8 Things We Did Right This School Year

We have roughly eight weeks left in this school year; by early June we’ll be closing the chapter on 4th grade {Agent E}, 2nd grade {Agent J}, and kindergarten {Agent A} and looking forward to a new adventure with 5th, 3rd, and 1st grades.

Although it’s my nature to want to fast forward to the fun planning part for next year, I need to take a moment to acknowledge some of the high points {things we liked, ideas that flourished, what turned out better than expected} for this current homeschool year.

Following is what I would consider general 2015-2016 homeschool “wins” and/or just random stuff that we figured out works and will carry through into future years. 

Developing a consistent, workable routine

Even though we tend to be pretty relaxed in both our schooling and our generally un-busy life, I like knowing our days have a flexible yet predictable flow. We have sufficient margin that we don’t feel too “scheduled” or stiff, yet the pattern is ingrained enough that we feel “off” if we stray too far. When we do change things up—adding another student to the mix or increasing our time outside during the summer months—it’s easy to fit our new activities into the already existing framework without reinventing the wheel.

Dividing our days into morning school and afternoon school

Monday through Friday mornings we do math, language arts, and Spanish. The Agents work “together” in the sense that they are doing the same subjects, but obviously at different levels. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons we cover geography, history, and science. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons we cover health, world religions, art, and music. This allows us to get to every subject every week without feeling overwhelmed, and it breaks up the “school day” nicely. 

Using spine books to keep us on track

We don’t follow a “curriculum” or use traditional textbooks, but we have one primary text that we use as sort of a home base for each subject. We work through the books in order—supplementing with additional books, written work, and videos along the way—but allow ourselves plenty of freedom to follow rabbit holes and spend significantly more time on any one chapter or section if the interest is there. The book simply serves as a guide for what we study when, giving us much needed structure while not being totally confined to a specific do this, then do that curriculum.

Organizing our book lists with Goodreads

I cannot even believe how many books I wrote {typed} and organized into lists in past years. This is SO much easier! Just create shelves for each student, each subject, each topic, whatever, and bam! You can even use your phone to scan bar codes . . . easy peasy! Had I known going into the year that I would end up loving this system so much, I probably would have arranged my shelves a bit differently, but given that we’re at 1130 books total so far, I’ll take slight disorganization over having typed out that many titles/authors into a spreadsheet.

Studying a foreign language

We tried {and failed} to introduce a foreign language during each of the first four years of our homeschooling experience. Apparently year five was the magic year. We chose Spanish because I have some experience {albeit limited} and I think it will be a useful second language to know. We’re still beginners, but the spark is there and it will definitely be staying on the agenda.

Introducing world religions

I found an interesting looking book on religions around the world for kids at the library and on a whim decided to get it. Well, three renewals later we finally had to return it and ended up buying our own copy. I would not have predicted the Agents' intense fascination with faiths around the world. The girls tell me right now they both identify as agnostic, but enjoying learning what other children around the globe believe and practice. They process all the stories we read through a science-minded filter, and know that for the most part they are not literal, but educational nonetheless.

Reading mythology and folk tales

Truth: I don’t remember ever learning mythological stories in school. Either I blocked it out or it wasn’t a topic we discussed—which would not surprise me one bit. {I don’t recall studying evolution in any detail either—don’t even get me started.} However, the Agents are captivated by mythology, folk tales, creation stories, flood myths, etc. We've enjoyed it so much that we are planning a more in-depth study of Greek mythology for next year, possibly to be followed by both Egyptian and Norse mythology.

Exploring science and history with documentaries

Who knew so many fun and interesting shows could be found on Netflix?! Clearly everyone but me! The Agents {and Momma} have thoroughly enjoyed watching BBC Earth documentaries of animal life {and listening to David Attenborough’s voice, ha}. We’re on our second viewing of Cosmos, and have found so many other wonderful programs to supplement our studies of mammals, evolution, space, inventions, and much more.

What went right for you this school year? 

I’m glad you stopped by today, friend. If you would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, and InstagramSharing this post at the Hip Homeschool Hop hosted by Hip Homeschool Moms and the SHINE blog hop co-hosted by Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom.

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Evolving Faith {part 3}: The One With the A Word

Today I’m writing more about my journey from—to describe it simply—Default Christianity to Question-Filled Agnosticism. I’m sharing this personal evolution as it happens, even though I don’t feel like I have a firm grasp on it yet. So, forgive me if I contradict myself a wee bit . . . it’s kind of my thing.

{If you’re curious you can click here to read part one and part two.}

Most of you know that we homeschool our kids. One of the things I love most about this is being able to investigate topics that wouldn’t normally be covered {at all, or in as much detail} in most 2nd and 4th grade public school classrooms. We’ve done tons of reading on evolutionary biology. We’re learning Spanish. We’re diving into the world of Greek mythology. And we regularly study and talk about different faiths around the globe.

I honestly believe everyone should take some time to study world religions, mythology, creation stories, and folk tales. It is beyond eye-opening to watch the similarities unfold. From the proclaimed deities and religious figures, to the nearly identical tales being told by different cultures, to the overwhelming sameness of the core principles outlined in the various writings—seeing the connected threads in these “unique” religions is definitely an enlightening experience.

Especially if you’ve spent most of your life entrenched in just one of the infinite possibilities of explaining the seemingly unexplainable.

Personally, the more I read and explore the more organized religion turns me off, although I still participate in one willingly. {That paradox is probably best left for another post, though.} To think that any one person or group or belief system has figured out the only true way and that everything else is a myth is foolish at best.

That said, however, I can’t help but appreciate the food for thought and life lessons these stories offer.

We’ve enjoyed learning about well-known figures like Buddha, Muhammad, and Jesus. We’ve read the ten commandments, the five pillars, and the four noble truths. We’ve re-discovered the same folk tales over and over again from different cultural perspectives. {Did you really think Noah was the only flood myth?} We’ve explored several of the dozens of creation stories.

So this is how we approach religious studies in our home {and homeschool}. We look at what we can glean from the interesting stories. We filter through our love of science and skepticism. And we remain open to learning more. Yet, when it comes right down to it, there isn’t any part of what we’ve studied that rings more “true” than another. It’s like a giant, interweaved fictional story that gives people peace in different ways. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. But just because a lot of people believe it doesn’t make it fact.

If I had to put a label on it, I would still consider myself agnostic—in the sense that I do not claim absolute faith nor complete disbelief—yet I find myself leaning further toward atheism. 

And to be perfectly honest it makes me a little woozy to say that out loud. Because it’s not at all where I thought I would end up. 

{to be continued}

I’m glad you stopped by today, friend. If you would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Sharing this post at the SHINE blog hop co-hosted by Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom.

Homeschool Plans for 2016-2017: Adding Another Student To the Mix

This coming school year Agent E will be in 5th grade, Agent J in 3rd grade, and Agent A in 1st grade. This will be our first year of required reporting for Agent A—and our state has fairly specific subjects they expect to see on quarterly updates—so we will be doing more formal work with him than we have up until now.

Since we tend to keep things pretty relaxed for kindergarten, this will really be the first year where I’m doing significant planning and record keeping for three students. 

I recently wrote some preliminary brainstorming thoughts for our homeschool year {which will begin 1 July} in a post you can find here. Consider this an extension of that same thinking {writing} out loud. 

What will probably work

Having all three Agents do “morning school” together seems do-able. We typically work on math, language arts, and Spanish together at the kitchen table at around 10:00. It’s been just Agent E {4th} and Agent J {2nd} for most of this school year, but in the last week or so Agent A {K} has decided to join us and work on writing letters and numbers. Of course they are all at different levels, but it’s easy enough for me to be available to assist each of them as needed.

What will probably not work

For this year the girls followed the same “curriculum” and read mostly the same books. Sometimes this meant that our choices were a bit much for Agent J {2nd} or a bit “young” for Agent E {4th} , but for the most part we tried to use a variety of age-appropriate texts that would hold interest for the 2nd-4th grade range.

We would generally do “afternoon school” upstairs while Agent A watched an educational video or played a Kindle game or entertained himself in the playroom. We focused on geography, history, and science three days a week; and health, world religions, art, and music two days a week. I think we will continue this same system for Agents E and J for next year, but I don’t think it will work to throw Agent A into that mix.

Scratch that, I know it won’t work, because we attempted a trial run of it, and it was your basic disaster. I initially thought well, I’m going for exposure not mastery anyway, so maybe he could just follow along and absorb what he can. But, we tried it and the girls found it too distracting. He is just not ready to sit quietly and read about the same kinds of topics the girls want to study. 

What we will probably do

My intention is for Agent A to have his own “curriculum” for 1st grade, even though that means more planning on my part. I looked back at my notes to see what kinds of things we covered for his sisters at that age, and we’ll likely revisit the same topics. 

For example, in addition to math and language arts, in 1st grade the main topics Agent E studied included ocean life, dinosaurs, space, the human body, and the 50 states. This would cover geography, history, science, and health. We touched on art and music, but didn’t follow a particular plan, so that is one thing that will have to change. The current art and music spines we have would be a bit much for 1st grade, so I’m contemplating new ideas, and seriously considering a Little Einsteins tie-in.

What we might also try

Up until this point, most of our written work has been related to math or language arts, with the exception of the science and social studies sections Agent E completes in her Brain Quest workbook. I’d like to include more writing with our other subjects for both Agent E and Agent J going forward. 

This might be as simple as getting a grade level workbook that covers geography or science {perhaps one of these DK ones} for each of them. I’ve also considered adding a writing component that capitalizes on their love of biographies and historical fiction, although I’m not a fan of the traditional “book report” so it would be something we’d tailor individually.

Fellow homeschoolers, where are you in the planning process? Or is next year not on your radar yet?

I’m glad you stopped by today, friend. If you would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, and InstagramSharing this post at the hip homeschool hop hosted by Hip Homeschool Moms and the SHINE blog hop co-hosted by Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom.

A Very Short Fitness Update

Back in early September I had this grandiose idea that I would start taking fitness more seriously, something I hadn’t done in years. And after a slow start, it worked. Sort of. Until it didn’t. And then it did again.

To make a novel long story blog post short, I’ve reached the point where I feel like exercise is just a normal part of my day, not something I need to think about or dread. It’s just something I do.

What has helped me, since I tend to be a fan of consistency and planning, is to have a set time each day {Monday through Friday} when I complete my meager fitness routine. It’s honestly not much—20 maybe 25 minutes tops five days a week. But I’ve gotten to the point that I feel like my day is missing something if I don’t get to it. And that was pretty much the goal all along.

I continue to incorporate most of the minor tweaks I’ve mentioned in previous posts, including drinking more water, walking whenever possible, and being more aware of when I’m actually full. I decided I missed afternoon coffee {I had tried to quit since I use sweeteners and milk that are just extra random calories} so I’m back on that at least a few days a week. 

Although a number is not my ultimate prize, weight is a tangible reference point, so I do step on a scale once every few weeks. Last I checked, I had lost six pounds. Not exactly moving mountains here, but I’m okay with that because I’m not looking for dramatic weight loss. I’m looking for a new normal.

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I’m glad you stopped by today, friend. If you would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Homeschool Day in the Life: 4th, 2nd, and K

Welcome, friend. Today I’m giving a peek at what our homeschool looks like right now, with a 4th grader, 2nd grader, and wriggly kindergartener. Be sure to check out the other day in the life posts shared at Simple Homeschool.

I’m usually awake between 6:00 and 7:00. I don’t set an alarm, so it varies. There may be days when I’m up significantly earlier {I’m not a stare-at-the-ceiling-and-hope-I-drift-off-again kind of gal} but it’s rarely much past 7:00. The Agents {ages 9, 7, and 5} are typically downstairs between 7:30 and 8:30, although sometimes the youngest sleeps as late as 8:45-9:00. 

Our days have a general pattern to them, although we don’t follow an exact time schedule and intentionally leave a lot of margin.

We divide the structured part of our school day into two parts rather than trying to do everything at once. Morning school includes subjects we do every day {math, language arts, Spanish}. Afternoon school looks different depending on the day: Monday-Wednesday-Friday is geography, history, and science; Tuesday-Thursday is health, world religions, art, and music. The less structured parts—independent reading, keyboard practice, science projects, documentaries, field trips, play dates, etc.—just kind of fit in wherever they fit in.

Of course, this is mostly just for the older two, Agent E {4th} and Agent J {2nd}. My kindergarten student, Agent A, is still pretty much free range at this point. We read a lot and do some math {not necessarily at a specific time}, and he will watch educational shows with us occasionally, but I don’t have formal school expectations for him at this age. {Here are some things we do to encourage his love of learning, however.}

Vacationing in the off season is a fun perk of homeschooling

A simple breakdown of our weekdays could be summarized as follows:

9:00 Breakfast and getting ready for the day
10:00 Morning school
12:00 Lunch
2:00 Outside time
3:00 Afternoon school
6:00 Dinner
7:00 Bath time
9:30 Upstairs to get ready for bed

All times are approximate and leave plenty of wiggle room. The activities listed don’t take super long, which allows for a good amount of unstructured time.

For example, morning school is usually done by 11:15-11:30 and then they are free to do whatever until lunch. Between finishing lunch and going outside is another hour and a half or so of “unscheduled” time. In the afternoons they generally have from the time we finish afternoon school {4:00-ish} until dinner as free time as well. When the weather warms up we’ll start going outside again after dinner, and move bath time until later. In the evenings we are typically all downstairs watching a movie, snacking, playing, or just hanging out.

In their free time, they read, play inside, play outside {weather permitting}, use the Kindle or computer, draw and color, or watch a video.

Note the lack of outside activities and commitments. We’re not busy, and we’re okay with that.

Of course, in the “spaces” where the Agents are occupied elsewhere, Momma is doing other things, like blogging {usually early morning}, cleaning {typically after lunch}, exercising {I’ve found that late afternoon works best}, or making dinner {starting around 5:00-ish}.

And that’s pretty much what a typical “school” day looks like around here at the moment.

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I’m glad you stopped by today, friend. If you would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Sharing this post at the day in the life link-up hosted by Jamie at Simple Homeschool, the hip homeschool hop hosted by Hip Homeschool Moms, and the SHINE blog hop co-hosted by Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom.