Back to the Grind

We started our school year today. Overall, the day went very well. My kids were itching for some structure, and an early start will allow us to ease back into our school days and have a relaxing fall when we can take full advantage of the cooler weather. Gianna (age 6.5) has a full schedule this year.  While I am always tempted by all the amazing schooling resources, in planning our curriculum I try to stay focused on the 3 R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic (reading and writing include phonics, spelling, grammar).  Science, history, geography, poetry, music, and art round out our list of subjects, but most of these latter areas are addressed through real books and read alouds by mom, or living experiences like growing our own garden, drawing and crafts in the afternoon, and playing the piano. If I keep our focus on the 3 R’s, my kids will build a good foundation for life long learning, and also have plenty of creative free-play time.

Gianna is also preparing for 1st communion this year, so formal religious education will take place during our school days.  In prior years, we did catechesis on the weekends or in the evenings with Dad.  We are using Faith and Life by Ignatius Press, as well as The New Saint Joseph’s First Communion Catechism. Any other suggestions or recommended books?

One of the biggest challenges of our school year is keeping the younger ones occupied while my older children do school.  Since so many of you have asked questions regarding this challenge, I will write a little about how I occupy my non-school age children.  If you have additional tips or suggestions, PLEASE feel free to share them in the comments.  The picture I paint below is a pretty one (we had a good day), but there are plenty of days when the interruptions are unceasing, and I’m at my wits end dealing with a fussy baby.

My baby Claire (10 months) is still taking a morning nap, so we have 1.5 hours each morning with a sleeping baby.  I have to take full advantage of this time each day, which means putting the more teaching-intensive moments of our day into this window.  We usually manage to get through most of the “mom’s full attention required” parts of our school day during Claire’s nap.

Gus (age 2.5) can be pretty destructive unless occupied with a great activity, so I bought some special school toys for him, and I also set him up with various pre-school activities while the older two do more formal schooling.  Charlie (age 4.5) seems to drift back and forth between formal school workbooks and pre-school play activities.  Today, I began our school day with the calendar (see below) and modeling clay, and both boys played with the clay for about 1/2 hour while Gianna did her math lesson.  Gus then started sorting various objects (teddy bear counters and pattern blocks) by color, see photo below (and yes he is not wearing pants.)

Charlie quickly moved from modeling clay to his new math book, and he was finished with quite a few pages before I interrupted him and suggested he work with the magnet board and make some words.  He immediately requested outdoor time.  I obliged, and he and Gus went into the backyard to play while Gianna finished her last hour of school.  We have a fence-enclosed yard, so when it is not raining my boys will both spend an hour each morning playing together in the yard.  On rainy days, they play in a gate enclosed playroom, and while there is sometimes crying or complaining, they are usually able to play alone in that room for an hour while Gianna does the remainder of her school work.

After our formal written work is finished, we spend time reading books from our book basket.  Mary Alice uses book baskets and was the first to introduce me to the idea.  I put about 15 carefully selected books (history, poetry, bible stories, science, geography, social studies, seasonal books, etc.,) into the basket and I pick from the basket for our read aloud time (the kids can pick as well if we have time).  I actually designed a “schedule” of the types of books I would read each day (so we are getting a well-rounded group of books).  I rotate the books in the basket throughout the year, and in the afternoons or evenings the kids are welcome to select books from the regular shelves in our playroom. Ideally, we read for about 1/2 hour before and after lunch.  Gus and Claire (if she is awake) can be disruptive during this time, so I will often save the longer stories for after lunch when the babies are napping or in quiet time.  Some days I have Gianna read to Gus while I read Charlie some stories of his choice.

After lunch  I read to the older two, and then my kids head into naps/quiet time.  Gianna will read during this time, Charlie will play, and my babies nap (ideally, although Claire has been quiet difficult in this department lately).

And that’s a nice summary of our ideal homeschool day.  As I mentioned above, there are plenty of days when the schedule does not go according to plan.  From fussy babies to sick kids to tantrum-prone toddlers, we will have our fair share of interruptions.  I plan on our school week lasting only 4 days, so the fifth day is a flex day used for co-ops and activities or catching up on core curriculum.  I will also utilize afternoon quite time on days when we have had too many interruptions and haven’t accomplished enough tasks.

I hope this helps!

  • Kat

    Wow, Red, this looks great – good job getting everyone organized for the school year, I'm impressed! Even though we don't home school, I get a lot of great ideas for activities to do with my kids from all of you home schooling mothers – thanks for sharing :)Christopher starts 1st grade next week – can't believe that summer is almost over!

  • Jess

    What curriculum/a do you use for the 3Rs? Did your 4.5 year old do much last year as a 3.5 yo?

  • Kristin

    The calendar at the bottom of your post is exactly what I've been looking for for our schoolroom. Do you have a link to where I can purchase it? Thanks!

    • Red

      I bought it at the Lakeshore Learning Store, see here: http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/seo/ca|searchR…It isn't cheap, roughly $60, but I've had it for 3 years now and it is very well made. I highly recommend it!

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  • Red

    Jess–I use an assortment of different curriculum/a materials for the 3 R's.For Gianna–Math–Saxon or Modern Curricula Press (MCP)Reading/Writing–can be divided into several subjects, 1) reading 2) phonics 3) spelling 4) grammar1) Reading–we dedicate about 10-20 minutes for Gianna to read aloud using various materials that are her reading level. Kolbe recommends some primers, I also got some readers from CHC, and the Yesterday's classics (this site has GREAT materials, lots of real stories for early readers). We also use early readers from the local library, and some beginning chapter books like the Magic Tree House series3) Phonics–MCP workbook series and Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading4) Spelling–Catholic Heritage Curricula, first spellers5) Grammar–Ignatius Speaks and Writes English 1 by Ignatius PressFor Charlie I use Saxon Math K and the Explode the Code Series (this has some very beginner spelling, reading, phonics and handwriting skills). I also use early primer readers (like the Bob books).Charlie will be doing more formal school this year, as he is pre-K age, an emerging reader, and I believe he is ready to start learning in a more formal manner. Last year he did sit down and do some formal school (he went through several of the Expode the Code books (letter sounds), learned to write his letters and numbers, learned patterns, colors, counting, etc.) In a typical week, he would choose to do school with us about 3 times, working for about 1/2 hour each time. He was and still is mature for his age. I am not sure that my now 2.5 year old will be ready for anything written next year (at age 3.5 because he has always been immature for his age). Each kid is different. But it never hurts to make a “school” schedule with plenty of time for learning activities such as play dough and blocks, lots of read aloud time, and lots of outdoor time!I hope this answered your questions.

  • JurisMater

    Looks like Gus forgot his pants for the first day of school : )Have a great schoolyear, Red!

  • Mary Alice

    Perhaps no pants to facilitate diaper changes, well planned by a super-efficient mama!This is a great outline, and our best homeschool days are very much like this as well. I have been itching to start for the last few weeks. I can't believe I am going to have four school age children this year!!Your classroom looks beautiful, it is so pleasant to have an uncluttered school room surrounded by windows, where you can look out on nature and also supervise the little ones playing outside.


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