Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Homeschooling Looks Like For Us

     I know that most homeschool families are happy to get a chance to see how other families "do school" - it may give us ideas for our own experience, or maybe it just helps satisfy out innate need to compare ourselves to others; to reassure ourselves that we are "doing okay". I know of others who have considered homeschooling but are overwhelmed the responsibility, options and prospects. While what we do isn't necessarily the "right" way and won't work for everyone, I thought some out there might enjoy a look at what homeschooling looks like for us.

    In Kentucky, homeschoolers are required to notify the school board of their intentions to homeschool before the start of the school year. We are also required to provide at least 1,050 hours of instruction each year and to maintain records of those hours and grades. (My older documents say 1,080 hours of instruction, but since we get in nearly 1,200 hours I'm not too worried about it.) They do not tell you how you must do this, so each family is left to decide what will work best for them. (Did I mention Kentucky is a GREAT state to homeschool in?!)

     We meet these requirements by schooling 11 months of the year (taking July off), and 6 days a week. Sounds like drudgery huh? Well this schedule does allow us to school only HALF days each day so our afternoons are always free for other pursuits (or our mornings if that suits our needs better)! We also take LOTS of field trips, learning adventures, and family vacations. This flexibility allows us to do things when other families cannot saving us money and time for off-season activities.

     I have now schooled my oldest for 6 years and my youngest for the past 2. In that time we have tried nearly every schooling style and curriculum out there! We've run the gamut from "unschooling" (not nearly enough structure for us), to complete curriculum options (way too rigid for us), and even done online curriculum and full-school options (not nearly tactile enough for us). We spent the past year doing a lot of notebooking, which opened up the world of books for my oldest but left my younger, mostly-pre-literate and not-so-crafty son in the dust. So we had to find ways to accommodate both of their learning styles while leaving me enough time to work with each of them independently when needed but also giving them some autonomy to move at their own pace.

     On a typical day I wake up around 7:30 or 8 AM (I stay up all night sewing remember?), they get up about 1/2 an hour later. They start their "official school day" by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and with a prayer, after which I give them breakfast which they eat while working. We use a graph that allows them to check off the work as they accomplish it - this allows them to choose what order they want to do classes in, work ahead in some areas, or skip something and catch up with it later. I print these schedules off every two months, to include all planned breaks and Sundays and stick them to their "school journal" covers. On "long days" we school until around 2 PM, while short days are over by 12 or 1PM. We don't take any morning breaks because I've found it distracts them too much and means it takes an hour to get back on track. Instead they are rewarded for finishing on time or early by getting to play that much earlier. If we get to 1 PM and are still working they will take a small break to help me prepare and eat lunch.
The Daily Checklist

     This checklist makes it very easy for me to track attendance and grades as well. At the end of every two months I do an informal check with the book by Robin Sampson: "What Your Child Needs to Know When"'s handy grade by grade and subject by subject checklists to be certain we are covering everything we need to be - that way I can make adjustments throughout the year instead of playing "catch up" at the end. I also enter all the "x" marks from the daily charts as time credits into the spreadsheet I keep on my computer. Each subject/class is "worth" a set time - while some days a class may actually go over this time and others fall short this is the average time spent in that subject each day. This allows me to keep track of grades and hours of instruction.

     Here is a list of our subjects and the curriculum we are using in the coming year. My daughter will be entering 4th grade and my son 1st.

My 4th Grader's "Core Curriculum"
4th Grade:
Bible: Christian Light Unit 4th Grade
Typing: Keyboarding without Tears, 4th Grade
Language Arts: grammar, journaling
Social Studies: Story of the World
Spelling: Evan Moore Daily Spelling 5th Grade
Mathematics: Christian Light Unit 3rd Grade
Science: Christian Light Units, 5th Grade
Literature: Reading the classics, one/month with reports
Foreign Language: Rosetta Stone Spanish

We also have a time block called "Together Time" this is a set time filled with art projects, science experiments, cooking projects, documentaries and discussions, and whatever else our schoolwork for the day has led us to explore.

My 1st Grader's "Core Curriculum"
1st Grade:

Bible: Christian Light Unit 1st Grade
Handwriting: Handwriting without Tears

Language Arts: Explode the Code, workbooks, reading time
Social Studies: Story of the World
Spelling: Evan-Moore, 1st Grade
Mathematics: Christian Light Units, 1st Grade
Science: Cut & Past Science
Foreign Language: Rosetta Stone Spanish

We substitute some "fun" bonus curricula when the kids get frustrated with something, bored with the same-old workbook, for a fun day, when we are short on time, or when we are a way from home. These are often Dover coloring or subject books, television-based learning like Hooked on Phonics or documentaries, fun worksheets from We also enjoy reading the Life of Fred math books together as well as engaging in the many projects suggested in Story of the World.

Sample "Bonus" work for 1st Grade

Sample "Bonus" work for 4th Grade

Shared "Core Curriculum"

All in all we try to balance "fun" with structure, clear expectations with the freedom to move forward at one's own pace, and free-time with work-time. I'm usually able to walk in and out of the school room (our dining room) doing chores and such while checking in to help or insure they are staying on track. We break up their independent work with blocks of working together in the same subject just to keep it interesting and engaging for all of us. Overall I feel that while things will still inevitably change over the coming years we have finally settled on a "system" that works well for us.