Saturday, May 24, 2014

How I Organize Our Homeschool - Part One

So, it's that time again.  We're wrapping up the end of our school year (though we do some summer learning too), and for many of us who home educate it means we are already thinking about what we'll be doing in the fall.  I have had some conversations in person and on Facebook with women who are considering questions like: How do I pick curriculum?  How do I manage my schedule?  How do I incorporate my child who is just starting to school with us into what we have already been doing?  I want to provide answers by way of sharing what we do around here.  If you have any questions or want more details, please comment at the end of the post or visit my Facebook page

First, let's talk home education philosophy.  I'll keep it short here, but at our home, we have grown more and more in love with Charlotte Mason and her principles, methods and materials.  When I say, "We," I mean we.  My twelve-year-old told me this year (and I quote), "Mom, each year gets better, and this year you finally got it right."  If you don't have a philosophy, you might benefit from this video which gives an overview of various popular approaches to home education to help you find your niche.

Second, How do you pick curriculum?  Here I mean anything you use to educate your child whether it be a magnifying glass or a great book.  Well, there are only about 1,000,000 options here.  No pressure.  One only has to order the free "Rainbow Resource Catalog" or to walk into a Homeschool Convention Vendor Hall to see the overwhelming variety of materials we can select.  I am not bagging on anything we don't use at our home when I share what we do use.  Everyone selects what they use for a variety of reasons: personal faith, philosophy of education, learning styles of their children, skill as a teacher, recommendation from friends or family, etc. 

Yes, this catalog is thicker than the LA phone book!
Here's the rundown: My goal is to have us all on the same page as much as possible.  What I mean is though my children will be light years apart in their abilities and the way that they learn, I want us to follow the same era in history, the same subject in science and to be together for art, music, foreign language and nature study.  Why?  I have a few reasons.  We don't have a huge family, but if we did, I'd be all the more certain of this.  I don't want to be scattered as a mom and teacher.  I want to be able to focus on one era of history and one subject of science and one artist, composer, language, etc.  I am one person and I don't want to have to teach Medieval and American Revolution simultaneously and Biology and Astronomy together to two separate children.  It keeps things streamlined for me if I can focus on one era and one subject and provide materials at appropriate age levels to my children.  Also, I want to be able to facilitate some group conversations and activities.  If we are in different eras and science subjects finding unity is complicated.  Besides that, we love learning together!

The boys doing Chemistry together - making slime!

So, I'll show you a few ways to organize History to get all your family on the same page. 

I think of History as our "backbone."  It gives the centrality to what we do.  We build off of it.  The living books we use (engaging books, by one author who is passionate and knowledgeable -- nothing dumbed down or meaningless) are like muscles that bring the bones of history to life.  The other disciplines we study like science, art, music, geography, etc., are like organs which give the body movement and vitality.  The brain (and heart) of our home education is our faith.  It goes above and through everything - learning about God, His creation and His love for us and growing in our individual and collective relationships with Him
We study history by going through eras in succession: Ancients, Medieval, Renaissance, Explorers (1600-1700s), Revolutions, US Westward Expansion and Gold-Rush (and other 19th century history including many inventions and the Industrial Revolution), World Wars, and finally Modern History.  Doesn't that make sense?  When I was a child, I learned a great deal about American History.  I didn't learn much world history and I surely didn't learn history in order and thoroughly.  I want it to be different for my children.  I want you to know you don't have to be a history professor to teach history to your children because you are often learning right along with them as you home educate.  I know so much more now that I have gone through the rotation of history with my oldest.  After we have made this parade through history, starting in 1st grade, we finish our first cycle through by 6th or 7th grade.  We are then ready to go back through all the eras a second time.  I used to want to go through the cycle of history three times in a child's home education (as is done in a Classical Approach).  I realized in our home that was making us rush, so we slowed down to learn better.  It's about learning after all, isn't it?  

Since I want synchronicity in History, we start in Ancient Civilizations.  Why?  It is the beginning.  We go through Genesis in the Bible and we learn about Ancient China, Egypt, Rome and Greece (including the Myths which children love!).  I have adjusted my older son's pace so that when he enters 8th grade he'll be back to studying Ancient civilizations right when my youngest will be entering 1st grade for his initial exposure to that same era. 

One way to build a pattern for the whole family is to figure when your youngest will be entering first grade and then pace out their years of study for each of the eras I listed above.  Then lay out the pattern for all your older children and see what it will take for them to all be studying Ancients when that youngest child joins in.  This works if you are sure you've had your last baby! 

Another way is to build around your children who are already doing formal learning.  In some ways this is much easier.  If they haven't studied history in progression (you guessed it!) start in Ancients.  Don't fret about what every other homeschool family or the public school down the street is doing.  Just start at the beginning and set your pace.  How fast or slowly do you want to go through each era? 

For example, a good friend of mine has a son who will be in 4th grade, another son in 1st grade and her daughter will be entering Kindergarten not this fall, but the next.  Her boys have studied Ancients, so I suggested she start them in Medieval this coming fall (you know, knights and castles, the reformation, great stuff for boys!).  She can move through Medieval and Renaissance this year and then go into Explorers the year her daughter enters Kindergarten.  (We don't do formal history with Kindergarteners).  As her daughter gets close to entering first grade (and the boys will be ready to study the era of Revolutions (1700s), my friend will spend a little time giving her daughter a short intro (age-appropriate, short, fun lessons) to the eras which preceded the Revolutions.  She can spend a week or so going over creation, move into Ancients by talking about some interesting things like pyramids and some stories from China and some myths.  She can move into some stories of princes and princesses and then tell her about exploring and the discovery of new lands.  Her daughter doesn't need much at this age as she will revisit when her brain is more developed.  And, guess what!  She's been hearing about history all along as her brothers have been studying and her mom has been reading aloud.  You will be surprised what younger children absorb when we don't think they are listening.  Once they are on the same page, they can come together for activities and read-alouds and they will each have other materials appropriate to their own learning level.

I am dying to tell you about how we select books, but I'll wait to share that in my next post.  I hope this gives you a feel for how to structure things on your own.  You can purchase "pre-organized" curriculum or use prepared lists from many sites or companies.  Some of them align your family and some don't.  I haven't found any one which does what I am describing here and provides the engaging books and activities we use, so I have crafted my own.  I would love to hear from you if you have questions or comments!

5 Homeschool Flavors by Simply Charlotte Mason; Coin with Julius Caesar by sailko, courtesy of WikiCommons


Elizabeth Haber-Lopez said...

Great post Patty, love your blog and your ideas!

HeartsHomeward said...

Thank you so much, Elizabeth! It was so sweet of you to take time to give me that kind feedback. I hope you find much here that will bless you.

shelley swanson said...

Patti I feel so privileged to call you sister friend and know that I can go to you any time I feel out if sorts with this beautiful home schooling journey.

HeartsHomeward said...

Shelley, Thank you! I am so glad God planned for us to know one another and walk this journey together. You are so beautiful inside and out.