Learning is Natural, School is OptionalKenneth Danford
Wether you are a seasoned homeschool family looking for some new resources and ideas, or are new to homeschooling because of a pandemic and decisions to keep your kids home this coming fall – Below you’ll find some Basic Homeschool Ideas, Advice and Resources that I hope will inspire you in your upcoming school year.
I have four children and no background in teaching. My oldest daughter is 11 going into 6th grade, my second daughter is 8, going into 4th grade, my son is 6 and going into first grade and my youngest daughter is one and a half going on twenty! I have been homeschooling them all from the start, but revisit it with them and myself each school year. For each of us, homeschooling is a journey and an adventure. It is at times Wonderful and exciting along with being overwhelming and crazy! There are days that are easy and times of complete struggle. I have learned that being creative and having confidence in the natural learning process is more rewarding than trying to check lessons off my list as a way of determining if they have been accomplished. Children each learn in different ways and no matter what we do or how we do it, they are always learning. I don’t have a strict routine and I don’t completely unschool. I find we all need some sort of a routine to function, so we usually spend most mornings after breakfast and before lunch with our studies in some shape or form. It can be book work or group learning projects, independent reading and writing or independent lessons. We always incorporate outdoor time, free time and usually some one-on-one time throughout the week. The kids all practice math in their workbooks at least three times a week along with spelling and writing. Science, History, Art and more are usually organically weaved throughout our week in a natural learning process. Most books we’re reading or topics of interest take us naturally into studying different subjects. Learning takes place throughout the week and even on weekends because naturally, we’re always learning and everything you do counts!
The Short List of Advice:
- Integrated Learning: Teach topics to all your children together and create assignments for each of their abilities
- Purchase either a Curriculum or some workbooks to supplement your child’s learning. This will allow for you to have some days where the kids can just have the work ready for them when you need it.
- Instill a love of Reading. Turn every book into a learning experience and activity beyond the actual book. This will instill in your child an independent love of learning and seeking out information for life.
- Create a Routine that works for you and your family. Learning and schooling doesn’t have to take place at a certain time of day in a certain room of your house. Some children are more alert and eager to learn later in the day, while you may find some are better learners in the morning. Sometimes it’s easier to set times to work during the day, but you also might find that working with your children and how they learn will create a better work flow for you all.
- Follow your Child’s Interests. If your child is interested in oceanography, use that as a main topic that you branch off with other lessons. Incorporate math based on the sea, sea creatures, amount of rainfall. You can definitely google search for ocean math ideas geared toward a certain age or make up your own. You can do an art project of the ocean, it’s seabed, it’s creatures… you can incorporate science, history and geography all with this one topic or any topic that interests your child. This type of method helps engage your child in subjects they want to learn more about and teaching them how certain subjects are necessary to learn and applicable.
- Get Outdoors, do things you love together, play games, cook, bake, learn something new, go on field trips, have time together with friends and family, join a co-op, take classes – look at all experiences in life as learning and you’ll find homeschooling is just a way of life. *All these social pieces may not be suitable for the upcoming school year because of the pandemic, but be creative and you’ll find you can still explore new interests and socialize!
My best advice is to keep things simple and follow your child’s natural interests and create learning experiences from them. There are so many fantastic resources out there and lists and lists of what children should be learning that it can be quite overwhelming. When I work on the kids education plans for the school year to send to the Superintendent of our schools, I get so excited about all the things we can cover, but I also feel a bit of anxiety over how I can possibly cover all that material with each child that is expected of me. Integrated learning is what works best in our house and I find its helps us cover more material and subjects than we could have imagined. There are so many topics you can read about and teach to each of your children’s learning levels through art, science, history and math. I have found that this approach makes homeschooling and learning so much more enjoyable for us all.
An example of this idea is a topic we covered this year with Simple Machines. We got a couple books on Simple Machines and read them together – My six, eight and eleven year olds. We then researched the history of simple machines, which allowed us to explore other countries and history. Then we re-created our own simple machines – a catapult and a pulley. We watched some great video clips about Rube Goldberg machines and then I had the kids create their own designs. With some of our designs and experiments we used the Scientific Method – My older two children were able to work on this independently and record their own data, while I worked on my 6 year old’s hypothesis and findings with him in his journal. The kids worked on their own machines and presented them to each other and the girls wrote creative stories about their work. One topic, three different grade levels and for each student we were able to explore, science, math, reading, writing, art and history!
Materials, Curriculums and Resources:
My favorite and most helpful resource book is Rebecca Rupp’s Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool through High School. This book is a fantastic resource for what to cover and when along with suggested material. It is easy to use, full of useful, clear written information for each grade. I use this book when working on my education plan for the upcoming school year and at many different times throughout the year to check in with what material we can cover. I don’t cover all the material that is suggested at each indicated grade. Sometimes I find that we naturally cover certain topics just out of interest and instead of revisiting them again, we may decide to go with something else. You also can call your local public school and request information for what is expected of your children to learn at each grade level.
When working with each child and teaching them to read and write I have truly loved using Reading Reflex, a book recommended to me by my friend who is a reading specialist. The lessons are simple to follow and fun. All my children have learned to read through our work with this book.
For each child I purchase a BrainQuest Workbook for their grade level. BrainQuest is aligned to state and national standards to assure that your child covers the required basics for each particular grade. Covering a variety of subject areas – math, phonics, science, social studies, spelling, vocabulary, and more – that help children learn and practice basic skills. My kids all love working in their BrainQuest Workbooks. For some of the subjects I usually add a supplemental work book to cover more material like Spelling and Math.
I have used Spelling Success Workbooks and Spectrum Spelling Workbooks as a supplement to the work we do in our BrainQuest Workbooks. These are great to have on hand to practice both spelling and math work a little deeper and to have some easy independent work on hand when needed.
I haven’t yet used a specific math curriculum with a teacher’s guide. I instead have always used Spectrum Math Workbooks for each grade level. I have found Spectrum Math workbooks simple and easy to follow. Each workbook has examples and clear explanations of the math topics being covered with answers in the back. It doesn’t have a teacher’s manual, but I have found that it works just fine for me with elementary math – thankfully I still remember how to do that! What I don’t remember, I just google it to find explanations or youtube videos that can help explain it to the kids and myself if needed. I have decided to continue using it for my oldest’s first year of middle school this year, but as we progress, I may need to seek out a program or material that includes a teacher’s manual or is independently taught to her as the math may get more complicated.
I have also used Oak Meadow’s 1st Grade Curriculum which I purchased used on eBay one year. The program is loosely based on the Waldorf schooling style and has a nice integration of art, science, nature and storytelling.
Five in a Row is another great, inexpensive curriculum you can use in an integrative way with different age levels at the same time. The books and lessons are geared towards children ages 2-12 years of age. Five in a Row is an easy-to-follow, instructional guide for teaching Social Studies, Language, Art, Applied Math and Science using children’s literature as the basis for each weekly unit study.
The greatest resource any homeschooler can use and it doesn’t cost a thing is your public library. This may be trickier during a pandemic, but there are still so many e-books available online to read along with audio books. Reading and encouraging a love for reading is the best education and gift you can give your child. So much of our homeschooling revolves around books the kids are reading and books we read together as a family. Anything the kids take interest in can be learned about from a book. We read a lot in our house. I usually have the kids read or read to them the books suggested for their grade level, but I also encourage them to find reading material and subjects that interest them. This year My oldest daughter has taken a keen interest in Oceanography and Environmental Sciences. We have explored many different books on these topics and turned them into great lessons on Geography, History, Science, Math and Art! That is the beauty of homeschooling. So much can be covered in such simple ways.
The social piece. Many people are turned off to the idea of homeschooling because they think it is isolating for children and that they only have their teacher as a parent and may not have many friends. When my husband first brought up his interest in wanting to homeschool our children, I was completely concerned about their socialization. I didn’t know much, if anything about homeschooling and it seemed like the type of thing a parent would do because they didn’t want to let go of their children or wanted to control them. The more I read about homeschooling, the more I discovered that the opposite was completely true. Homeschool kids were found to be more social, more outgoing and self-confident. Now, it’s not to say that school children don’t display these characteristics, because so much does come from how you’re raised, not just your schooling. But, what was being written about was how children who were homeschooled were in more situations that allowed them to take responsibility, to socialize with friends (most free time in school is limited and kids are very often being told what they should be doing at certain times by an adult). Homeschool kids are also learning in an integrated way that allows them to pick their friends not because they are the same age, but because they like each other and have things in common. One thing about integrated learning and not having my kids in school is that they never go into a situation saying, “you can’t be my friend because I’m older or younger than you.” Integrated learning takes away those barriers. My children have friends of all ages and learn from each other.
I also like for my children to have independent space to learn and grow from other people and situations. During a normal homeschool year my three older children are involved in numerous extracurricular activities like dance class, homeschool games class, pottery, art class, book clubs, drama clubs, sports and also attend a weekly homeschool science and environmental class at a nature center. You can make your homeschool experience look any way that you like with endless opportunities to learn and experience life in a hands on way. This is what I have grown to love about homeschooling, I see that my children love to learn. They love to be challenged, they like figuring things out for themselves and being independent, they don’t look at learning something new or different as a burden, but as something exciting.
Rainbow Resource Center https://www.rainbowresource.com has a fantastic site full of everything you could ever dream of when homeschooling and more. It was created by a homeschool family and is a family run business. Their catalog and website have a great selection of resources with detailed descriptions along with great prices.
- A laboratory for great hands on stem projects for all ages that arrives monthly in the mail – we always enjoy getting our Tinkercrate, Kiwi Crate, and Koala Crate https://www.kiwico.com/tinker
- Reading Rainbow: Available on Amazon Prime and Youtube; Fantastic show incorporates books, reading and great topics to explore deeper supplement topics you have covered
- Nurture Store https://nurturestore.co.uk Cathy Jaymes has a fantastic website for children pre-school age to 12 years old – great activities in all subjects
- Give your Child the World Book: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time by Jamie C. Martin. This book has reading recommendations for diverse books and topics for students of all ages. This book is a wonderful resource.
- DK First Human Body Encyclopedia. Great resource for all ages when studying health and the human body.
- The Everything Kids Science Experiments book by Tom Robinson
Know that whatever decisions you make for your children’s education, nothing is permanent. They can always go back to school or you can try a different homeschool design that might work better for your family. There is also no right way to homeschool there is no one way to learn!
The best experience is to nurture a love of learning, to open their eyes to the world, to instill self-confidence in your child and to create a joyful experience for you all!
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”–Benjamin Franklin