily has a way of convincing you that she is absolutely certain that she’s doing what is right for her family (an incredible feat I must say), and then in turn making you feel like you can do it too; but you don’t have to do it the exact same way.

Because of this, I have decided that I am capable of adapting the bits of Charlotte Mason I love (the literature, the nature, and others) to fit our family. I’m still changing and putting together ideas right now (I’ll give an update in the future), but now I feel confident that I don’t need a boxed curriculum. I CAN DO THIS! I can have exactly the environment we want, and do it all myself! I’m not naive, I know that it won’t always be smiles, and sometimes it will be hard. But we can do it. It’s an amazing feeling. Emily, I cannot thank you enough.

If you’re reading this, or you’ve read Emily’s book, and you feel like you want to follow Emily’s footsteps to a greater degree, she has put together what looks like an amazing curriculum guide for each grade over at Build Your Library.

And don’t worry, we’re still big fans of Timberdoodle. It was definitely the right purchase for our Kindergarten, and we’ll have more products from them in the future.

 

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Mom Life

Momsomnia

I suffer greatly from an affliction I like to call “momsomnia.” I’m sure I didn’t make this up, it’s probably already in some dictionary. Basically, I never truly sleep. Though I am fortunate enough that both children now sleep through the night more often than not. This does not mean that I sleep. I think moms everywhere will agree that we’re conditioned to only ever half sleep. We must be able to easily hear when our children need us. Dad’s aren’t quite as adept at this, my husband used to be easily roused by our son, but that’s not the case anymore. Add to that my husband’s snoring, and the fact that I am a constant worrier, and you have a recipe that’s better than a five hour energy shot. Of course, this magic only happens at night. During the day I am a zombie if I don’t have coffee (and sometimes even if I do). Last night was no different. I just couldn’t sleep. So when Baby Lady decided she needed to cuddle with Mommy at 4:30 in the morning, I expected it (as it sometimes does) to make me even more cranky. Instead it turned out to be exactly what I needed too. I laid there with her on my belly and just took it all in. Her warm body, her small breaths, her giggles, and her heavenly baby smell. I had a moment where I remembered that one day I won’t get to feel the weight of my babies curled up in my lap anymore. One day I wouldn’t have those quiet moments alone with them. My sweet girl had been the calming force I needed, and eventually I got back to sleep for a few minutes. But not before this thought: We moms spend all of our time thinking about what we’re bringing to our children’s lives, and what more we can do to enrich them. We don’t spend enough time really enjoying the fact that, without even trying, our babies bring so much to our lives. I always feel the joy my kids give me, but I really don’t spend enough time thinking about it and enjoying it; I don’t spend enough time being present in the quiet moments, or the loud ones. I spend too much time thinking about what else I should be doing, and not seeing that my children are happy and healthy. So last night my “momsomnia” turned out to be a good thing. And I plan to work harder to be more present in the moment. So for all those moms also suffering from this affliction: remember that you are not alone, and there will be coffee in the morning.

Homeschool

Tiny Polka Dot Review

Hi Everyone! I am pleased to announce that I am now a part of the Timberdoodle blog team! This exciting news means that Timberdoodle will occasionally be providing us some products in exchange for our review of them. And first up is Tiny Polka Dot!

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Bug really needed his Lego T-Rex to be in this picture.

This bright little box is filled with 66 cards and instructions for 16 different games! All of which are geared toward mathematical development. One of my favorite things about the game is that it includes a “Guide for Grownups” which had some really helpful tips. The last thing written in the guide is: “when your child plays and has fun, they are laying the foundation for a lifetime of mathematical success.” I think everyone who reads my blog entries can see that this product falls right into my play-based learning style. Anyway, continuing on with what’s in the box… I mentioned before that there are instructions for 16 different games. This is great, but I did find some of them to be little vague, especially some of the more difficult games, so you kind of have to (or maybe get to) make it fit to whatever seems to work for your little one. The cards themselves though are physically incredible. Baby Lady preferred to  make a mess with the cards and in all of our time playing so far (which has been several different occasions) we have only had one bend, and it’s hardly even noticeable. This is a huge plus because finding games we can let her play with too is actually very difficult.

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The bright colors really appealed to her, she had a great time just looking at all of the cards.

Now, getting down to some specifics. The whole set has games for a wide range of ages from 3+ – 7+, but I could see some of the games being captivating for much longer. The problem for us is that Bug seems a little too advanced for about half of the games and not quite ready for the other half, so they don’t hold his interest for as long as some of his other card and board games. I actually found myself really wishing we had this last year for Pre-K. The good news for you (and for Baby Lady) is that I just found out that it’s part of the Timberdoodle Pre-K Kit. Though I would recommend it for anyone, not just homeschoolers. I love that it is a fun way to really enforce the most important mathematical basics. Just in the second time we played I noticed and improvement in Bug’s subitizing (which means being able to recognize a number of objects without having to count them). I’m extremely excited to be able to use this in Baby Lady’s curriculum in the future. For Bug it certainly wasn’t one of those games he obsesses over (like Monopoly Jr., which we have played no less than 100 times), but this is probably a good thing because it keeps me from getting bored with it. I would say the reason he didn’t obsess over it was because the games lend themselves toward being one player games (especially Hungry Numbers, which  he says is his favorite), and he tends to prefer multi-player games. But this is actually a plus for me because it keeps him occupied by himself for a few minutes, so I can fold a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher.

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Bug playing Hungry Numbers. We adapted this one by using all of the cards.

Alright, alright, at the end of the day you’re wondering: Is this game worth $14? My opinion: Absolutely. The longevity alone would make it worth it. Add to that the number of games and the ability to adapt those games to your child’s interests, and you’ve got a winner. If you’re interested in buying this game for your family you can get it here, and start earning yourself some Doodle Points for all the other awesome Timberdoodle stuff you’re going to want.

As an added bonus, when you purchase from Timberdoodle, your receipt has an activity sheet printed on the back of it. This time I got a page out of Extreme Dot-to-Dot: Explorers, it was so fun it made me want to buy the whole book for myself.

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My dot-to-dot page. I probably could have done a better job. Oh well.

**Timberdoodle provided this product free of charge, in exchange for a review. Our thoughts are 100% our own.**

Homeschool

I Want To Homeschool! Where Do I Start!?

It’s so overwhelming!

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and homeschool. Now what?

This is pretty much how I felt. I knew for a long time that I was going to homeschool; but when it came time to actually legitimately do it, I had no idea where to begin. I just started googling. Chances are though, that if you’ve decided to homeschool, you have at least one reason why you’re doing it. That is your start. What is that reason (or reasons)? Keep that always in your mind as you go forward.

Everything in the world of homeschool depends on your family and your season of life. Are you removing a kid from public school? Are you starting from the very beginning? The most important question, at first, is: Where do you live? You have to first learn the laws for your state (many have different requirements). HSLDA will have all of the legal information you need, plus some other resources.

Alright, now you know the laws, but you’re still wondering “how do I start teaching?” Many people will recommend that if you have removed a child from public school that you take a small break and reset. While I don’t have any personal experience in this area, I would still recommend it. This will give you some time to observe you’re child and work together to discover how he/she best learns.

Ready to dive in? My next suggestion would be to determine your teaching style, if you have one at all. Remember as you’re doing this to think about your reason for homeschooling. Think about your whole family, not just the child or children you’re going to be teaching. If the curriculum isn’t enjoyable for you as the teacher, your children will pick up on that. Even throughout pre-k I could tell that Bug would notice if I was bored with a particular activity.

Next up: choosing curriculum. For me this was (and still is) probably the hardest part. There are SO many choices. For starters, I would say: check in your area to see if it’s possible for you to attend a homeschool convention. They give you the opportunity to see a wide array of curriculum choices in person. If you can’t, don’t fret too much, you can still do this. I didn’t attend a convention, though I would have loved to, and I managed to find something that I’m confident will be a good jumping off point for us. At this point, once you’ve put the thought into how your kids learn best and how you want to teach, you’ll be able to start your search. Knowing these things will help narrow it down the kinds of curriculum you’ll be most interested in. If cost is a bigger concern (as it is for most), I suggest using your local library for most of your resources. As you may know, we chose to use a Timberdoodle kit for kindergarten. If you’re pressed for time and the search for curriculum is feeling overwhelming, I would suggesting going this route for a few reasons: 1) I believe the range of products included in the kit can work for every child, 2) this large range will give you a better idea of what sorts of materials work best for you, 3) you can jump into teaching immediately and give yourself time to continue researching curriculum. But my biggest piece of advice for your curriculum search is to go with your gut and give something a shot. You can’t know until you try, and if it doesn’t work there is always something else out there. Just in the few short months that I’ve started planning our schedule for next year, I’ve already found a few other types of curriculum that are of interest to me.

I’m not pretending to be an expert in this, but this overwhelming feeling is fresh to me, and I’ve made it through. I feel infinitely more confident now than I did six months ago. I can’t promise that it will be easy, it takes time and effort to find what’s right, as does every other aspect of homeschooling. But it doesn’t have to be so scary. So I say to myself, and to you, that as long as you’re giving it your best effort you’re probably on the right track. It’s easy to see that children are always learning something from every experience. The best thing you can do is give them the foundation and desire to continue learning. Just try to have fun and the rest will come.

 

Homeschool

The Importance of Outside Play

OH MAN! The tears!

We had a freak wave of snow. Snow! At the end of April! Can you believe it? The weather had already become spring-like that month and Bug had gotten used to comfortably playing outside every day. During the winter months he doesn’t get as much enjoyment from playing outside. He tries every day, but the cold always gets the better of him and he ends up back inside after about 20 minutes. When it gets warm enough he’ll spend almost all day out there. When the snow came through I chose not to let him play outside because both kids had just gotten bronchitis and were still getting over it. By the third day the near constant tears were driving me crazy. Fortunately, t-ball practice was later that day.

There seems to be a lot of debate about how much time kids should be playing outside during school hours. I’ve read about many schools even cutting recess entirely from the day. Some other schools were enforcing more outside free play, citing tons of benefits including the kids being all around more focused. Well, here I am with my own little living proof. Our little man (and now even our 1 year old daughter) is happier, more productive, and more focused when he gets to play outside and be free and imaginative. If our back door is open, Baby Lady will just go outside to play all on her own. Being outside fills so many of our kid’s needs. So that’s what we will continue to do as much as possible, and learn so much more because of it.

Homeschool

Timberdoodle Kit: Out of the Box Review

As promised, here is my initial review of my Timberdoodle kit. Keep in mind that I have not yet used any of the curriculum with Bug. I will hopefully follow up with an in-depth review near the end of the school year.

In preparation for our 2017-2018 school year, which will start in August, I took advantage of the pre-sale and purchased the Secular Kindergarten 2017 Timberdoodle Curriculum Kit, in the elite version.

Let’s start with a quick review of Timberdoodle as a company. I have never worked with a company so committed to excellent customer service. Someone is always available to help and they have never failed to answer a question. I’ve even spoken with the same customer service agent enough times that she should be sick of me, but she is always gracious and goes beyond the call of duty, even running to the warehouse once to check my order for me. I feel like any company putting that much care into answering every single tiny question, would hopefully be putting the same amount of care into choosing the best learning products for kids.

Moving on to the kit: I have examined each piece and read the handbook, and I could not be more excited. Even Bug said “there’s so much cool stuff!” Here is our kit:

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List of Included Items:

  • 2017 Secular Curriculum Handbook – Kindergarten
  • I Can Doodle Rhymes
  • The Usborne Big Drawing Book
  • Aquarellum Mini – Elephants
  • Big Book of Things to Find and Color
  • Origami Animals
  • Beginning Geography
  • Geopuzzle Complete Boxed Set of 6
  • This Is How We Do It
  • Usborne Sticker Dressing Emergency Services
  • What Your Kindergartener Needs To Know
  • The Reading Lesson Book
  • Spelling You See Level A Universal Set
  • Itty Bitty Phonics Readers Collection
  • Now I’m Reading! Level 1: Big Fun
  • Square Panda Phonics Playset
  • Math-U-See Primer Universal Set
  • ALEX Ready Set Bodies
  • Usborne – Look Inside Your Body
  • Little Labs: The Human Body
  • Visible Human Floor Puzzle
  • My Body in Action
  • ThinkPlay STEM Gears 400pc Set
  • Geo Shape Lacing
  • Developing the Early Learner
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Kumon Amazing Mazes
  • Kumon Kindergarten Logic
  • Morph Sunburst Yellow
  • Jumbo GRIP Pencils – 2 Pack
  • GRIP Colored EcoPencils – 12ct
  • Kum 4-in-1 Pencil Sharpener
  • Koh-I-Noor Magic FX PencilsThe Pros and Cons So Far:

As a reminder, I haven’t used this stuff yet, so these are pretty short lists so far.

Cons:

I’ll be honest, the kit comes with a hefty price tag of $789.35. It’s a great deal for the amount of curriculum you get, but still a large sum of money and that can be quite a burden.

Pros:

The flexibility of the schedule is a huge advantage for me. The handbook breaks down how to use the materials on a weekly basis to fill a 36 week school year. The weekly schedule makes it extremely simple to follow the timeline and keep track of what you’ve done. In addition Timberdoodle provides access to their online schedule customizer in case you want to operate on a different timeline like we do.

The amount of stuff. There is enough material that it seems like we won’t get bored and won’t need to supplement much more than with library books for extra curricular reading (because we’d really like to complete the reading list included in the handbook). But it also isn’t too much that things won’t get used at some point.

The ability to read through the handbook and immediately be able to dive in if you want. I am extremely detail oriented, and a heavy planner, so I’m taking extra time to read through all of the parent manuals and really prepare myself. But it isn’t strictly necessary to do that if you’re ready to hit the ground running.

There is a lot of cross-over among the subjects. All of the pieces build on each other and provide repetition without boredom. And as I’ve said before, I very much subscribe to the philosophy that “in  repetition there is learning.”

Will this kit work with your teaching style?

If you’re really strongly into a specific teaching style, I would say probably not (for those who want to know more about teaching style see my post Do I Have To Have a Teaching Style??). There is a huge variety in the material, from workbooks to building sets. It doesn’t lend itself to any particular style. It has good foundational elements of the basics, like teaching reading, math, and spelling. But it’s heavy in the hands-on learning and focuses on teaching a good balance of convergent and divergent thinking, with an emphasis on divergent thinking and problem solving. All in the super-fun form of playing games and building.

Why Did WE Choose This Route?

While I have done TONS of curriculum research, and could have put together my own plan, finding something and somewhere that already has everything I wanted put together for me was HUGE timesaver. And let’s face it, homeschooling is time consuming and anything that helps save time is great.

Being new to homeschooling has come with a certain level of fear for me. I don’t want to mess this up. For Pre-K I put together my own curriculum. I took ideas from all over and designed activities from all of those ideas. I really didn’t feel confident that my own abilities would be good enough to stand alone for Kindergarten. Fortunately, I also feel like there is still a little room for error. At this age I am still going for a strong play-based learning environment, so there’s a chance here for some experimentation. The Timberdoodle kit has so much variety that it will hopefully give us a better, more clear picture of exactly what works best for us. I’m confident that we will learn from using it, even if it’s not the right fit and we don’t continue using their kits in later years.

At the risk of being repetitive, one of the biggest reasons I went with this kit is because of the hands-on style. Because it’s comprised of a lot of toys, but with handbooks for how to use those toys to really teach a huge number of skills.

To sum up: I really think this kit is a great choice for Kindergarten, and it can work for anyone. I am thrilled with the quality of the products we received, and I cannot wait to get started.

Homeschool

Do I Have To Have A Teaching Style??

Being new to homeschooling, I have been doing a LOT of research over the past few years in an attempt to learn as much as possible. But the whole “teaching style” question has been a major struggle for me. For those that don’t know what they are, let me give you a broad strokes run down of some of the more common homeschool teaching styles.

 

1. Traditional

Traditional is pretty much what you would think of if you grew up in a public school environment. There are textbooks, workbooks, and tests. The student learns the information, does the workbook lesson, and takes a test. This style appears to be particularly good for those wanting a very structured environment. It’s also less teacher intensive than other methods. But keep in mind it could leave you doing a lot of grading.

2. Classical

This one is based on 3 stages of development, called the trivium. Younger children start in the grammar stage doing primarily memory work. This is usually through the ages of around 6-9. Next is the logic stage. In this stage your teaching them heavily how to apply logic. This goes through about age 13. The next phase would be rhetoric. This is where you would begin having them communicate persuasively. This style really emphasizes teaching students how to think.

3. Charlotte Mason

Based on the work of Charlotte Mason, a British educator in the late 1800s; this method focuses greatly on learning through literature, and the use of living books. Living books are usually a narrative of the subject you’re studying that will pull the student in and reach their emotions. The approach also involves an emphasis on living what you’re learning.

4. Unit Studies

This is a little self-explanatory. Basically you have a specific subject matter that you’re studying and make all of your school work for the unit relate as much as possible to that one topic. This is pretty teacher intensive and does require a lot of planning.

5. Unschooling

The extreme version of this is that you have no curriculum at all. You let you’re children lead the way, and choose what they’re interested in, the dive wholly into that. This style focuses a lot on learning from life experiences.

6. Eclectic

Which really just means you do a little of everything. This method actually isn’t regularly mentioned, but from what I understand is used a lot.

 

Throughout my research, and after various talks I have watched, I had started to get the feeling that I absolutely HAD to choose one of the first five methods; and if didn’t, then I was doing something wrong. Now, to be fair, a major pro of choosing a particular method is that it’s very helpful when choosing curriculum. A lot of curriculum will tell you what method it follows. Many people say that when you start learning about each of the styles, one will start to speak to you, and you feel called to go in that direction.

After all of my research, and a lot of soul searching, I just don’t feel like we actually fit anywhere in those first five. But here I was feeling like I had to choose, it was something I was supposed to do. Well, I say “nuts to that!” I’m doing it my own way. The point of homeschooling was for us to be able to do what’s best for our children and our family. So that is exactly what I am going to do. Because it’s important to find what truly works for everyone. As a teacher you have to choose what you can do well, and are interested in, so you don’t get burnt out. You have to really know yourself and know your own strengths and weaknesses, because if you’re unhappy, that’s going to translate to your kids. And I also know my son. I know him so well. I know how to choose what will work best for him. So here we are, happily in the eclectic category and paving our own way as usual; because I like and dislike so many things about each style, I want to be able pick and choose.

Sure, this may make it more difficult for me to put together curriculum as the kids get older, but the wonderful thing is that I have learned a lot about each method and maybe that will help with my curriculum hunting. Another good thing is that I, myself, never want to stop learning, and this gives me an opportunity to learn and explore. So, here’s what I say to all of you parents who are struggling with this too: Go with your gut, and never stop learning.