Babies and toddlers. A common concern is how to homeschool when you have little ones. Nursing babies are pretty easy to do school with. Toddlers are another story. I do try to plan a few simple learning activities for them to do first thing in the morning. A lot of people like to have older kids rotate child care duty. That hasn’t worked well for me, once an older child is released, I find it hard to get them back on track. But it’s a good option for some families. I do have a bucket of toys that only comes out during school time for the littles. This keeps them occupied nearby pretty well. But there are days when, no matter what you do, you find the toddler eating soap, putting matchbox cars in the toilet and the baby is hard to console. You just thank God for these precious children, clean up the messes and keep plugging away.
There will be days when you have a funeral to attend, you have severe morning sickness, your mom is in the hospital... you just can’t school. On those days, life is the lesson. Family life, your domestic church, is the perfect place to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I do find that after a new baby, my children are craving some structure and mom time. I have them bring their school books to me and we do at least the basics on the couch or bed snuggled up with the new baby. But it takes me about four weeks to get us back into the school routine
Unless you enjoy spending many hours in the car and having trouble keeping up with basic housework, don’t take on too many outside activities. There are so many very good things for homeschoolers to do, classes, sports, music and dance lessons, play dates. We’re really blessed with a huge amount of choices. But family life can suffer and kids behavior will reflect that, before mom and dad even realize what has happened. My wise friend, Kim, uses this criteria in deciding what extra curricular things to do for their family and I think it’s a good rubric. They don’t sign up for anything that interferes with school work, family meals, daily devotions, or Mass times. So add extras in slowly and pull back from something when you find it’s too much.
There will also be days when you are down and doubting yourself and can’t pull it all
together. Pray. Get to mass or adoration if you can. Take everyone out for a walk. And smile at your
family. Smile at your husband and kids when they enter a room as if
you haven’t seen them in a while. The troubles will pass, and that
time will be remembered by your family as a time of love, even though
you were struggling.
Truly, we are doing a holy and great work. Raising saints one diaper, one math problem, one book, one grace filled moment at a time.
There are some school supplies you may find useful no matter what curriculum you use.
In math, we like using an abacus for counting.
A globe or atlas. How cool is it to look up locations of stories you read, world events you discuss or even the location of animal habitats?! (My husband prefers Google Earth...much more techie. Whatever appeals to you!)
Pencils, more than you ever think you’ll use.
More paper for drawing and writing than you think you’ll ever use. My kids like tracing paper too, it bothers them when they can’t accurately draw an animal or something like that. For young children, you’ll want the kindergarten lined writing pads. For middles, wide ruled lined paper and college ruled for older kids.
Colored pencils for mapwork, illustrating stories, and embellishing school work.
You’ll want a library card, a computer with internet and a printer.
With those three things you could practically homeschool for free if
you needed to.
Magnifying glass for science or art appreciation. That one you get away with putting in a child’s Christmas stocking or Easter basket, they’re fun.
A good pencil sharpener. Electric is great but the cheap
ones last less than a year. At first I assumed that was just us, but
when I asked around, I was relieved to learn we are not the only ones
who can’t keep a pencil sharpener working for long. The Panasonic we picked
up at Costco has been going strong for two years now. :)
When you homeschool, learning just becomes part of the fabric of your family. My older kids study Latin and they will often discuss it and work on something together. This spring we had Lydia baptized in the extraordinary form, the Latin Rite, and we wanted to print little programs so our friends and family could follow in the Latin. The copy of the rite that we had was for a baby boy, so it was in the masculine. The older boys helped us convert the text to the feminine. They used their Latin for an important family project and it was a natural outgrowth of their studies.
We find nature study, God’s creation, always fascinating. All kinds of family projects lend themselves to science studies. We’ve had chickens and a goat, planted gardens... that’s all learning. We combine the hands-on parts with books and maybe some charting, or writing and illustrating what they’ve learned.
Learning and growing in the faith becomes a beautiful, natural part of family learning. In the morning you read a Saint Joan of Arc story, in the afternoon, you find them burning someone at the stake.
Laura Berquist recommends having young children make their own bible story book. You read a Bible story, your child tells it back to you (often called narrating), you type their words and they illustrate it or color a coloring page. At the end of the year, it’s quite an impressive body of work. And they know the stories well.
History is probably our favorite subject. The possibilities for good books, field trips and hands-on learning are endless. This year we will be studying modern history and my husband’s family gave us a family pass to Greenfield Village for Christmas. Perfect! Museum guides enjoy homeschooled students because they are genuinely interested in history and enjoy learning from knowledgeable history buffs .
We use a lot of puzzles, crafts and games, even good movies to reinforce learning. A lot of those kinds of things, I’ve picked up at garage sales and thrift sores.
Keeping them somewhat organized and a list of what you have, helps you remember to pull them out and use them. It’s worth the effort. I’ve noticed that using their hands and brain together really helps the children retain what they’re learning.
Scheduling. I’ve tried it all from a very loose schedule to having every five minutes planned out. Blech.
In my family, we have a loose structure to the day but a strict start time. That is enough for our days to flow well. WHEN I enforce the start time. My younger kids do their work in a certain order because I need to make sure certain subjects fall at a time I can work with the child. The older kids, junior high and up can chose the order of their work. I have weekly meetings with the older kids to discuss their work and point out areas I want them to be attentive to.
We usually have quick pick ups of the main living area before lunch, before dad gets home from work and before bed. Most of the kids have a morning chore they do before or after breakfast and the dishwasher chore rotates.
This isn’t really about scheduling, but it helps. Get your child reading. That is your priority for your young children. Once they’re reading they are a lot more independent in their schoolwork. You don’t want to hand them a grammar book and say ‘let me know when it’s done’, you want to be checking their work, encouraging and helping them over the humps daily, but once they read for fluency it gets easier for you to fit in the things you need to get done, because you don’t have to walk them through every step of the assignment. However, every child reads for fluency at a different time. Mine have been reading well by the end of second grade. My husband didn’t really read for fluency till sixth grade and he graduated high school and college with honors. So be patient with your child, the skill of reading for fluency varies wildly.
Most homeschoolers I know do not have a spiffy separate schoolroom. If you have a room you can use, that’s wonderful. If you build one, boy could I give you some dream ideas...
but most families seem to work just fine at the kitchen table. My kids spread out. Some at the kitchen table, some at our living room table, the younger ones like to kneel at the coffee table, there are some desks in the bedrooms. The older kids really do need a quiet space. So they like the desks up in the bedrooms. You just have to check to make sure they aren’t getting sidetracked. Mine are always getting sucked in by books.
What you DO need is a place to keep the supplies you use daily. It will be so distracting to always have to hunt down a reading book or writing paper. People use milk crate style bins, an assigned shelf for each child, rolling carts that can be stored out of the way, you’ll figure out what works best in your household. But be diligent about having the children put their books and supplies away in their designated place when they are done with them.
You, the teaching mom, need to look over the weekly plans ahead of time. That way you are prepared for anything required for a lesson. You may want to get library books, search out websites your child needs for research, gather materials for a craft...
I have file folders for each month where I keep ideas for celebrating feast days or doing seasonal kinds of crafts and activities. (I do keep separate folders for Lent and Advent as those can begin in different months.) For instance, in March I have a few ideas for St. Joseph’s feast day. I may choose a simple carpentry project to do that day so I would need to get to Michael's to pick up the supplies.
Even if the lesson plans are all laid out for you, looking ahead keeps things moving and allows you to add in fun learning ideas. As you are going over them you may remember that you have the perfect game or book on your shelf to enhance the lesson.
Recently a friend and I gave the 'Getting Started' talk at the state Catholic homeschooling conference. My part was to discuss the practical side, the nuts and bolts of homeschooling. I prepared way more than I had time to present. Since I have a blog, at least I get to post it! :)
Eleven years ago on the night of labor day, my oldest son and I were so excited that we could hardly sleep because we were starting 'official' kindergarten the next day. We got going in the morning, we did a craft, practiced letter sounds, read books and built a very cool volcano in our sandbox. It was truly one of the best days of our lives because we began homeschooling.
I just finished up 10th grade, 8th grade, 7th grade, 4th grade, 2nd grade and my sixth kindergartner and I can honestly say I am more committed and enthusiastic than ever about homeschooling. It is such a blessing. It provides an excellent education, solid formation in the faith and love in your family... for the price of hard work. It is hard work...but joyful work. And what else do you have to do with your time that is more important than raising and educating your precious children? Those two things, raising and educating, become very intertwined. It’s a beautiful way of life. It’s a beautiful way to help our children get to heaven and before that, to become hardworking, intelligent, devout Catholics.
Figuring out the nuts and bolts of how your going to teach math, read the wonderful childhood classics to your kids, get them reading and not sink under mount washmore in your laundry room is the practical question.
It makes sense to address curriculum first. Your budget probably dictates what some of your choices might be. You also want to choose curriculum that YOU are excited about. When you're starting out, you may not know what would suit your child best yet. But pretty much any curriculum is going to do the job if YOU are enthusiastic about it. I would strongly encourage Catholic curriculum. You do not have to comb through it for errors regarding the faith or tweak it so much to teach Catholic children that it’s hardly worth buying.
If you are pulling your children out of school and you have several ages you probably need a curriculum, at least to start out with. I’ve known some families whose kids were in school, that had a de-schooling time period, during which they built up their family relationships and tried to restore the children’s love for learning with good books and only fun learning experiences. That may be a good approach if there are repairs to be made in the parent child relationship or if school was a traumatic time for the child.
But generally, I think the structure of a curriculum, whether it’s a packaged one or your own, and the daily routine of school work, might get the family in the homeschooling groove more efficiently. It may be wise to build up slowly, adding in one or two subjects each day for the first week. You know your child’s needs.
A little aside story. Friends of ours took their (then) seven children out of school a few years ago. I remember, I thought they were so smart. In the summer they prepared their kids for the coming school year. They attended park days with the Catholic homeschooling group so their kids could get to know some of the homeschooled kids. They laid out the curriculum for their kids to get an idea of what they would be doing. They put together a binder with field trip plans and brochures, for outings that correlated with things they would be learning. They made concrete plans for when their kids would be able to get together with their old friends from school. They also got a cool new computer for school work. All of this generated enthusiasm in the kids and helped make them comfortable with what homeschooling was going to entail.
I would say it went well for them. Their oldest son is now a seminarian for the diocese of Lansing.
If you are starting out with a kindergartner or first grader, and you want to put your own curriculum together, you really can’t mess up. Go for it, you may LOVE planning your own curriculum. I do.
I’ve used Seton, Mother of Divine Grace, Catholic Heritage Curricula, and they’re all excellent. Now I piece mine together because I love to do that. The important thing is to school in a consistent way. There is no perfect curriculum, even your own. Don’t spend so much time planning or second guessing yourself, so that your not actually schooling. Just do it. There is so much out there on websites and blogs. You can get overwhelmed and feel very intimidated by the fabulous, creative things other moms are doing in their homeschools.
Go for covering the basics every day and be fabulously creative maybe once a week. You’ll be providing a wonderful education for your children.
If you like planning but still use a curriculum, remember all the providers are flexible. If your child is stuck on a concept, you can find another way to approach it. Most of the curriculum providers can help or you will come up with about 100 ideas for how to teach whatever it is by doing a google search on it. You don’t have to move forward till your child has mastered that concept.
If your child is very interested in a particular area, like medieval history, you don’t have to move on quickly. You can slow down and stay with that time period longer. Find some extra projects or reading to do, have fun with it. The providers all encourage that.
Most years we go to fireworks at a local park. Kari and David join us. We pack loads of food and spend the day there. Usually we run into people we know, the kids play hard and get quite dirty and everyone has a grand time. (The big boys were there, I don't know how they managed to escape any pictures.)