Homeschool, Here We Come!

I’ve been prepping for our first year in homeschooling. It’s been pretty exciting and a little scary. I pray for guidance daily. Whenever I start to get anxious, I take a minute to ask Jesus for peace and wisdom. And it calms me. If you would’ve asked me (a previous English teacher of ten years) if I thought I’d homeschool my kids, I would’ve told you, “Nope!” But the last few years, things have changed, and here’s why we’re homeschooling (at least for kindergarten…who knows what will happen next year).

We started with a family mission statement as a way to keep us all on the same page. And I created a daily schedule and bought a few things from the Target $3 bin (like calendars, clock poster, a planner, etc.). Our goal is to keep it simple: reading and writing with lots of artwork and active play. There’s no rush. Since kindergarten is not compulsory in California, I won’t be keeping any records and plan on teaching about three hours a day, four days a weeks. Some days will be tough, some days will be fun. The goal is to work hard and have fun (sounds cliche, huh?).

Here’s our schedule (I’m guessing there will be lots of tweaking along the way, so I’ll be reassessing every 6 weeks):

  1. Beds, brush, dress, breakfast
  2. Reading lesson and bible verse
  3. Writing lesson and art
  4. Break: snack, playtime, i-Pad
  5. independent reading, family read aloud, or naptime 🙂
  6. Daily Activity
    1. Library once a week (history, literature, science, cooking, books on CD, everything we can find!)
    2. Other days: field trip, park/playdate/co-op, birthday/holiday fun, hike with Nala, farm/garden, ballet/play/circus, learn a life skill (tying shoe laces, cooking, etc.)
  7. Chores/Volunteer/Extracurricular
    1. Volunteer: Meals on wheels, neighborhood library, children’s lunchbox, habitat for humanity, adopt-a-trail litter pickup
    2. Extracurricular: AHG, gymnastics, ballet, swim, music, theater, sports, cheerleading (ONLY focusing on one at a time so we don’t over schedule ourselves)

Wish us luck! Maybe I’ll even convince Devin to agree to a class pet! 

Community Service Events = Low-Cost Fun!

Does anyone else get excited when the community service events guide comes out?! Wherever I’ve lived, I always get excited to check out the new haps around town: Halloween dog parade, ballroom dancing, letters to Santa, summer camps, swimming hours, ice skating lessons! I love to look through it and circle all the stuff we want to try!

The Vacaville Community Service Department does an awesome job with their Events Guide. (Check them out on Facebook too!) There are so many activities that it’s sometimes hard to choose.

Since August, we’ve participated in: gymnastics, Princess Diva Dance Class, and soccer.

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Princess Diva Dance Recital! So cute!!

Princess Diva Dance Recital! So cute!!

In the past, we’ve also loved:

  • Breakfast with Santa
  • Pups in the Pool
  • Swim lessons
  • Music lessons
  • Mommy and Me playtime
  • Creekwalk concerts

And the best part is that it’s usually quite a bit cheaper than specialty programs (community services gymnastics is $10/class and Aerial’s gymnastics center is $16/class. We’ve tried gymnastics at both and the coaching quality has been pretty even.) Another cool offering is the PAL programs where kids’ activities are low-cost (and only $15 membership fee for certain households). PAL has all kinds of cool stuff: field trips, boxing, judo leadership council classes, movies, study buddies, etc. The neighbor kids did Judo and loved it! Hope you get to support your community services department and have some low-priced fun too!

Homeschooling??

So I’ve been teaching reading to my four-year-old daughter, Mira, and it’s been going pretty well! The lessons are short, predictable, and can be done marching around the house with a toddler or sitting in the sunshine outside or splashing in the bathtub. And it’s already helped her sound out a few words, so I think she’s learning. Plus, she still enjoys it (as long as I time it right!). Teaching reading has kinda been my way of dabbling into homeschooling because we’re thinking that’s the direction we’re headed.

Why Homeschool?

  1. It frees up where we can live because we won’t have to worry about finding and living near the best school.
  2. It will give us a lot more family time. The kids and I will get to see my husband a lot more since his schedule is pretty different than the typical school day. (I felt like I rarely saw my husband when I was teaching and he was working.)
  3. It allows us to tailor our girls’ educations to their learning speed and styles. (While teaching, it always broke my heart to see my struggling kids I couldn’t help and advanced students I couldn’t push because I didn’t have enough time and there was only one of me and too many of them!).

Homeschooling wasn’t initially the route we were planning for our girls. Truthfully, I’ve never really wanted to homeschool because I didn’t think I was smart enough (kinda crazy since I was a teacher for ten years!) and I was worried about socialize issues.

But last year, when we moved from California to Alaska, I became less scared because it seems like a lot more people homeschool here (which makes sense since the government gives money to homeschoolers). I wanted to find out more, so in true Sarah fashion, I started asking lots and lots of questions. I became this homeschool investigator. A family member, Dee, was one of the first people I talked to and she was in the process of homeschooling three of her kiddos. She said it provided her kids opportunities to graduate early because they could move through material quicker, but she also talked about how much work it was for her.

I also talked to Christine, a wonderful friend from church (and a super mama who homeschools four of her kids while also taking care of her one-year-old daughter!). She recommended a book called The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Bauer and Wise. It’s a great resource for someone like me who needs a detailed example of rigorous, quality homeschooling.

And since then, I’ve read a few more books, talked to more people, and checked out lots of helpful blogs (my favs right now are: Lit Mama and April) who say the same things: kids benefit and parents benefit (but also have to work pretty hard and usually give up an extra income). I guess my choices are: go to school and teach other people’s kiddos OR stay at home and teach my girls. I’m so thankful that I get the opportunity to try the latter. 🙂

Teaching Reading to Kiddos

I just started to teach my four-year-old daughter to read. I wasn’t planning on starting now (actually, I wasn’t even planning on teaching her to read; I just expected her to learn when she started going to kindergarten), but she’s in love with books and is a voracious learner and has taught herself to write letters by spending lots of time practicing tracing the alphabet (thanks to a neat gift my parents just got her for her birthday).  For the last few years, we’ve practiced singing the alphabet and then in the last few months we’ve talked about letter sounds (“b” makes the sound “buh” in b, b, bat) and lately we’ve been checking out books on CD so she can “read” by herself. I thought she might be ready to read, so I decided that we’d try but I wouldn’t push her; I would just see how it worked and if she seemed to be learning and it didn’t cause unnecessary stress, we’d continue learning to read.

It’s been three weeks and has been pretty painless for both of us. I’m already noticing that she’s learning a bit (like she’s remembering the short-vowel sound of “a” and uses it to sound out some words). She’s not reading, of course, and won’t be able to read for another year, but we’ve started the process and she seems to be absorbing it.

So here’s how I’m doing it:

  • Buy The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise for $20ish (or get an awesome older brother like mine who will buy it as a gift for you and your daughter…Thanks, Uncle T!) and buy additional supplies: index card and a pen.
  • Each day, go through one lesson (about 10 pretty painless minutes).
  • Review the lesson a few times throughout the day (consists of singing a short rhyme or poem…like two minutes…super easy and short and it’s fun).

That’s it! There’s no prep work. It took me ten minutes of reading the lessons and practicing by myself to get the hang of how it works. And it’s basic and straight-forward and cheap. I was a teacher for ten years before taking a break to be at home with my girls, and this is a great choice for teaching reading.

Anyone else have suggestions or ideas for encouraging a love for reading? I’d love to hear them!

We Love Books!

I don’t think I’m very good at this blogging thing. I’m averaging once a month. So here’s the January installment (maybe I’ll sneak another one in before the end of the month):

Lately, we’ve been reading a lot more, which is so nice. We’re a little fanatical sometimes, reading several books concurrently and checking out twenty children’s books from the library. My husband, three year old, and I all love to read. And finally our younger daughter (who just turned two) is into reading too! Before she used to just run around and try to tackle us while we read, but now she brings books to us and wants to be read to. It’s wonderful.

In the last few months, I’ve read several books that have been really great for me: The Journey Mama by Rachel Devenish, Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, and I’m just finishing One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I’ve really enjoyed all of them. For mamas of young kiddos, the first two books are so helpful in building patience with our kids. And, more practically, Jankovic’s book can be read in one night (actually I read it initially about a year ago and I just re-read it in less than three hours). If I had to recommend one of those two books for a harried, exhausted, out-of-patience, about-to-go-crazy-from-sleep-deprivation mama, I think Jankovic’s book would save the day. In a nut-shell, she’s a mama of five children all under the age of five and she offers her perspective on alleviating the stress: deal with your own attitude before you deal with the kiddos. I’ve read a lot of books on parenting and this one was really powerful.

The Prodigal God has been a really great read too. These last few months have been pretty transforming in my relationship with God. And this book was a refreshing look at God’s grace and fierce love for us. It offered a new way to look at the story of the prodigal son and brought the focus back on the forgiveness and love God shows us.

My aunt recommended I read One Thousand Gifts. It’s intense. I’ve cried several times and it has really encouraged me to look at the blessings in my life. My first blog post was about thankfulness; it’s something I’ve been working on for almost two years. After reading this book, I find myself taking it to the next level and really looking at all the blessings God has given me.

I didn’t list it above, but another book I just started reading is The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.  A homeschooling mama of four recommended it to me because we’re looking into homeschooling our two girls. It was a strange concept at first because I taught English in secondary schools for nine years and there was always this underlying feeling that homeschooling wasn’t the best choice. In fact, it seemed like homeschoolers were a little weird. Sorry to any homeschoolers out there! As a teacher, I always felt so bad about the wasted time and the students who needed additional help as well as the students who were bored and needed more challenging instruction. I’ve seen first-hand how kids become bored and tune out because they’re frustrated. Now that I have my girls, I want to make sure they get the attention they need to learn. And the best way to get attention is to reduce class size. So I think homeschooling pretty much solves that issue. So far, this book has been a great start for me because it describes classical education as a systematic process where students learn information, organize that information, and then learn to express and analyze themselves using that information. It has a section on birth to five years and I already started using some of their suggestions, like encouraging the girls to learn letter sounds. I look forward to reading more!

Okay, I’m headed to bed to read 🙂