Let’s think broadly for a moment about what homeschooling in Fall 2020 might look like. It will be pieced together like a very homemade pie crust. You might be working in the mornings, and homeschooling in the afternoon. Your neighbors might be homeschooling one day a week (twice on Thursdays, as Eeyore likes to say). Your mother-in-law might take on dictation with one child. Your dad might take on science with all of them. You agree to some sort of co-op lunch program with your neighbor where every other day the kids eat lunch at the other’s house and hear a story read aloud.
Or, perhaps you will be handling quite a lot. You are totally by yourself. You do two hours a day, whenever it fits.
The rest of the time the children are checking chores off a list, creatively playing/trashing the one room you conveniently never deign to look in, helping you prep lunch, staying up too late in their room telling stories to each other, and sleeping in. They wake up and tell you their dreams with enviable recall. They learn how to use wikipedia and tell you at dinner what they read. Likely, very likely, they take on projects of their own, like listing the personality traits of every character in their favorite book or designing bug traps that are eerily successful.
Would that be so bad?
I set out to write this post for you about the curriculum we liked this year, and I realized it’s a hard one to write! ha. What if you are intimidated by what I list, though I know we dabbled and skipped and simply did what we could?
Keep in mind your homeschool day will not look like conventional group-classroom schooling. Most learning will be so effective, the lessons should last for a 15-30 minute period. You will rapidly begin to understand your child’s interest and abilities, and that will effect everything you do. You will include younger siblings and older siblings in conversation in a way that is inclusive of a diverse range abilities, thereby modeling this life skill for your students.
Think of a year spent homeschool as an opportunity to note the couple of subjects your child is most excited about or most terrified by, and pay attention only to those.
You will eventually come to hold a sense of time and how to effectively work at certain points and play at others, and not to worry too much about the rest of it.
That will not happen right away.
You will likely have to decide ahead of time how much screen time you are willing to sign your child up for. My feeling on screen time is that it is always a tradeoff. An hour on seems to mean an hour or two spent attempting to regain that sense of motivation and activity that children otherwise channel on their own. If one student is on a screen, the entire household seems to pivot to stare along with them; it disrupts attention spans for everyone. I like to save a weekly movie as an opportune quiet break for the parents. I love educational apps, and I like to use them in an extended time period, every couple weeks for several hours, or on long car trips or plane trips. My children are all under the age of nine, and no online class has yet seemed worth the tradeoff.
My feeling is: childhood is short enough as it is.
It’s not a coincidence that when asked to recommend a book to new homeschoolers, two experienced mothers chose books with deep monastic habit vibes. Books that encourage practice over feats of completion. Books that savor the strength found in peace instead of giant leaps forward.
The first example, my friend Jenny Haller, homeschool mom to four, recommends Kathleen Norris’s Quotidian Mysteries. Explaining why she likes it, Jenny says:
The repetition, the mundane and the potential acedia that takes years to overcome is all discussed in a poetic and personal tone. Dishes, laundry, mopping, brushing out tangles, all of these can be worthy as worship if done in the right spirit. This is not a homeschool book. Most days, though, the actual schooling is easy and the living is what drains me. This book convicts me to my core making me evaluate my heart and motivation. Our homes can be our monasteries. Liturgy, reading, housekeeping and constant prayer- as the Benedictines do, so do the mothers.
And as a second example, Susan Wise Bauer, an academic writer who was homeschooled herself and then homeschooled her four children through high school, recommends Thomas Merton’s 1949 New Seeds of Contemplation. In a podcast interview she says:
It’s not about homeschooling, it’s about peace. It’s about understanding yourself and the things that drive you, and coming to terms with those. It’s about understanding the difference between your responsibilities that you must carry out, and the things that you’re choosing to do for yourself. I really think that sort of self-knowledge is at the root of successful homeschooling. -Susan Wise Bauer
2019-2020 Curriculum we used:
Reading: I love the curriculum we used. It’s an “open and go,” meaning you can turn to the chapter of the day a few minutes before the lesson, skim it, and you’re ready to teach! The worksheets are genuinely fun, the lessons make sense, I was able to answer any and all questions just by reading what was on the pages. We used it for our 1st-2nd grader, and are now beginning again at lesson one for our early kindergartener.
And we are doing a level with our precocious 4th grader, initially because she was jealous of all the fun worksheets. She is one of those who got the basics of reading and took off, because she’s good at guessing. She now reads Harry Potter aloud to her sisters and reads on a more advanced level to herself. However she does not have the foundation of how to sound out new complicated words. Susan Wise Bauer discusses the well known “4th grade slump” that is a result of this skip-skip-guess reading, in this recorded talk.
This reading curriculum is probably the most expensive thing I’m going to recommend here: All About Learning, Learn to Read (No need to purchase the zebra puppet or the ‘deluxe’ kit, a shoebox will do fine.)
Handwriting: I think handwriting is sort of the best. You pull out the books for ten or fifteen minutes, maybe just leave them on the table to grab while you read aloud, waiting for them when they push their oatmeal bowls away. They work on it, mere minutes! And steadily, they get better. We really like the Handwriting Without Tears books–cursive and print.
Science: At the recommendation of a friend who is an incredible homeschooler, we did Real Science Odyssey’s Astronomy. Truth: we got through maybe a quarter of it. But it’s a good one and I’ll share it here nonetheless. We did astronomy because that’s what the children explicitly expressed interest in, we could have just as easily done biology, physics, chemistry…Check it out: Real Science Odyssey.
History: We read aloud a chapter a day from the third volume of Story of the World. I got our copy from the library, and no, we don’t have the activity book. Now that I know how much we love it, I will buy the whole series secondhand (still not going to buy the activity books because I just don’t have the bandwidth for things like that). I’m so thankful for that series! If you want to think through using a book like this as your base for history, literature and reading aloud–i.e. framing everything else around it, listen to this talk (free, for now).
Math: I don’t have any particularly great advice here. Beast Academy is an amazing, comprehensive, thoughtful, entertaining approach to math….that was hard, and we took it too fast. The girls got sick of it, I pushed it too much, they felt defeated. perk: Already own the books, doesn’t hurt to circle back.
Joe did this sort of ’80s approach to algebra with the eight and six-year-old. They did it, maybe once every three weeks? They totally got the concept, nailed the worksheets, and will now tell you they love algebra.
But why listen to my advice on this when you can read through this comprehensive overview of your options that takes into account what type of learner your child is? Take an evening and do that instead. This kind of research is really important.
Reading Aloud: I’m beginning to believe nearly any learning hurdle can be crossed with reading aloud. Reading comprehension. Vocabulary. Diction. Rich learning and narrative structure.
If you want to dig in more on what reading aloud can do, read the entertaining and fascinating The Enchanted Hour. Um, wow. You’ll be reading aloud to your children until they’re 18.
Last year we used Sonlight Curriculum which is a wonderful program that selects all your books for the year, sends them to you, and tells you what order to read them in. We all enjoyed it. It’s also expensive, because you are ordering lots of brand new books, and their teaching guide which is very helpful, costs extra. (** Sonlight Curriculum is a Christian curriculum that has includes books written from a Christian perspective.)
This year, perhaps as a concession to the baby, I kept it simpler. Each morning I read a devotional, a Bible story, a chapter or two of a novel, and a chapter or two of history. That was perfectly wonderful, it’s wildly cheaper, and involves less commitment. Choose your own adventure.
Other Important Great Things:
A Printer: So often this year I thought to myself, “I couldn’t do this without my printer.” Everyone wanted to do the same worksheet, everyone wanted the same coloring page, there was this awesome puzzle we downloaded from the internet, every science worksheet had to be copied three times. Etc. We have a second-hand laser printer–no color printing, no excitement, but it does scan and is unbelievably efficient with ink. If you don’t have a printer, keep your eyes out for a used corporate-style laser printer like the Canon ImageClass d530.
Classical Conversations: It doesn’t particularly pertain to 2020-2021 because I personally believe most groups will not be able to meet as they once did until we have a COVID-19 vaccine. I know I need to write a longer post about Classical Conversations for those interested in exclusively hearing about that. I can imagine one might begin to google, and find all these “why I left classical conversations” posts.
But it’s been nothing but a helpful structure for us, with the girls memorizing an enormous amount of historical context that I never would have thought of on my own.
For me the curriculum is just one part of what we do, and I love it for that. I love it for the families we meet through it. I love it for the once-a-week community day and all we learn together. I love it for how it revealed to me the children’s incredible interest and ability in memorization. It’s like a secret garden I never would have stumbled into on my own. I love it for its organized approach to history and especially geography. (**Classical Conversations is a Christian-based curriculum with many references to God, the Bible, and Judeo-Christian history.)
General Super Helpful Resources:
Susan Wise Bauer: She’s amazing, and I’ve really enjoyed all these recordings that she’s currently offering as free downloads. Lots to learn from her!
Ambleside Online: an extremely quirky Internet 1.0 website that is aimed at helping you educate classically as cheaply as you can.
Braver Learner: A cheery, go-get-’em, “just try this” creative homeschool book. Check out this book and other great titles listed on this blog post. Sometimes it’s nice to read books about homeschooling, and sometimes you just need to do the homeschooling. Don’t worry if you’re not in the mood to hear inspirational stories.
Half a Hundred Acre Woods Curriculum overview: a mother experienced with handling many ages at home, lots of great ideas here, particularly for older kids and teens.
Jodi Mockabee: Jodi is an artist who approaches homeschooling with a strong aesthetic sensibility. It’s very inspiring, if not entirely attainable. I love her pdfs, in particular the one that explains her approach to “Notebooking.”