Sunday, July 30, 2017

2017/2018 School Year Plans!

𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮 It's the moooost wonderful tiiiiime, of the year 𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮

Anybody else hear this Christmas song in their head when all of the 4th of July festivities die down and stores start putting out their back to school supplies? I've felt that way my whole life. I LOVE summer and always feel sad when it's really coming to an end, but when I see the stacks of shiny new folders and notebooks in school bus shaped displays at Target, I get a major thrill. Everybody tends to think of New Years as being the time to make a fresh start, but to me its August/September. In January it's nice to get back into a routine after the holidays and everything, and New Years Resolutions are super fun, but it's still cold and gray and it's just the halfway(ish) point of school and kid activities. The beginning of the school year feels more full of possibility to me. What is our new daily routine going to look like? How can I make our days smoother? What extra curricular activities do I feel like we should sign up for? How will we make those particular evenings work best for everybody? And then the questions only homeschoolers get to ask themselves: What curriculum are we going to use this year? How will we structure our school days? How will we balance regular home life (laundry, baby naps, cleaning bathrooms, grocery shopping) with school time? FULL of possibility!

This year we'll be starting school a little earlier than we normally do. Normally I like to get started after Kate's birthday, August 20th. This year though, after Kate's birthday we'll be on official 'baby watch' for Baby4, so I want to get an earlier start. Starting tomorrow, 7/31, should get us about 4 weeks of school work before the week of my due date, at which point we'll start a break. I haven't decided yet how long of a break we'll take. Leaving that up in the air depending on when Baby4 comes and how quickly we settle into a routine. Our curriculum this year relies quite heavily on read alouds, so that should work in our favor with a new baby. I tend to do a LOT of reading out loud while I nurse a newborn anyway!

I mentioned in my last blog post that I had found a full Charlotte Mason curriculum that we will be using. When I first decided Charlotte Mason seemed like the way to go for our family, back in the spring, I was very pleasantly surprised to find Ambleside Online! It's a completely free resource that has schedules, book lists, composer studies, artist studies, and so much more available and organized by school year! Amazing and SUCH a blessing! Sam will be starting with Year 1, which is meant to be a 1st grade program and the first year of formal schooling, after the student has turned 6. Ambleside also has a very informal Year 0 (mostly just a book list) meant to be sort of a kindergarten year. Kate will do that next year, but we will likely read some of the Year 0 books this year for her pre-k year as well.

Our curriculum's main resource is the book list. The heart of a Charlotte Mason curriculum is literature and using 'living books' (rather than dry textbooks) to teach all subjects. This is done by reading (out loud in the earlier years, and then by the student themselves when they're older) and narration (oral in the early years, written in the later). It has been a BLAST collecting all of the books on the Year 1 list and I am incredibly excited to dive into these! Ambleside follows a history rotation throughout the years and begins Year 1 with early British history, to lead into early American history in Year 2.

Our books!!

In addition to our book lists for readings, we will also have a different composer and artist to study each term (Ambleside schedules their years into 3 12 week terms). For each composer and artist we have different pieces to study for 2 weeks each. This is to be really simple in Year 1. We'll listen to our selected piece from our composer of the term throughout the day, and I will have printed copies of our piece of artwork framed and ready to study. "Studying" the artwork will consist of looking at the picture for a few minutes, and then turning it away and seeing what we can remember without looking at it. 

We will also have a folk song to listen to each term, as well as a different hymn every month. The goal here is just to have kids memorizing these old songs, just by listening to them frequently as they go about their day. No special time will really be devoted to them.

Also essential to any Charlotte Mason curriculum is copywork. The goal with copywork is to learn correct formation of letters, as well as sentence and (later) paragraph structure. Sam will initially just be doing the alphabet in his copywork. He writes well, but I want to focus our first couple weeks on review and working on neater penmanship. Then we'll go on to copying out sentences from readings we've done that week. Sometimes I might choose some lines from Aesop for him to copy, then maybe something from our weekly Bible readings, and then maybe a few lines from one of our "free reads" like one of the Little House books or the original Peter Pan.

Our science will mostly be comprised of nature study. We'll be spending a lot of time outside, but once a week we will go out (in our yard or we'll take a field trip) intentionally with our field guides and sketch books (even Henry has one!) At first we will just work on drawing what we see, and maybe writing down a name, but later in the year Sam will be making little notes to go alongside his drawings.

Ambleside suggests parents choose their own phonics and math programs, so we'll be continuing with Learning Language Arts Through Literature and Horizons math. Our LA program might be overkill with everything else we're doing, so I might switch it out for a more simple, phonics only type of program as the year goes on. Sam already has quite a good grasp on reading though after only sporadic usage of the LLATL program last year, and he seemed to really enjoy the lessons, so it might end up working out just fine!

Other things we'll be including in our school year this year will be French (we'll be using The French Experiment  as a super basic introduction to the language, mostly just reading some short stories in French and then using YouTube to learn the French words for basic things around our house), memory work (mostly poetry and Bible verses), handicrafts (beginning sewing, finger knitting, soap carving, basic wood working, etc) and drawing. Sam is especially excited about drawing, and spent a long time pouring over the simple workbook I found on Amazon. I also ordered a couple coloring books to supplement our science and history readings.

For Kate (and Henry a little bit) this year I haven't prepared much of anything. We have tons of supplies for sensory and fine motor activities that I can put together quickly whenever it seems like they might want something like that. I have 2 bins devoted to this kind of stuff. 1 bin of tools (scoops, tongs, cups, etc) and 1 bin of supplies (beads, pom poms, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, etc) I also made them a set of sensory alphabet cards (so simple, just glitter glue letters on cardboard) to run their fingers over as a pre-writing activity.

To keep everything organized this year, I first majorly purged and cleaned out our crafts/school closet to be more functional. The cute cart I got last year to house supplies has to be kept in the closet now (because... toddler...) and I decided to fill it with everything we'll use every day, including books, rather than just all of our supplies. This way, instead of going through the closet shelves every day to find what we need, I just need to roll out the cart and everything is already right there. Pencils, markers, colored pencils, glue, readers, flash cards on the top tier and then books on the second and our math manipulatives in containers on the bottom.

I also put together 3 binders, one each for myself, Sam, and Kate. Mine contains all of our weekly schedules (put together in my own format from the weekly schedules provided by Ambleside), the breakdown of our composers/pieces and artists/pieces, lyrics for our hymns, as well as copies of Sam's memory work for the first term (poems and Bible verses).

Sam's binder has all of his lined paper for copywork, his laminated and blank maps for geography, copies of his memory work (once a Bible verse is memorized he will hi-light it and once a poem is memorized he'll draw a picture to go with it), some coloring pages to go along with a few of our readings, blank paper for when he wants to draw his narration to a reading rather than just tell it to me, and his personal timeline ready to be filled in. Ambleside encourages making a history timeline, either in a notebook or on the wall, noting (or drawing) when events happen as you come across them in readings. But, in the beginning of Year 1, they recommend starting with making a personal timeline to help build the idea of time extending over the years. So we'll be slowly filling in Sam's timeline, starting in 2010 when he started growing in my tummy and going all the way through this year, marking important milestones in our family's life. I'm really excited to see how this turns out!

Kate's binder is full of tracing and matching worksheets that I laminated so she can do them again and again. I also added a folder full of coloring pages I printed from Pinterest. I want her to stay occupied while Sam and I go through his work, and she wants to be independent and have her own "school". I think this binder will take care of all of that.

I am SO excited for our school year! Nothing I have planned seems time consuming (as I mentioned in a previous post, Charlotte Mason believed in NO MORE than about 15-20 minutes per subject and only about 2 hours, max for the whole day in the early years!) and everything I planned seems engaging and like it will easily fit into our life! That was main goal in planning this year, for school to fit into our life, rather than trying to fit our life around school. Hopefully I've accomplished this!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Flexibility and Our Ever-Evolving School Plans

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is how flexible it is. As someone who really loves her routines, schedules, planners, etc, that actually might be a little surprising. It can be hard for me (really hard) to fly by the seat of my pants and go with the flow, if I'm being perfectly honest, and still it's the ability to do just that with our school days that I love so much. I love to sit down on Sunday afternoons and fill in my planner with our week's plans, but I appreciate that if everybody wakes up with grumpy attitudes we can scrap the whole thing and go play in the rain instead.

Around Christmas this year, I started to feel the itch to change things up with our homeschooling. Our school year was going really well. Sam was learning a ton, and I was able to keep Kate and Henry (mostly) occupied with purposeful activities. It didn't really feel like anything was lacking necessarily, but I just felt a tug to explore our options a little bit. I felt like we were only scratching the surface. During what I like to call "Pinterest Week" (the week between Christmas and New Years when I spend all of my downtime scouring Pinterest for all of the ways I'm going to completely change our lives for the better in the new year) I really dove into finding some new and different ideas for us. Everything I typed into the Pinterest search, "minimalist homeschooling", "laid back homeschooling", "literature based homeschooling", "nature based homeschooling", was bringing up results for the Waldorf, Montessori, and Charlotte Mason models of learning. I kept coming across the same thing, particularly for Waldorf and Charlotte Mason, "No formal learning until age 6". All of the millions of pins I scrolled through, all of the new pin boards I created, all of the ideas I was starting to semi-pull together, and that's what was standing out most to me. No formal learning until age 6. It just made sense to me. I just kept reading, "Take your kids outside every single day, read them quality literature, give them free reign to create." This was what I had been looking for. This is what I really felt my kids were looking for. As much as Sam truly enjoys the sit down work you automatically think of when you think "school", I could see how quickly he could get burnt out if we didn't ease back a little bit for now. I decided to keep going with his language arts and math programs because he was doing so well, but I wasn't going to structure them quite as much. We'd do them when he asked, or if we were having a particularly quiet day, but other than that I wasn't going to stress about getting through the whole math book, or halfway through the language arts book, by springtime like I had originally planned. I put together a pile of books I wanted to read aloud to everybody, and we rearranged all of our school and craft supplies to make paper, crayons, markers, glue, and scissors easily accessible (to the big kids anyway 😋). I was getting really excited for all of the holiday buzz to be over so we could settle into a new, more laid back routine. A big motivator for all of this was the fact that we had just found out we were expecting baby #4 in the summer and I was starting to feel all of my usual 1st trimester symptoms starting to creep in.

So the new year rolled around, and so did morning sickness. I typically experience terrible, all-day nausea and this time around was no different. On top of that, we all started passing around various illnesses and, for a large portion of the winter, it felt like at least one person was always sick. I was incredibly grateful during this time to have already decided on an easier school plan for us. Most days, Sam and Kate would quietly go to the craft/school closet (what used to be our front coat closet) when they woke up, and would draw and create various masterpieces while I nursed Henry and ate enough saltines to be able to get out of bed without dry heaving (isn't pregnancy glamorous?) Later on in the morning we'd all get on the couch together and I'd read from a few different books (their favorite was Little House in the Big Woods!) until I got too dizzy and needed a break. On really cold days we'd take blankets in the playroom and everybody would sit in their own sunspot while I read. Sometimes Sam would really want to do his math and/or language arts, so we'd sit down to do that somewhere. In the earliest days of my pregnancy, we'd do his work on the couch, or on the floor of the playroom. As we crept closer to spring and I started feeling marginally better, we moved back to the dining room table. Henry and Kate were becoming less and less likely to play on their own while Sam did his sit down work, so I'd get out some math manipulatives for them to sort and stack, or give them pencils (they refused anything but a pencil when they knew it was "school time") and paper to "write" on as they wished. Kate, for the first time, expressed to me that she wanted to learn how to write her name, so I started giving her some tracing pages to do on days she asked for them. She still isn't writing her name on her own, but she does recognize all of the letters in it now and is starting to be able to form some pre-writing type shapes on her own. It's been really cool to completely let go of the reigns as far as teaching her anything really, and watch how she picks things up on her own.

As you can see from these pictures, much of our winter was spent wearing pajamas 😉

Even more important to me than any of our reading, or sporadic sit down schoolwork, was giving Sam much more freedom to create, as well as a lot more "alone" time. I had been noticing he was starting to get frustrated more often when playing with Henry and Kate. He had gotten a Lego table for Christmas, as well as Tinkertoys and K'nex to add to his growing Lego collection, and we were keeping all of that upstairs in his and Kate's bedroom, away from Henry's fingers (and mouth). At that point, Kate was having quiet time up in their room, and Sam was staying down in the playroom while Henry napped, but I decided to switch that and give Sam some quiet time upstairs with his building sets, while Kate played with a select few toys on her own in the playroom, with the doors shut. This didn't seem like a "school related" decision initially, but it ended up being one. Sam started spending more than just his afternoon quiet time upstairs creating and building and I could clearly see how it was helping him learn and grow. He went from needing help following Lego instructions, and only building a couple little things here and there without having instructions to follow, to being able to build whole Lego sets himself without any help at all and bringing down increasingly complex and creative designs of his own to show me. 

As we got closer to the end of winter, I started feeling better, the kids stopped passing around various viruses, and I slowly started doing less and less actual sit down work with the kids and let them just do their own thing. Drawing, crafting (I didn't do anymore structured crafts with them, but they made up their own), cooking, helping with chores, spending more time outside, looking through books on their own or with me. We had watched a lot of tv and movies while everybody was sick, but I stopped using screen time except for maybe an hour 2 or 3 times a week. Besides seeing a drastic improvement in everybody's overall behavior and attitudes without any tv, I saw an increase in the creativity of their playtime. 

So what does all of this look like going forward? Sam turned 6 this June and, with a baby coming the end of August, I'm going to want to start his 1st grade year at the end of July/very beginning of August. All throughout the spring I've been reading more and more about Charlotte Mason and her education philosophy. For the first time since I started this homeschooling journey I feel like I've found something that fits. All of our school plans for next year will be detailed in a different blog post once I actually have them all finalized, but we will be following a full Charlotte Mason "curriculum" and incorporating her philosophies in our day to day life. To sum up, Ms. Mason believed that children are capable of much more than we give them credit for, that quality literature and living books should be the basis of every education, that young students shouldn't be spending more than 15-20 minutes on one subject, that young students should be able to complete all of their day's work by lunchtime, and that all children should spend hours out doors every single day. Nature journaling is a huge part of a Charlotte Mason education. Kate won't be doing any formal work until she's 6, but she'll start a nature journal alongside Sam this year. I'm really excited to see what they chose to study and draw! Like I said, I'll write a new post when I have everything together for this year, but I've started collecting the books we are going to need and I am so excited to start digging into these together!

Our school year changed so much over the course of this year, and there were plenty of days where I felt incredibly guilty for not doing "enough", but looking back now I can see that all of the kids learned so much and that all of the changes worked out for the best for the whole family! I am so looking forward to what this upcoming school year is going to bring!

They all changed so much this year!!