Thursday, May 19, 2011

Designing Your Homeschooling Curriculum -- Balancing it All

I've been having a thoughtful discussion with a blogging friend of mine. We've been talking about the reality of homeschooling... how it really works with a three year old in tow, what curriculum we use and things like that.  I would love, love, love to hear your comments about how your day goes -- and how you arrive at your homeschool curriculum decisions!

Here's part of my email letter to my friend... I'll add in a few pictures too!

You were talking about how difficult it is to work with your five year old when your 3 year old is playing. Goodness, I know how that is! My little one wants to be in the middle of things.  It's slightly easier to involve her now that she's older. So, if I'm playing a math game with DD (5) then I'll let ED turn over the cards or spin the spinner, etc. and ask her to identify the numbers. (top picture)
Sometimes I just reach into the cabinet and bring out five activities and spread them around us hoping something will catch her attention (second picture). And sometimes, I wind up homeschooling with ED climbing on my back and head (no kidding!!).  Ugh!  So, it's often a challenge -- and I'm often left feeling that I haven't "done enough" quality work with DD (or LD).  The other 'problem' is that the kids play so happily that it's hard to draw them back to what *I* want to accomplish.

Just now, for example, I was playing math games with DD.  LD came in and wanted to play. Once the game was over that sparked an idea in their heads and they ran off to play robot wars with the glass bead math manipulatives we had been using.  Sigh... what *I* wanted to do was have them finish some math-workbook time.

And ED? She is happily occupied, BUT is taking out thing after thing and creating a picnic with all the stuff.  Just a half hour ago, the carpet was picked up and clean.

Writing -- DD has worked in some random store-bought workbooks for handwriting, but I haven't yet had her work regularly in Handwriting Without Tears. It didn't resonate with her -- and she preferred the preschool workbook I had picked up somewhere else. She is happy writing notes and letters to people on her own -- and I want to encourage that free form kind of writing.  Every now and then I pull out a particular letter (a worksheet on the letter "n" for example) if I see her writing it improperly. But she doesn't do much in the way of formal writing lessons yet.  I'm not going to start her on cursive at any point soon. I'll re-evaluate that in another 6 months or so.

I will probably start working with her on "All About Spelling" level one once LD is done with that book (he has one more lesson).  I really, really love that program and would highly recommend it.  LD has really come far with it (he is a very, very reluctant writer).

I have been using Write Source Skills Book grade one with LD to help him with his writing. I like it a lot and ordered another Grade One workbook for DD to start using.  (I am using the skills book/workbook ($7.15) NOT the student book or teacher's edition.)

It talks about some basic rules of writing like
*starting a sentence with a capital letter
*leave a space between your words
*end each sentence with an end mark
*use complete thoughts (with a subject and verb)
*. ? !
*commas ,

These are all basic rules -- and then I expand on them in another blank book -- creating various exercises for LD. Sometimes I write sentences and having him put in the correct punctuation, fix the capital letters, etc. (I put in an example to the left.) Or sometimes I have him write sentences on his own paying particular attention to the rules we've gone over. In other words, I use that Write Source workbook as a jumping-off point. I also try to add in other language activities that compliment what we're working on like this contraction sort from Oceans of First Grade Fun, for example. The more hands-on I can make things for LD the better.

I just ordered First Language Lessons from Amazon and ordered Writing with Ease from the library by Susan Bauer after reading some wonderful reviews. I'll decide whether I want to incorporate them into our day/week.
**I'm adding in later -- I got Writing With Ease from the library and have read through and glanced through most of it.  It emphasizes copywork and narration especially in the first years.  I had LD do a lot of copywork in first grade, but I'm not sure I would do this again (exclusively) with my other children. It did not seem to help him much with getting the flow of writing words (if this makes sense) or learning to form words on his own. In my opinion, the skills he has taken from All About Spelling has served him MUCH better than all the work he did copying sentences.  I *did* take some things from this book and may incorporate some aspects of her narration exercises, but for me personally I will not use Writing with Ease as a curriculum for writing.
**And also adding in a few days later that First Language Lessons arrived and I can see that'll work really well for our family.  DD already memorized the first poem!

Let's see -- we obviously do our unit studies all together.  The kids work on music separately (DD does the glockenspiel, LD does the piano).  We have music classes with friends. I am hoping to re-start our German lessons together very soon. DD is particularly keen to learn that. I have some new books and really hope to incorporate that into our routine.

You were asking if I follow any "guidelines."  That's a difficult question to answer.  I am an eclectic homeschooler, so I really use lots and lots of sources. I regularly read and look through books like "What your Second Grader needs to know" or look through the Typical Course of Study for kindergarten or second grade -- -- but rarely use that when designing our curriculum. I just keep those kinds of things in the back of my mind.

Oh--and I also get a lot of advice and wisdom (not to mention printables) from various teacher's blogs out there -- such as Chalk Talk (kindergarten), What the Teacher Wants or Oceans of First Grade Fun.  ( I have some of my other favorite teacher's blogs listed here--scroll down to the green section.)

For history I have just been gradually moving forward through time.

For science I spend a LOT of time looking at the Montessori 6-9 science general topics and look through the contents of various curriculums out there (Noeo Science- or Real Science 4 Kids).  Our units often stem from the topics covered in these other curriculums, but more often than not, I pull things together myself. And I also ask the kids periodically what THEY want to study.  When LD said he wants to learn plants, plants, plants, plants (!!)... I kept my ear to the ground and jumped on the Junior Master Gardener curriculum when I heard about that. But our lapbooks (like DD's lapbooks on penguins and sunflowers this semester) came from what she said she wanted to study.

By the way, by time I finished writing this email to my friend every cabinet door was open and DD had helped herself to board games, puzzles, math manipulatives, stickers and more.  Creative mess. And -- self entertaining.  Yes, embrace these traits, right?!!! And get them to happily help me clean up afterwards!  :-)

My time is about up.   I really enjoy hearing from others. knowing I'm not alone in the homeschooling adventure!! Please leave a comment if you have the time! Can't wait to hear from you.


  1. Thank you for sharing a window to your homeschooling day. Now I can see where I've been overthinking too much. I love how you jump into things and try them out with the kids. I've been wanting to try out curriculum materials but having only one, I can't justify buying multiple things to test out especially when she's much prefer doing her own thing. So I spend my days "researching" curriculums and trying to decide whether I should invest or not. But really you don't know until you try them. Thanks for the recommendations.

    While I'm sure it's more work having to clean after three kids, it's wonderful they love to mess around together! I'm always happy when K's friends come over to play and do the same. There's so much joy in play. But I need to always make arrangements and make new friends to continually provide kids to play with. Our neighborhood friends are busy with school and outside activities and our homeschooling friends live far away.

    I do see other similarities like trying to teach (my K sounds similar to you DD), being eclectic and never feeling like you're doing enough! But I have to say that after reading your blog, I'm impressed by how much you do with all of your kids! I know the feeling of trying to do something while your child is climbing on you head and back and it's not easy!

    My question is...when do you have time to research and plan?

  2. Hi there and thank you for sharing. I especially like the "after" photo because I almost thought it was OUR house for a second, lol. We have only been homeschooling for 2 years, and I find myself constantly second-guessing if this curriculum or that curriculum is the "best" for each child. I do spend much of my time these days researching various things and just when I feel like my list for next year is complete, something else catches my eye- ahhhh!

    I am very slowly easing into a more relaxed way of homeschooling and not stressing so much over the little things. I do struggle with teaching writing and wonder if I am doing enough???

    We are very blessed to live in an area that is just bursting with homeschool families and so there is never a shortage of activities, classes, or park days for our kids.

    I am always impressed with the level at which your children are working. My 6 year old Kindergartener is still working through "sight word readers" and we use the Starfall program. My girls went to school for several years before homeschooling and they are fantastic readers. I am always wondering how I can get my little guy to want to read more. He seems to always want to be building things, or digging, or something of that nature.

    Thanks again for sharing and I always look forward to reading your posts.

  3. Wow! If only we had a room like that for our classroom...We have a small "game room" at the top of our stairs that just recently became the designated area in our home. We still generally do our learning all over the house, but it's nice to have one location to keep our supplies in. My 3 year old and 19 month old make messes like that but usually there is a trail leading all around the house! :-)
    I have been working on making plans for our next year of learning myself and trying to get it all posted on my blog. This next year (which we will probably start by July) I will have a fifth grader, a second grader and a first grader. I also then have my younger two. I am hoping that this next year is going to run smoother. We had a lot of LIFE interruptions this past year. I think that it will be easier this year to combine more subjects and let my oldest work more independently. I too struggle with clinging little ones. I am actually trying to work into my "plans" to spend time with them early on in the day and also have my two oldest take turns playing or reading to them. The week outline that I am preparing also includes for them to watch Sesame Street or some other PBS time show geared towards their age. YES I am going to plug them in so that I can have 30 minutes to give uninterrupted instruction to my other Kiddos.
    We are going to do Earth Science this year so I am excited to use some of the projects you did with your Kiddos! Thanks!

  4. Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for all the comments. When we were house hunting last summer, having a good homeschool room was one of our big priorities. I never dreamed we'd have something so large, airy and comfortable. Plus, it's set off from the kitchen and the rest of the house so guests don't enter the house straight into our homeschooling messes! But I rarely take photos of the entire room since it's not "presentable" all that often. It's lived in and productive, but doesn't have a good janitor to go along with it! It's been such lovely weather the past couple of weeks so we've actually been doing a lot of our work out on the back deck (when I can pry the kids away from the hunting for frogs, toads and crayfish!!).

    When we were overseas, we had an education benefit that allowed us to be reimbursed for up to $1200 per school year. I got a lot of amazing books and resources at that point. But unfortunately now that we're back we obviously don't have that benefit. I have to be pretty careful and selective about each purchase. Still I find that our needs change and I've had to add things in. (As you can see with the new emphasis on language arts.) Luckily we have an *amazing* public library that often has what I want. Hooray for libraries!

    Better go. I enjoyed reading all your comments (I always do!!)
    Have a great day,