Monday, October 31, 2011

Homeschool Recipe

Homeschooling was always something we considered, and as preschoolers it was easily accomplished. Well, I say easy, but it wasn't. It took time, resources, and some more time. In hindsight, yes it was a lot of work but it felt easy because the kids and I had so much fun! I set up our first "Mommy School" in our kitchen and would have a color-of-the-week, letter-of-the-week, shape-of-the-week, famous-person-of-the-week, and daily crafts and activities. Sure, it was work- but most of the work was the prep. I found myself working for hours to to prepare fun half hour lessons for the boys. I poured over books, worksheets, and websites- I wanted to learn as much as I could about educating my sons. Harrison happily "colored" (which was basically eating crayons) while I worked with Carter. To this day Carter can point out and name many of Vincent van Gogh's paintings, can remember making those crafts with me, and has fond memories of me teaching him. (Carter's visual memory is off-the-charts gifted.)

Fast forward. A few years of early childhood education (*cough* day care *cough*) and a year of public school later...

Here we are... back at the kitchen table... 

But- it isn't working........

Um... hm... what's going on here?

It did not take us long to realize the curriculum we had chosen was not working for our family. We had decided to spend our first year homeschooling by using a k12 online school. When the k12 boxes came I was thrilled. I couldn't wait to open them!!! I set up the classroom in our livingroom, and we got to work! And then... we got stuck. Carter seemed unhappy. Don't get me wrong, he was happier than he ever was in a brick and mortar school, but he wasn't loving the learning process as much as I knew he could. We moved rooms and set up the classroom materials in the dining room, changed a few tactics, and tried a different approach to the material. Nothing changed. We moved around again and set up a homeschool room. Harrison asked to start sitting in the homeschool room and participating with us. It helped to have the boys together, but Carter was constantly on edge. We started having Harrison's bird, Blue, in the room with us- it seemed to ease Carter considerably. Things got a bit better- but not really... Carter got frustrated, angry, and really started to push back. It felt like homeschool was ruining our family life. Carter started to act out, and even run away. We felt helpless.

After some practice and working out a routine I could manage to fit Carter's school, Harrison's school, and my school in a day, as well as most of the household chores. However, unless I was totally "on it" things would slip through the cracks. Carter's school was taking more time than anything else in our lives (6 hours of me sitting next to him, talking at him, and him doing busywork), and it felt like a huge burden. I found myself second guessing homeschooling, but when I talked to Kurt about it he reminded me how beneficial homeschooling is for Carter. So- I knew what the right thing to do was, but it was stressing all of us out- what do we do?

One of my friends also homeschools. She is a great lady, and we occasionally exchange phone calls during mid-day tantrums or end-of-day cool-downs. She is so carefree and chill, it is nice to know that her kids drive her nuts sometimes too! She talked to me about the homeschool program she was using and I was floored- her's sounded like so much fun! I talked to her about mine and she was supportive, even though it sounded like a nightmare. Her son was grasping concepts faster, with less time spent on school. How? Different learning style. With her support, and the support of Kurt, I started shopping for a new program. It didn't take more than a few days for me to announce that we were not doing k12 next year. A few weeks later I decided we would drop k12 as soon as I was finished with fall semester. And a month after that we decided to pull Carter out of k12. Carter is no longer in the k12 program.

After researching and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I decided to take the rest of the semester and follow this recipe. As with all recipes, I am sure we will tweak it a bit every so often or change parts here and there, but for now- this has brought success, happiness, and a real LOVE of learning back into our home:

  • 1 Carter
  • 1 Harrison
  • 2 Parents
  • Carter's interests (volcanoes, firetrucks, Captain Underpants, and Bad Kitty)
  • Harrison's interests (animals, Caillou, holidays, food)
  • Library cards for the entire family
  • Internet Connection
Put these together, add whatever we feel like, and voila! Learning is fun!

We are currently doing a mixture of unschooling and unit based learning. I think unschooling is the best way to go, but in the event we move to another state and the boys have to take standardized tests, I am going to be sure they are prepared, so I try as best as I can to integrate "Core Subjects" Carter and Harrison get to rotate weeks and choose the topics we will learn about in detail. I take them to the library, supervise their use of internet research, and I supplement their learning with ideas and print-outs from a variety of homeschool sources. My current favorites are:

Usborne Books- Awesome. So awesome. So very awesome. Science, History, and a zillion other things. These books are seriously awesome. The science books are very impressive- they are full of really fun experiments! Carter enjoys science (he will tell you all about states of matter!) and these books are perfect for him!

Spectrum Math- Carter doesn't mind math worksheets or workbooks. And this one is excellent for him. He enjoys doing math at a very fast pace, and I enjoy that we can go at whatever speed works for him. 

Get Ready for The Code: Harrison loves these! He can sight read a lot of words, but we are building phonics now and this is great! It also helps with his handwriting. 

Explode The Code: These are just enough. So many phonics workbooks were either too long in a sound or too brief. These are perfect for Carter. Also helps with handwriting. 

Handwriting Without Tears- one of the things that shocked me the most was that Carter was incorrectly writing more than half of the alphabet but tested 100% at his last school. Ugh! These books are great- they start simply and work up- love them! Even Harrison likes it! 

TumbleBooks eBooks- a great site with books online. There are options for the books to be narrated (I love John Lithgow's children's books and I am happy he narrates his books!), optional quizzes, book report help features, and more. Check to see if your local library has a subscription that comes with your membership! If your child is in school, call the school librarian or teacher and ask if they have a subscription you could use!

Enchanted Learning- amazing site with tons of ideas and printouts. I actually bought my membership with them when we were a part of k12. I was super bummed that there weren't a lot of Columbus Day activities in our curriculum, so I searched online and found this site! There were so many neat ideas, print-outs, activities, and themes! I was thrilled! This has been a great site for coming up with ideas for projects that coordinate with the kids' interests. Fire Fighter math? Jack O Lantern matching? Perfect! 

Starfall- ah yes, a classic. Carter and Harrison both enjoy this site, but both enjoy different parts of the site. I love that they can pretty much run the site without any help, and even the "games" are educational!

As I start to name these I realize I have a seriously giant list, and I add to them almost every day. I think I will make a separate page for all of these, for any parent who would like ideas.

Anyway, our new homeschool recipe has resulted in almost instant success. Carter and Harrison BEG to go to the library and get new books. Their favorite section? NONFICTION! They really do want to learn all about the world around them, and by stepping back and letting them take the lead I am happy to help them figure things out. This is very fun, because as I "teach" them, I am learning about things too! (I thought Mount St. Helen was a large eruption, but then we learned about the Toba super volcano!) 

Like I said, I do not pretend to believe that this will always work for us- but this is what is working for now, and everyone is happy and thrilled to learn! (Books make up over half of their Christmas lists!!!)


  1. I am so so happy you found something that works for you! Now that I work in an elementary school I have gotten to see modern day learning from a fresh perspective. Learning is such a complex process and I am glad your boys have a Mommy who is willing to give them what is best for them! Anyway, I know the kids in my school LOVE They have a lot of math "games" to work though. It is supposed to be geared to both sides of the brain. The only problem is I have no idea how much a subscription costs.

    Good luck!

  2. Our son does best with unit studies. It must be the way his brain is wired. We did one on geology over the summer that was so much fun. Blessings on your new plans!