My husband and I went on a quick weekend trip to Boston a few years back. On our last day, we had breakfast near our Back Bay hotel and walked across the street to a Barnes & Noble in Copley Place mall. We wondered for over an hour. Imagine us having the opportunity to actually take our time in a bookstore because we had no kids. I bought a couple of books, one of them being Teach Like Finland. This was one of the defining moments in motherhood where I knew that I absolutely wanted to and had to homeschool. The book was pretty decent by the way. I don’t see America adopting any of the wonderful things done in Finland, but it’s always great to see how other people live and learn around the world.
We took the plunge to start homeschooling in June 2018. It was a crazy and hectic time: I was pregnant, we were in the middle of moving, I took no days off of work to actually do normal things like unpack. So yeah, it was eventful.
One of the hardest decisions to make will be which curriculum to choose. With the freedom of homeschool, you want to pick a curriculum that works for both the student and the family.
- IXL – We signed up for IXL the previous school year as a way to get some extra practice in for our, then, 4th grader. We opted for the Family Yearly membership for 2 learners. I don’t think IXL is ideal as a complete curriculum. Many school systems use this as homework for the students. Which means that there is an understanding that an actual lesson was taught prior to getting on IXL. For instance, a science question may be: ‘Which one of these characteristics describes an igneous rock?’ Well, someone would have to had taught your learner about igneous rocks prior. So, as a hack, I would log in as the parent and try some of the questions to get a feel for what I would need to teach before assigning the work. One thing I do love about IXL is that they provide you with suggestions on what to assign your child based on their performance on previous modules. As a parent, you can log in to see what they have worked on, how much time was spent and you can “star” modules that you want your child to work on. And one of my favorite features is that IXL recently came out with an app which I now have on my phone. It’s so easy for me to break out my phone and get a math lesson done with my four year old while we are sitting together.
- FunCation Academy – We signed up for FunCation mid way through our school year because we were looking for a program that would provide our 5th grader with a little bit more autonomy when it comes to learning. Why? Because we had just had our 3rd child and things were a bit crazy. We needed something that didn’t require me to be as hands on for everything. What I like about FunCation, was that they give you an academic assessment to see what grade level your student is performing on in order to provide you with a custom curriculum. What I did not like about FunCation, was that there was no way for us to say, “Okay, dividing fractions is not our strong point, so its okay that we got a 70%, we want to move forward.” NO. Every assignment had to be complete with an 80% or above in order to move forward. Over time, this began to work my nerves. In life, you won’t be 80+% efficient in everything, but that shouldn’t hold you back. But that is just my opinion. Oh yeah, and about month after I signed up, they completely changed their program. During our FunCation honeymoon stage, I actually recommend them to another mom and she asked me if we went with the FA3D program or the FAPrep program and I had no idea what she was talking about because when we signed up, there was an option for college prep (6th-12th grade) and then their basic option, which was everyone else. We no longer use FunCation. We paid $165 for the year for this curriculum.
- ABC Mouse – I love ABC Mouse. We use this for our four year old and it is filled with games, puzzles and coloring. What I love about ABC Mouse is that there is a nice degree of customization around what learning level your child is on. We started at the lowest level when our son was 3, but now we have had to increase it to one of the kindergarten levels. My sons favorite thing to do is to play with his pets on ABC Mouse. He has a hamster and a cat. It barely feels like they are learning but believe me, its sinking in.
- Outschool – I learned about Outschool from another parent in a homeschool Facebook group. It’s pretty awesome. Here, you can sign your child up for classes taught by other people. Some classes are live and some are previously recorded and the genres span from Literature to Latin to Lessons on Hygiene. We have completed an essay writing class, a few Spanish classes, and a STEAM class based on a Disney theme park just to name a few.
- Little Passports – I know you’ve seen the cool commercials for Little Passports. I too, was inquisitive and thought my oldest son would love the World Edition. So I ordered the subscription long before we began homeschooling (they sent me a coupon code) and I saved them up to open periodically once we started homeschooling. So, essentially, World Explorer program that we signed up for allows for kids 6-10 to explore the world through a monthly gift. The first box comes with a small suite case that comes with a world map, a faux passport, a letter from their traveling mates from Little Passports and some other trinkets. Each month, their traveling mates travels to a new country and they provide you with a gift from that country, fun activities about the country and a new stamp to put in your passport. For instance, the London box had a 3D puzzle of Big Ben and there was an AMAZING recipe for Apple Crumble inside. I think my four year old enjoyed the subscription the most. To this day, he is still talking about “Big Ben in London, England”.
Throughout all of the curriculum adoptions and changes, nothing beats a good living book or documentary followed by a lively discussion. I’ve learned to not be so chained down or attached to a “curriculum”. You, as the parent, know your child. You know their learning style, their needs and their desires.
Tailor their learning to them. This would be more so the “unschooling” style, which allows your child’s interest to guide their learning. For instance, my son went through a “I love to cook/bake” phase this school year, so I gave him math question that had to do with recipes (great practice for fractions). We also let the weather and natural disasters guide our science lessons. At the beginning of the school year, there were volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, so we studied volcanoes. Later on, there were a few devastating tornadoes, so that was next etc.
Good old fashion reading. There’s nothing more beneficial. Think about it. If my son can read a book, communicate back to me its contents/main idea, be able to have a discussion and be able to write about it, then we have just worked on reading, reading comprehension, literature, grammar, communication, and depending on the book, History.
Fostering a healthy relationship with books is an ongoing challenge for us. Why? Mainly because there are so many “screens” competing for their attention. But the local library was like a second home for us this school year. Well, maybe “home” was a stretch because we certainly racked up a fair share of fines this year. I think we usually get a little overly zealous when at the library. So, when our stuff is just a day late, it racks up quickly because we tend to borrow so many books (and DVDs and CDs) at a time.
Some of our favorite books read this year are:
- Mansa Musa and the Empire of MaliMansa Musa – We got the e-book from Amazon. This was the first book we read. It was important to us that we start off with an up building history book of a someone who actually looked like our kids. One of the things that disappointed us in the public school system was the lack of positive representation of black and brown people in history. If you’ve never heard of Mansa Musa, I highly recommend this book. He is said to be the richest person in history.
- Patina – My son found this book at the library. He read another book in this series so he grabbed this one about young Patina who runs track and has an interesting family situation.
- A Long Walk to Water – We all read this book together and it has to be one of my favorite books. You know how some books leave you a little empty or leave you full on questions. Not this one, it came full circle but it left me wanted to dig deeper into the story of The Lost Boys of Sudan. This book follows the parallel story of Salva and Nya in Sudan. Nya is a fictional character based on true life but Salva’s story is true and very intriguing.
- The Breadwinner – This book is also a movie, which we did not find out until after we read it. But as you know, the book is ALWAYS better than the movie. This story outlines the courageous story of young Parvana in Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban. She poses as a boy to earn money for her family after her father is imprisoned by the Taliban.
- The Boy of the Three Year Nap – This was a hilarious story of how a lazy son turned his situation upside down with his procrastination.
- Hush! A Thai Lullaby – This is a cute story that my four year old loves and it also resonates with most mama bears. In the lullaby, mom tell all the animals to hush because her baby is sleeping. By the time everything is quiet and she settles down to get some rest, baby is awake. I think this is the story of my life.
- Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci – As a Technical Business Analyst, I use the Fibonacci sequence all the time so I really enjoyed this book. It’s amazing to find out how the Fibonacci sequence is based purely on nature. It’s equally as enjoyable to learn about a brilliant mind such as Fibonacci and his struggle to be accepted.
- Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad – A true story of a young boy who was born into slavery but mails himself to freedom. It’s a must read.
According to my oldest son, this is probably the most important part of school. But since we added a new baby to the family this school year, we did not go to as many places as the kids may have wanted. But here are places we did go to:
- Atlanta Braves Game
- Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL
- Bible Costume Party with fellow homeschoolers
- Library Olympics at the local library
- Mitcham Farms for Strawberry picking
- Atlanta Science Festival
- Fernbank Science Center to see the Super Blue Blood Moon Eclipse live
In our state, its not required to keep records of what is taught but, for my own sanity, I write down what we work on each day in Excel. It helps me to plan week by week and if some reason I need to gather receipts on what was taught, I have them.
What I Wish to Improve On
- Even though I liked to plan out each week’s curriculum, I have to get better at being more fluid. If we don’t get finished with everything that I planned, then no big deal (which is the attitude that I am trying to cultivate). It’s nice to have a plan, but sometimes, it’s more effective to go with the flow.
- I would have really loved to do more hands on experiments and artwork. Having a busy schedule and having kids that are far apart in age make it challenging.
- I would also have liked to put more emphasis on learning about other countries and how people live around the world. The plan is to incorporate that into next years lessons.
- The HARDEST thing that we struggled with, was screen time! Ugh! The kids always want to watch tv, play on the tablet or play on a phone. They have even become master negotiators: “Okay, I’m ready to do some work so that I can go play video games!” This, I foresee, will be an ongoing fight. But, I do rejoice in the fact that the programs that our four year old watches ARE educational.
What We Did Well
To end on a high, these are the things I think we did well:
- We were able to use life moments as teaching moments. For instance, we would pass stores and ask our son to identify the letters in the sign. When my oldest son was looking up a recipe, I would ask him to double the recipe and write down the new measurements. When I found interesting articles or stories (on NPR or in an Almanac), we stopped to read/listen and followed it up with a discussion.
- We let life happen first. We placed the mental and physical wellness of our family first. When we needed to take a day off, we took it. But in reality, when your kids are home all day….ain’t no days off!
- Through out this year, I’ve seen how important mental health is for the educator. As the homeschool educator, you are likely home with kids almost all day, if not the entire day. This can take a toll you mentally. We go to the point where we had to implement 15 minute mental breaks. For 15 minutes, everyone had to go have quiet time in a separate room. This doesn’t always work out as planned (because toddlers are experts at doing whatever the hell they want to do), but it was helpful. We also have no remorse for early bed times. After being with them all day, a few minutes of quiet before I try to tackle my own to-do list is wonderful. Most nights, they grab a movie and put it on and chill out in their room before crashing.
- We were able to place a priority on spiritual things. We incorporated Bible study and Bible reading into our daily curriculum (Reading Comprehension for the WIN!). Because of this, our oldest son has grown spiritually. To me, it makes homeschooling all worth the crazy roller coaster.