Monday, October 5, 2015

You learn something new everyday

Growing up, I was the slightly odd girl who enjoyed school and looked forward to the first day of each new school year. I relished the crisp, new schools supplies ordered neatly on my desk. The stack of the year's new text books were just waiting for me to dive into and acquire all sorts of new knowledge. I loved it. And what I loved even more was getting to enjoy my school days from the comfort of home. I was part of the "pioneering" homeschool generation, if you will, at least for our area. I was one of the strange kids, whose socialization skills people were very concerned about. I think I turned out just fine. In fact, I'd dare to say people probably couldn't pick me out of the "Who was homeschooled and how had a normal childhood" line up. I feel that growing up doing school in the midst of everyday family life at home rather than education being confined to a classroom during normal school hours has really engrained in me a sense of life long learning. Homeschooling was a great experience for me and I am so excited to be able to share that journey with my little men!

  As a second generation homeschooler, you'd think I would have some sort of advantage in making a plan for my boys' home education. I suppose I do, in that I have the assurance that homeschooling is possible and worth it. But I have found that there are just so many different paths you could take- when it comes to curriculum, style and even philosophies on education. It is a bit overwhelming, honestly, and you do have to be careful to over plan! I have enjoyed doing the research and trying to hone in on exactly what I want my boys' education to be made up of. It's been interesting to me to see what styles and ideas resonate with my hopes for this journey and that they're not necessarily the ones I was taught with.

 My first introduction to a new philosophy on education, in general, was encountering the thoughts of Charlotte Mason. I just love Miss Mason's vision- of integrating education, slowly and gently, into the everyday life of a child. This education style lets children be children; to run, play and be out in nature as much as possible in the early years. Mason believed children absorbed a vast amount of knowledge from really engaging in the world around them and promoted this "education" before stressing "bookwork". Especially having little boys, this philosophy really hit home with me. I have seen their little minds come alive when out and about picking up nature treasures or fighting with gusto in a pretend battle. Homeschool veterans and boy moms who I highly respect have repeatedly encouraged me to not worry too much about schoolwork with boys until they are about 6 or 7 because before then they really don't have the attention span for it. I have seen more and more recent research to back up their advice, so I try not to overload my boys too much "school", too soon. But being the lover of learning I tend be, I have a hard time not doing some sort of learning activities! I appreciate that Charlotte Mason realized this balance of optimizing on this crucial developmental period of time while not pushing a child to grow up too fast! During the preschool years, Miss Mason really emphasizes strengthening relationships and working on character training and good habits. Really setting the foundation for successful school years.
For the Children's Sake by Susan Shaeffer Macaulay, is the best primer for the Charlotte Mason approach I could recommend. This book really made the philosophy of it al come alive and painted a picture of exactly what I wanted my children's education to look like. When Children Love to Learn is another great Charlotte Mason read, as well.

 Charlotte Mason encourages lots of living books- high quality writing with captivating characters who will teach children, while engaging their imaginations. The book loving Mama that I am, this was a huge draw for me and the reason why I was drawn to the Sonlight curriculum path as well. We are experimenting with Sonlight's Core A this year with my almost 5 year old and 3 year old boys. So far, we have been really enjoying it! I love the concept of learning history and geography by hearing stories from those times and places to help kids visualize these ideas better. And I just love reading to my boys! I appreciate the Instructor's Guide and having things planned out for me to teach from. I really appreciate that they offer the first 3 weeks of each core's IG for free on their website. Here's Core A! I have slowly been picking up books from this Core's book list- mostly used off of Thriftbooks. It's been a great way to give Sonlight a try without paying the box price. Other great sources for book lists and good criteria for choosing living books is the classic, Honey for a Child's Heart!

A great resource I've found to encourage lots of reading of good books in our house is The Read-Aloud Revival. I love all the inspiration and tools this site gives to Mamas to "build a family culture around books"-as Sarah Mackenzie, curator of the site phrases it. My favorite way to "redeem the time" while doing chores is to listen to the Read-Aloud Revival podcasts! Sarah has had some of the greatest minds in home education as guests on the show and she also offers some fun printable resources as well! I currently bought her newly revised book, Teaching from Rest and I can't wait to dive into it soon! Great podcasts, similar to those offered by the Read Aloud Revival, can be found at Your Morning Basket. Another uplifting and pretty source of articles and podcasts for Homeschooling Mamas, especially those leaning towards Charlotte Mason style, is Wild and Free. They have beautifully curated bundles of themed resources that come out monthly you can subscribe to. They offer a free sample bundle so you can get a feel for what they are about. I linked above to said freebie, I highly recommend checking it out!

 Nature Study is another huge proponent of the Charlotte Mason method. Living out in the country on a farm is such a huge blessing when it comes to raising little boys. We have acres of fields and plenty of nature for curious little boys to explore! This year, we are incorporating an "official" nature study it our school routine and have been having fun with it! The boys have nature baskets we take out for walks and fill up with earthy treasures; then we come in the house and pull out our nature journals and record our findings. Everywhere I read about nature study, I see the Handbook of Nature Study being highly recommended. I picked it up off of Amazon and I can already tell it will be a great homeschool resource for many years to come! I also bought exploring nature with children- a simple but engaging curriculum to give our nature study some structure. We started using good quality sketchbooks for our nature journals this year to encourage the thought that the boys sketches were important and for archival sake. This last summer I ran across the most adorable free printable natural journals from the blog, Hope with Feathers. There are only a set for June, July, and August but they are so perfect, I highly recommend printing them off and stashing them away for next summer. ;) There is pages for sketching, journaling,  monthly calendar and weather tracker!

For our basics 3 "R"s of schooling, my oldest is still working on getting the alphabet memorized and is getting a grip on writing his letters. We have been using the Raising Rock Stars Preschool program by 1+1+1=1.  I really like the simple outline of learning a letter a week and the biblical basis it's presented in. Also, the letters are taught from A-Z but from the easiest to write to the hardest which has been a great way for my boy to build confidence. We are just getting starting with the Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which I have heard great reports on! Math comes pretty naturally to my little boys it seems and they have picked up a lot from everyday life. For an arithmetic curriculum, I was really intrigued by the idea of  Ray's Arithmetic. The original curriculum was published in the 1870s and is a good, common sense approach to learning math. I really appreciate having the classic The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home on my bookshelf to reference for each school year and to make sure I am getting the basics covered!

My 3 year old Little/Big boy loves to "do school" with big brother. I am amazed at how much he has learned by just being at the table while I am teaching my oldest! It gives me a great sense of hope and grace to realize I don't have to teach them each every single, little thing they need to know. They'll even be teaching each other at times! My 3 year old will do a lot of the same "work" his brother does, even if it's over his head, because he wants to be a big kid. But he does have some of his own activities as well! My boys really enjoy the Kumon workbooks especially the cutting workbook! Another really neat educational "toy" we enjoy using is the Kid O A to Z Magnatab . There is a numbers one as well!

I am grateful to have this "grace year" of not "having" to do school to see what direction we may want to officially take next year. There's a lot of big ideas and plans I have for school that I would have loved, as a little girl and a student, but I'm not sure how they will resonate with my little boys. So, we experiment a bit and have fun in the process; because more than anything else, I want my boys to get pleasure out of learning and instill in them a lifelong hunger for education. So far, we've been enjoying quite the adventure- students and teacher!

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