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.
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!