Category Archives: Homeschooling

Ten weeks into home school

We have just completed our tenth week of our new and improved home school.

The best way to describe what we’ve been up to is to share some thoughts about how each one of us has fared through the last weeks–from my perspective. So, here goes.

Things I am learning about Ian

  • He really likes “couch time.” This is together time, where we sit down and do our main Sonlight stuff–Bible, World History, Geography and reading novels. He especially likes the Usborne Time Traveler and World History books we go through, which are packed with lots of great illustrations and encyclopedic information.
  • The boy needs structure and consistency. It has been helpful for him to see a list each day on the fridge that tells him what will be expected of him in both school and family life. His fits and whining have dramatically decreased.
  • He has a knack for a lot of things–things that surprised me. He has pretty quickly picked up novice piano reading and playing skills, and I didn’t realize he could spell as well as he does. His ability to communicate in writing has improved, too. I think it’s all the reading he’s doing, and the varied subjects that the Sonlight Readers give him.
  • Despite his bad attitude about going to church, he enjoys reading the Bible with me, listening to me explain meaning behind stories, and engaging in conversation. I think he thinks about these things later, at least I know he remembers them. Maybe this is a better way for him to do it than Awana, which we discontinued after last year.

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We’ve been spending many mornings doing couch time in front of a fire. Our woodpile may not last us through the winter.

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Portraying desk work worse than it actually is.

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Piano practice.

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Archeological dig.

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Smaller, indoor archeological dig that ended up bearing more fruit than its outdoor counterpart.

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Ian’s budding rock and treasure collection.

Things I’m learning about Imogen

  • She’s picking up a lot of what Ian is learning–the things that pique her interest. She likes the Bible memory verse songs and the Geography songs. She likes to move to them as she learns.
  • She LOVES Aesop’s Fables. Honestly, many of them can be perplexing and the lessons can be difficult to explain to children. She loves the animals, the older, unique writing style, and the pictures. So we’re going with it.
  • She is excited about learning and I don’t want to dismiss that because I’m busy doing stuff with Ian. She wants to be read to and to have her own library books to look at. She often says, “When I read I’m going to . . .” She’s memorized a Sandra Boynton book she reads to Beatrice.
  • She loves art. Love, love, loves it. I have a love/hate relationship with her doing it because it’s messy. But she feels so loved and inspired when we engage in art activities. I’m excited for her to enroll in the Art class at the HEE next year. I’m ordering her some drawing books to work on for now.
  • She plays well with Beatrice when I’m teaching Ian things she’s not interested in. I am very thankful for that.
  • She loves swimming, and I’m so glad we got her into lessons. She gets to shine, doing her own thing.
  • She’s still doing ballet, but I’m not sure that will be a long-run activity.
  • Doing Pre-K was a good choice for her. I don’t hear her talk a lot about it, but I also don’t hear her complain about going. I think she feels confident in her class. She gets some one-on-one time with her teacher developing skills as one of the oldest in her class.

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We found a great toy store called Toys that Teach. They have a fantastic book collection that clearly Imogen was intrigued by (not to mention I drooled over so many good titles). I’m thinking I may need to create her a quiet corner with a comfy chair.

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Things I’m learning about Beatrice

  • She’s definitely moved into that 2.5-3.5 year-old difficult phase. Hitting, calling names, yelling, throwing fits, being sassy. It’s not so bad yet, but as the youngest she is definitely getting away with more.
  • She talks like she’s a ten-year-old sometimes, complete with attitude and hand gestures. We think it’s cute, but I’m not sure we should encourage it all that much.
  • She really likes being at the HEE. She’s found a favorite toy (a pull along puppy) that she drags all over the place. Don’t tell her, but she’s getting one for Christmas.
  • She doesn’t put caps on markers and it drives me CRAZY.
  • She has picked up French words with more enthusiasm and ease than the other two.
  • She has memorized the Middle East geography song we worked on in our first weeks, and can sing the Alphabet. It’s amazing what little ones can learn through song and the influence of their siblings.
  • She can start doing more household chores, I just need to make an effort to include her and hold her accountable.
  • She was a fantastic potty trainer!

Things I’m learning in this process

  • This gig is like a job. No, it is a job. Depending upon how much one invests in it, it can be part-time or full-time. I like it, but I didn’t think about how it would change my schedule and my relationships with others. I am missing some of my friends and fun activities, and need to consider how to fit those things into our lifestyle.
  • I really love learning, particularly when it comes to history and literature. This isn’t a revelation, but a rediscovery. There’s a reason I got a liberal arts degree in English Literature (I also strongly considered History). Ten years after leaving formal education I am seeing it bear fruit in the parenting and education of my kids. I know this is not for everyone, but I am having fun right now. You can ask me later how I feel when higher-level math and science come onto the scene.
  • I can see that this current endeavor could equip me for something else down the line, though I have no idea what. I like sharing what I know and engaging kids in good conversations. I can ask good questions appropriate to their level and then listen for their answers and personal views. I don’t think is just my kids; this has come naturally to me in nannying and other teaching scenarios.
  • I really love reading out loud. The more I do it, the better I get at it, and the more fun it is for all of us. It’s a bit of acting, of finessing words, and of creating the atmosphere I think the author is intending.
  • I can become a slave to the schedule and the checklist. I’m starting to feel that pressure to keep us on track with what is assigned each day and week. It’s wearing on me. Other Sonlight parents in the Facebook group I’m in warned of this. It is certainly not the intent of the Instructor’s Guide to encourage this. It’s just us Type A types.
  • In light of this, I am going to pick up Teaching from Rest, which has been sitting at my nightstand, waiting for me to come around to it. I’m interested to learn more about schole, the intentional slowing down of learning. This will be a challenge for me, but I think it will prove beneficial to my kids in the long run.
  • I can see myself living vicariously through my kids. Biggest example: I want to teach Ian Grammar (probably too early) because I learned very little when I was a kid. I turned out to be a good writer anyway, but I wonder if it hindered my foreign language learning. I am insecure about it. On the other hand, I don’t want to focus too much focus on Grammar in a way that hinders him from writing freely and outside of the box. Yes, these are the things that home school moms stress about and that I used to roll my eyes at.
  • I am tempted to choose the school stuff over the character building and discipline work. It’s just easier, folks. I’m trying to switch priorities.
  • I’m still hesitant to pick up French because I don’t have a set curriculum or lesson plan. I obviously don’t have the immersion option. With Ian going to Botswana in July it is more motivation to move forward, but this will be a real challenge for my personality. I’m hoping to focus on teaching him essential phrases for his travel experience and not venture too far out from that for now.
  • I’m still a homebody. Getting my kids outside for play is another weak point for me. I am glad they have the HEE and preschool two days a week.

Other things I’m excited about

  • Ian’s piano lessons with Miss Jane. I am thoroughly impressed with her skill and her thoughtfulness in considering the interests and needs of her student. Ian respects her tight ship. At the same time, he’s impressed when he requests songs like the Imperial March and Miss Jane practices it to perform for him at their next lesson. Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall when they work together.
  • Usborne books. I’m not a fan of buying anything at full price, but I’ve gotten sucked into these fantastic materials. I’m particularly excited about some of the books I’ve ordered for Imogen that will help her transition into and get started in Kindergarten. (Side note: I have a book lady named Jessie, if you are interested in Usborne, and she did help me get some good deals.) I’ve also gotten a lot of used encyclopedic books from Goodwill I plan to dole out. I will be cracking them open myself in my *mass* of free time.
  • Putting together a centrally located bookshelf of good stuff that the kids will visit regularly (the one in their basement bedroom doesn’t get frequented).
  • How fun the HEE community continues to be, and how helpful and kind the staff is there.
  • Setting goals. I usually hate doing that. It’s like creating a mission statement–you forget it, move on and then feel guilty about how much you clearly didn’t care that much about it in the first place. That being said, the curriculum specialist at the HEE encouraged me to come up with some benchmarks for the school year. That way, I can put possible new endeavors through the checklist and see if they fit into what we are trying to achieve with our kids. This includes not just formal education, but also character traits we want to encourage, and our kids assimilation into being contributing members of our household and society. I really did feel relieved after putting my thoughts on paper, and I look forward to getting Jason’s feedback, so we can hone in on what we’re doing with these kiddos.

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Archeological dig in the backyard.

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First day in our new workspace. It was clean then, but now it’s a mess of scribbled scrap paper, uncapped markers and really dirty carpet. But, we’re making our way through that shelf of books!

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Members of the HEE family (at our new location). These three aren’t official students yet, but they enjoy the space, the people, the regular refills of popcorn, and the lollipops that are given out by the generous Ms. Trudi.

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Weekly preschool carpool with this bunch

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Preschool pumpkin patch visit

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Trick-or-treaters who mean business

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Future homeschooler? Yet to be seen.

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On a sunny day at the HEE, watching the big kids with their remote-controlled truck.

*For those who are interested in the details of our curriculum and materials, Ian is using Sonlight’s Core B&C World History curriculum, Math Mammoth, and Spelling Power. I can’t seem to commit to more Language Arts materials, but we have been trying out Shurley English and Winning with Writing. I’m thinking about starting Rosetta Stone for French.

Imogen is a part of our Sonlight Bible, History and Reading time when she wants to be, she’s doing a few pages a week of a Scholastic Pre-K workbook I got at Costco, and I’m trying to get her books at the library that interest her. She attends Westgate Preschool two days a week and does ballet.

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Homeschooling for real

Many of you know that I’ve been “homeschooling” Ian for the last couple years. When it comes up in initial conversations with people they say something like, “Oh, wow, that’s so impressive. I don’t know if I could do that. It must be hard.”

I quickly interrupt them to say, “You know, I’m not really a true homeschooling parent. It’s more like a 50/50 thing.”

Then I go on to explain about the Home Education Exchange (HEE) in our school district, which is an amazing resource for us. It’s essentially a school for homeschooled kids, where they can take the messy or hard-to-simulate-at-home classes, and experience community with other students and families. Also, because Ian is a registered public school student, the program provides a variety of options for curriculums in many subjects, as well as support from the teachers and coaches who staff the HEE.

Ian’s kindergarten year we did maybe a half hour of schoolwork at home, a few days a week. I relied heavily on the classes he took at the HEE, which were Science, PE, Art and Lego. I told myself, “This year is no biggie. Besides, in the state of Washington you technically don’t have to start school until second grade to get a high school degree!”

I kept that lackadaisical attitude through first grade, too. Ian took the same classes and he did math and reading at home. He generally picks things up quickly (when he wants to) and he was reading very well. Honestly, if  we got around to schoolwork in a day that was a bonus. If we didn’t, oh well. Life is an education, right?

But, by the end of last school year I began to acknowledge that I couldn’t continue on our course (or lack thereof). Ian wasn’t being challenged. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of great learning experiences over the year, but our learning wasn’t just lacking in amount, it was also lacking in rigor. Honestly, my agenda for the day or week took precedent over setting aside time to do school, whether it be book work or more exploratory learning.

I knew I needed to kick it up a notch come second grade, but I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. I know I like structure and a schedule (something we haven’t had in our school at home), but I didn’t know how to tie various subjects into something more cohesive that we (I) would stick with.

We ended the year early and went to North Carolina in June for the Haggard family reunion. While we were there I learned that my sister-in-law, Tiffany, had decided to homeschool her two younger kids (2nd grade and kindergarten). North Carolina doesn’t offer anything like the HEE, so she had talked with friends and chose to do Sonlight along with some other curriclums to teach her kids.

We happened to still be at Tiffany’s when all her materials showed up in the mail. I was very intrigued. Regardless of the subject, it’s hard to keep me away from a stack of fresh, new books, even if it’s just to flip through and admire them. The smell of print and the feel of pages between my fingers woos me. I feel like a kid in the library or bookstore again.

Tiffany told me a bit about how Sonlight works and she let me look at her catalog (which is very exhaustive and informative). I was fascinated by how the curriculum worked. I was excited by all the books–lists and lists of them–ones I would love to read myself or to my kids. And I was very impressed by the company’s philosophy on how families can learn together.

The downside was the sticker price. It’s not that Sonlight is outrageously pricey, but up until this point almost everything we have done so far has been provided to us for free through our school district or the public library. We’ve had it really good. Spending several hundred dollars seemed like a big commitment, possibly even a waste. [Note: Sonlight is not covered by our district because it contains religious materials.]

Yet, as I imagined how Sonlight could play out at our house, I got pretty excited. The teaching guides are structured, while at the same set up in a way that isn’t rigid. The approach isn’t stuffy or complicated, but simple and based on a love of reading. And because doing it is such a group activity, Imogen and Beatrice could be incorporated into at least part of our learning time.

It is true that you stick with things you are excited about. So I decided that I would pay the money to try Sonlight this year because if I liked it, I would go at it with gusto. And hopefully that enthusiasm would rub off on the kids.

Sonlight says that “box day” (the day when your materials arrive in the mail) is a lot like Christmas. The company is usually referring to the kids’ delight, but since this is our first time doing this, Ian had no idea what I had gotten him into. I, on the other hand, was pulling out each thing in the box as if it were an individual gift.

Usually summer is the time where you take a welcome respite from the demands of school, whether you school your kids at home or they go to school elsewhere. But knowing we had this new thing to look foward to, I was ready to started homeschool–for real.

I think we have a great combination this year:

  1. A couple of years of “sorta” homeschooling under our belt
  2. Ian taking Science, PE and Art at the HEE
  3. Math, spelling, writing, etc., curriculums provided through the HEE as well as a great community
  4. Sonlight’s Bible/Lit/History Core B&C (World History)

We just finished up our first week of school at home. Ian threw a stink on Monday morning at 9am, which was no surprise. But by the end of the week, even he was giving the books and topics we are learning together his stamp of approval (which is no small achievement for Sonlight, tell me tell you!).

I hope to write more about our learning experience as it progresses. . . but for now, here’s to the 2016-2017 school year!

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Note: I would  recommend requesting a Sonlight catalog as a resource–regardless of whether or not you buy, homeschool or don’t. They have awesome books lists and descriptions for various grade levels. It is a gold mine!

If you happen to decide to purchase, please use my Rewards number: EH20435116 at checkout. That means I’ll collect points that somehow benefit me in the future. 🙂

Lastly, if you use Sonlight, I would love to talk with you. This is all new to me, and I’d like to hear how it works for your family.