Homeschool

Today We’re Unschoolers

Teaching style. Such a HOT topic among homeschoolers. It seems that if you join a group of homeschoolers that subscribe to a certain style (i.e. Charlotte Mason or Classical) you may frequently find that if you don’t go “whole hog” and do it exactly as described, you sort of get shunned. Well, as I’ve said before, I am a firm believer that you don’t HAVE to choose a style. Sure, it may be helpful for many reasons, but it doesn’t mean it’s a requirement. And if you do decide to stick to one path, you still have the freedom to add your flair. If you’re a follower of my blog, then you probably already know that we fall into the eclectic category. We do have a stronger emphasis on Charlotte Mason, but we don’t follow all of the “rules.”

For the past week we have fallen right into the unschooling mold. On Saturday I bought a giant (probably 5ft tall) cardboard rocket ship for the kids to color. I expected it to provide maybe an afternoon of entertainment. It quickly became Bug’s top priority. The first day he colored non-stop. He eventually decided to put his tool kit inside the rocket so that he could do repairs. He donned his space helmet and went back and forth between simply pretending to be an astronaut, and coloring/decorating the ship. Even Baby Lady got in on the action. At one point they were both covered in marker, and Bug strongly resembled a green panda. This led to many talks about space (though that is a VERY common occurrence in our house), especially asteroids. Some time later he developed an elaborate story about a robot mouse who helps him on the ship. The mouse even helps fight bad guys! This prompted Bug to put notebook and colored pencils in the ship. A space log. He needed to be able to write things about his mouse. He is only 5 though, so he tires very quickly when writing. Yet he still has SO much he wants written down. What to do!? Good news! We have Brave Writer to help us. We LOVE Brave Writer. The Jot-It-Down phase of the Brave Writer program places me as his scribe. He gets to use and develop his writing voice, and I am there to capture it all for him. I can’t say enough good things about Brave Writer, my enthusiasm is through the roof. Ask anyone who knows me, I won’t stop talking about Julie and her program. All of this space business led to us playing a lot of Sums In Space. I stumbled upon this game while looking for fun ways to help with math facts, and it’s awesome.

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So here we are at the end of our school week, and we spent most of it “playing” and disregarding our regular curriculum and routine. But so much was learned! There was reading, writing, math, and science! I know the term unschooling, and it’s description, may sound silly; but playing is learning. At this young age there is nothing wrong with child-led learning. It is so important to make learning fun for them. It’s most important for us parents to be their guide. Follow their lead and secretly make everything a learning opportunity. After all, that’s all life is, a giant learning opportunity. I want my kids to NEVER stop wanting to learn. I want them to see every day as a chance to learn something new and exciting. So, if that means that sometimes we’re unschoolers and sometimes we’re classical, and sometimes we’re Charlotte Mason-ers, that’s OK. I heard someone talk about tidal homeschooling once. The concept of following the natural ebb and flow of our life seemed to fit in perfectly with what I want us to take away from our homeschool experience. So the fun of the rocket ship seem to be waning a bit, making room for the warm weather we’re having and a lot of outside activities. We’ll follow the tide and always learn something along the way.

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Homeschool

Timberdoodle Kit: Final Review

Well, here it is! My final review of our Secular Kindergarten 2017 Timberdoodle Curriculum Kit (Elite). If you didn’t read my initial “out-of-the-box” review, you can check it out here. We have been using the kit since August and I’ve decided that I’m comfortable enough with it to give my final review. Hopefully this will give people some time to think about it before the 2018 kits are released.

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Again, I’d like to start by commenting on Timberdoodle as a company. Their customer service, as always, far surpasses that of many other companies I have worked with. The best thing about Timberdoodle though is that they are constantly striving to find the best educational toys and games out there. Their site is always the first place I look when people ask what gifts the kids would like. It’s a great place to find stuff that’s fun for the kids, but feels good and purposeful for me too. The only negative thing I really have to say is that I would love site-wide free shipping (I’ve been spoiled by Amazon).

Moving on to the kit. I’m sure the burning question is: Would I buy it again? YES. Bottom line, if I could do kindergarten over again as a first timer, this is still the route I would take. I will, in fact, be doing kindergarten a second time around with my daughter. Will I use the kit? Most likely. But maybe differently. My daughter has a drastically different personality than my son, so I don’t quite know what her needs will be in a few years. But the best thing about the kit is that it’s so flexible. I am still a believer that this particular kit can work for almost any kid, because the materials are fun. It also helps that much of it can span across different age ranges. Baby Lady already gets involved in our activities as much as she can.

I bet you’d also like to know if I will use the first grade kit. Yes and no. I have grown and learned so much this year (with the help of having a pre-made curriculum) that I now feel that I can pick and choose and tailor our curriculum to fit all of our needs. But there are still many items from the first grade kit that I intend to use. I will update sometime next year with all of our first grade choices.

Now, since there are so many products included in the kit, and they sort of span different subjects, I’d like to just give some information on my most and least favorite items.

Favorites:

1) The Reading Lesson – Bug has gone from having a basic understanding of the alphabet (in August), to now (in December) being able to read almost anything with very little assistance. I attribute a lot of this to The Reading Lesson. Of course reading, like anything, requires practice, so we still spend a lot of time doing other reading together; us reading to him, and him reading to us (from all different levels of reading materials). But The Reading Lesson is what helped him learn to put sounds together and start decoding the words. He LOVES that he can read now, and the instant gratification from The Reading Lesson is a huge plus. I cannot recommend it enough.

2) The Usborne Big Drawing Book – This book is filled with fun, colorful step-by-step drawing how-to’s. Bug used to dislike anything to do with drawing and now he asks to draw on a regular basis.

3) Little Red Riding Hood – A very neat little one-player game that promotes problem solving. I also love that even when Bug isn’t solving the puzzles he still uses it to pretend and make fun stories and scenarios.

4) Developing The Early Learner – While I’m normally not a big advocate of workbooks, this set provided a huge insight into some skill areas that Bug was struggling in, and corrected them with fun activities.

Least Favorites:

1) What Your Kindergartner Needs To Know – We used this maybe three times. This the one thing that I would absolutely leave out if I could do it over. Not because there is anything wrong with it, it just isn’t necessary. It’s overkill. The kit already has everything you need (and maybe more). And while the book does have some good stories, I could find better versions of them at the public library.

2) Geo Shape Lacing – I actually have mixed feelings about this one. The concept is great. It’s excellent for developing coordination. But we struggled with it. The instructions are (maybe purposefully?) vague. This makes it difficult to complete some of the patterns. We had tons of problems with not know where to start and running out of string, while this is good for problem solving, for a kindergartener it makes it extremely discouraging. It may be something Bug will like later, so we’ve put it away for now. I’d also like to say that I’ve read other reviews for it that are very good.

3) ThinkPlay Gears – While this may be on my least favorite list, Bug actually enjoys it. I dislike the instructions. They aren’t color specific, and they’re not as clear and directive as Lego sets. Meaning he needs a lot of help with them, which he’s not used to. My other issue is that it takes forever to find the pieces you need for each project, even after I sorted them all into their own ziplocks. But it is still actually a neat way to show how gears work.

So, overall, I am still really happy we chose this kit for kindergarten. It’s fun, easy to use, and doesn’t feel too overwhelming. Which are the things I wanted most out of our kindergarten curriculum. And it’s a good sign that we haven’t just trashed the whole thing and decided to do something different (haha!). It’s also a good sign that if you ask Bug if he likes kindergarten he always says yes, even with the bad days. For the record, he says his favorite thing is science.

As a final note, would I recommend it to others? As always, I believe that depends entirely on you, your child(ren), and your family. But I don’t think you can really go too wrong with it no matter what. Kindergarten is a great time for exploring how you’d like your homeschool to be, and I think this kit provides a good opportunity for exploration because it offers so much variety. Hopefully this will help some of you make a good choice for your homeschool.

*This review is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Timberdoodle.

 

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.

 

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.