How to Homeschool – Veteran Advice for Pandemic-schoolers

I wrote the title so that I sound particularly wise and experienced. We homeschoolers need all the positive public image that we can garner… to make up for our bad haircuts and yoga-pant-wearing lives.

Oh, that’s everybody right now?

Hello pandemic! Welcome, friends, to homeschooling!

I’m Rachel and I’ve been a homeschool mom for about 8 years. My oldest just completed 7th grade and I mother and homeschool five kids, with a variety of personalities and special needs, ages of 7 and 13.

This blog post was written to introduce newcomers to homeschooling and I hope some of the practical suggestions make life easier for you. But before I start, here’s the heart of the message:

You can do this.

You are absolutely qualified and capable of pulling off homeschooling. I believe it wholeheartedly, even if your situation isn’t ideal. I’ve had chronic pain and fatigue for years and two of my five children have severe disabilities. Even so, every single year when we revisit our schooling options, homeschool comes out on top! Homeschooling takes less time and less energy than distance learning. It requires less coordination and offers the most stability and control. Also, the benefits, both academic and social, are huge.

No, every moment isn’t wonderful. But there is a freedom of decision and a genuine vitality of relationship within our family that is priceless. Also worth noting: Both my husband and I were homeschooled and we are both successful college graduates with healthy relationships with our peers. My fashion sense is questionable, but that’s not because I was homeschooled. My mom did try.

Okay – this post is long. I made chapters, so that you can read as little or as much as you are interested in.

8 Been-there-done-that Homeschooling Thoughts
1. Homeschooling is better and easier than distance learning!
2. You are qualified and capable of teaching your child.
3. The lifeline to challenging seasons is prioritization.
4. Organize ahead of time to set up for success.
5. Not all learning happens in a classroom.
6. Curriculum choices can be matched to your and your child’s personalities/needs/styles.
7. If a subject is making you and your child pull your hair out, it’s okay to take a step back.
8. Relationships, emotional health, and family integrity are priority one.

1. Homeschooling is better and easier than distance learning!
I get breathless when I consider distance learning, particularly with multiple children or while working! Several friends have told me about it and… the number of hours and the amount of multitasking that’s going on is enormous. Unsustainable, for both parents and children! No third grader is ready to hold down a job for five or more hours a day. They will struggle to do school for that long either! When kids are in a successful public school environment, they are not adopting themselves every minute! There are easier ways to educate.

First perk to homeschooling: It takes less time. Preschoolers and kindergarten don’t need more than 30 minutes a day… and that’s broken into sessions. As they learn to read and follow directions (learning to sit down for school is a skill too – one you can flex more easily from home) you can spend a bit longer, but I wouldn’t have them doing focused schoolwork for more than an hour a day until after 2nd or 3rd grade. Think only an hour a day is crazy? It’s pretty common for homeschoolers and homeschoolers test as more academically advanced than their peers, on average. I think the minimal learning time is because so much learning is done outside of “school-time” and kids at home have the freedom to explore. Even high schoolers generally stay under 4 hours a day of study.

Second perk: You set your own schedule. Make it line up with work-from-home. Make it line up with when ballet class meets. Do schoolwork in the morning. Or in the evening!

Third perk: You choose the material! Hate the common core math? Ditch it and go back to real math. (My personal preference is showing!) Your daughter is advanced or interested in a particular subject? Buy programs that highlight that. Son learns best with visuals? Get the curriculum that teaches with a multimedia approach. Have multiple kids and are exhausted by keeping up with multiple teachers and programs? Choose a curriculum that was prepared specifically for multiple ages at once. Homeschooling is far more efficient and customizable.

Fourth perk: You’re in control and the system you make is reliable. Normally, school is reliable. This pandemic thing has really made a (usually) good program into a chaotic mess. If you just need one year of predictability during this pandemic, homeschooling is a remedy for that. If you have a district with difficult teachers or problematic bullies, homeschooling gives you the control to manage that.

There are curriculum options that can overlap multiple age groups at once, making a “one-room-schoolhouse” teacher’s job more efficient and relaxed.

Realistic expectations: Prep work during the summer takes some time and energy. Also expect that the first few few weeks of school will take some adjustment. There is a learning curve for both kids and parent(s). At the beginning, kids will need the most support and have the most questions. Go ahead and prep your kids for a mixture of excitement and frustration at the beginning. Go ahead and only start one subject a week if you want. Or buy everybody ice cream for finishing the first week. After awhile, you’ll have a rhythm and things will be predictable. The kids and life and work might still have ups and downs, but the school routine should become pretty predictable after awhile. Not everybody loves homeschooling, but it’s a pretty great option worth trying.

2. You are qualified and capable of teaching your child.

Listen, I’m a special needs mom. I have special needs and my kids do too. We don’t always get along either. My oldest is going into 8th grade next year, so the material is becoming much more challenging. I don’t get a medal for being the ideal homeschool mom! But, you know what? Nobody knows my kids better than me. And nobody knows what your kids need better than you. You see your child/ren and you are uniquely qualified to head up their education.

Intimidated? Listen, I love schoolteachers! They have the education that prepares them to recognize and respond to a myriad of learning styles and the training to manage groups of 20+ students at a time of disparate backgrounds and cultures and personalities. It’s a challenging position! But to homeschool, you just have to guide a few children that you know very well. How? You take that insight into your child and you start to organize a list of what they need to be successful. A little math? A little reading? More time in the outdoors? Learning to care for a pet? Some kind of sport or physical outlet? You don’t need to write the math program or run the sport. You’re like the general contractor. You organize and supervise the process. Make some lists. Keep reading… I’ll get to more nuts and bolts later.

The curriculum available to purchase online comes in every format imaginable. Textbooks, workbooks, vidoes, hands-on projects, in depth studies around interests or just small bites. There are programs for the organized and regimented teachers and programs for teachers that like to follow the twists and turns of interest and spark. There have been great programs developed for teaching subjects in a multi-sensory approach, with lots of hands-on activities and videos, and foods, and field trips. And there are programs, equally as great, for people who prefer a more stationary approach, with reading, reports, workbooks and the occasional youtube video.

There are so many options, that your task is not to develop a great curriculum, because that work is done. Your job is to choose which one or ones to use. I’ll talk more about this later, but you can make a list of the subjects your state/district/school covers (In Washington, there’s a list of 11 subjects), choose which subjects you’re doing that year (all or some), and then start searching online for curriculum created for your child’s grade and that subject. Cathy Duffy Reviews is a good place to get a reliable review on a product. Keep in mind that a single program might actually cover multiple subjects. It shouldn’t end up costing you much… my history program covers history, social studies, and reading, for example… and I can use it for three of my kids at once!

I just want to highlight that you know your children better than anybody else. And you know where the everyday struggle will probably occur when you homeschool. I have kids with autism… there are definitely struggles. Heck, I’m an introvert home year round with five children! I have to be intentional about things for this to work! And some days/weeks/months/years are hard. And sometimes it would be better if I could have help from the school system. But with where I am and who my children are, homeschooling has been the best choice, even during hard times. Allow yourself permission to think this through and spend time organizing so that you can be as successful as possible. Take that extra time with setting priorities… when we struggle, we don’t have much margin and we need to be wise with both spending and recovering our energy.

3. The lifeline to challenging seasons is prioritization.

There is never enough of you to go around. When you look at your family as a whole, it’s important to watch that nothing is so heavy that the ship sinks. Especially when the daily grind is challenging, you have to be careful to care for yourself. Prioritize school appropriately… not too high or too low. Because, homeschool lasts for months on end, it’s worth the effort to think about the different parts of your life and prioritize.

When I’m figuring out how school fits in the order of prioritization, I split the subjects into more and less crucial by asking these questions:
Which subjects are most important to me and my kids?
What are my state’s minimum homeschool requirements?

The answers are so different from family to family and state to state. But, I’ll try to articulate a bit of my own prioritization process so that you can see an example.

Rachel’s super-informal school-related priority process:
1. My personal health (things like exercise, sleep, life-giving hobbies and going for walks alone.)
2. Creating and following a predictable daily/weekly schedule.
3. Judging the overall family stress level to make sure the plan is sustainable (Leave room for down time!)
4. The essential household chores (laundry, food, dishes)
5. The chosen core school subjects (It’s usually reading and math for us, but this year it was math and history.)
6. Extra curricular activities and external social connections. (Ballet, taekwondo, grandparents, cousins, friends, phone calls, etc.)
7. The rest of school (Social studies, Grammar, Cooking, Spelling, Penmanship, etc.)
8. The rest!

We do break the cycle with mini vacations now and then. Video games all day for a day? Sure. Watch MythBusters all day for a day? Fine. Drop it all and go to the park? Definitely. You know what will be a good pressure release for your family. Do that.

Important fact: Not every subject has to be done every day or even every year! Also, many subjects can be combined.

If you already have a long list of subjects and curriculum… and it looks like too much, do a little Marie Kondo and ask what is most important to you. Sparking joy is a little much to ask for grammar, and you do have to suffer through some things, but let her general process guide you. For example, nobody in my house is going to be forced to do formal grammar lessons every single year and we chose a history curriculum that covers history, reading and social studies with one program. I started an awesome spelling program once… and it made everybody crazy, so we stuck it back on the shelf and haven’t looked at it since!

Prioritize and don’t do it all every day or even at all. Take care of yourself and your family first. Stressed out kids don’t learn anyway.

4. Organize ahead of time to set up for success.

It’s worth it to prepare ahead of time! Especially if it’s your first time, it takes awhile to sort through all the subjects and curriculum options to find what you need. If you’re a relaxed, go-with-the-flow, lover of surprises or if you’re a structure-loving, order-craving strategist like myself, you’ll benefit from having prepared. Preparation looks different for everybody, but it’s an investment with high return.

In case you’re a list-lover me, here’s an example… how I prepare each year:

Now/Spring:
a. List kids. List state requirements. (Washington State’s list of subjects… makes a nice guide for me.) Mark 1-2 subjects that are highest priority for each kid.
b. Imagine the ideal format for each subject. Hands on or not? High parent involvement or low? In depth or overview? All subjects included or each subject purchased individually? Targeted to multiple ages or just one? With my brood of five and my fatigue levels, I usually look for programs that have low parent prep required and can be completed semi-independently.
c. Shopping! I start searching online for what I imagined. Google search and Cathy Duffy Reviews are my friend. Take notes, but finish your list and review it before purchasing..
d. Review that beautiful, imagined school year. How many days a week is each curriculum assuming we’re working on it? Will it take 10 minutes or 2 hours to do each lesson? Did I over-commit my children in my enthusiasm? Little kids don’t need more than 2-3 formal subjects and big kids even wear out after 4-6 subjects a day. It shouldn’t cost a fortune… there are many inexpensive options out there.
e. Order and collect it all in one spot. This is our school shelf:

The boxes on top hold what they’re actively working on.

Late summer:

a. It’s important to set up a daily schedule/rhythm/pattern so that everybody knows what’s expected and when. It can be loose or rigid as suits your family (probably somewhere in between), but it’s the lifeblood of living together. Our daily schedule centers around when they’re allowed in the kitchen (or as I say, “when the kitchen is open.”):

Morning chores
School
Snack
School (if there’s any left)
Lunch
1-2 hours quiet time or outside time or finish school or journal, but definitely leave mom alone
Afternoon snack
More free time
Evening chores
Dinner
Screen time hour
Bedtime

b. I type and prefill a weekly planner for each child that shows how much they should do each week so that they don’t get behind. We write the lesson numbers down as we go… or we prefill the pages with the lesson numbers on Monday morning. Older kids can fill them in themselves as they study. These make handy school records. I keep them in a binder and just keep putting the new blank ones in front every week.

Example

c. I personally also like to type a document that shows every subject and every lesson. We mark these off as we go and it’s a helpful visualization as the year goes on for where we’re at, what’s left, and what’s next. It takes awhile to type it, but even just preparing this helps me feel prepared.

Example page from this year

So – Organize! Prioritize! Set up some sort of system to lean on.

5. Not all learning happens in a classroom.

Unless it makes you happy, there is no need to model homeschool after a classroom. Homeschooling can be minimalistic very comfortably. We have a school shelf and I splurged and got an electric pencil sharpener. I only force kids to use a table if they’re practicing penmanship. No time is spent on a bus, lining up, or waiting for Jessica to find a pencil. It’s very efficient and little kids usually need less than half an hour of formal schooling. Older kids don’t usually spend more than 3 hours working on their schoolwork and sometimes are done within just one hour. I haven’t hit high school yet with my oldest, but homeschooling is so intensive and efficient that the kids can only take in so much each day. I mean, think about it. Even if you’re busy with folding laundry and keeping the toddler from destroying the universe, it’s still an incredible student:teacher ratio.

Little kids will learn their colors, numbers, and letters without a lot of formal effort. They’ve got a big job just learning how to learn. Settle into that and don’t rush. Just paying attention and following instructions is a skill set little ones don’t have. Capitalize, in all ages, on the natural learning. If a child wants to learn something, they are going to learn it a thousand times faster and better. If somebody is interested in caterpillars, load up a bunch of youtube videos on caterpillars, order one of those butterfly kits and send them outside to draw pictures of bugs. The amount of information they absorb while exploring is immense and the value of self-directed play is priceless.

Let kids be bored. Schedule time for them to have to figure out what to do. Figuring out how to manage unstructured time is a great skill. Learning to make their own meals is a great skill. Letting them browse amazon and make endless wish lists of impractical toys will be the fuel for them learning to make and spend money.

Live life together. Play outside often. It’s the good stuff.

6. Curriculum choices can be matched to your and your child’s personalities/needs/styles.

Every curriculum is as individual as the people who developed it. Some are very time intensive but are wonderfully sensory rich and give hands-on connection to interesting fields of study. Some are very dry and terse but get to the point and allow you to move on. Some are loosely organized and others are fully structured. Some curriculums are “all-in-one” and include facets for every subject under the sun, giving you a wonderful framework, but may have too much content and not allow much flexibility between learning or teaching styles. There is basically… every possible option.

Try to imagine what you want. Feel incapable of doing that? Then, allow yourself to make a best guess. Maybe you’ll love it. Maybe you’ll scrap it and have to start again. Just start. Start small or start big, but start. If it’s early in the summer, ask friends or read reviews or browse curriculum websites. There are many excellent programs out there and I’ll share some of the well-reviewed curriculum choices so that you have a place to start. I personally prefer to choose different publishers for different subjects, based on my preferences, but many of my friends feel more comfortable choosing a program that is all-in-one. Both are good options.

My personal learning style loves is a multi-sensory, hands-on, and interest-led program with lots of clear visual presentations. However, I tried teaching that way and it just won’t work for me! My teaching style is different. It’s very organized and methodical with very little hands-on. It’s okay to have limitations! You can balance your personal limitations with a curriculum that supports your teaching weaknesses.

My kids have a variety of learning styles. One loves to gather loads of information and will read and read and read, even if the material seems dry to me. One struggles sit still or pay attention to anything that is repetitive. However, she can take a subject she’s interested in and go much deeper than any of the others. Some children are better communicators and some are better at more concrete skills. Again, I can choose curriculum that best supports their learning style (without making me crazy) and which emphasize the subjects that are most needed or valued for us.

I encourage you to let yourself swim in the sea of options for awhile without pressure. If you get overwhelmed, ask an experienced friend or email me. I enjoy talking homeschool! I’ll list some curriculum options at the end of this blog post. I’m not getting paid and I don’t know how to monetize a blog, so it’s just one mom’s feedback.

7. If a subject is making you and your child pull your hair out, it’s okay to take a step back.

Something I’ve learned is that sometimes kids aren’t ready to learn something… even if the schedule or grade level says they are. Some kids are late readers. Sometimes kids aren’t ready for algebra, even if the rest of the class is. Just because a subject is supposed to be learned in a particular grade, doesn’t mean that a child is ready to learn it. On the flip side, sometimes kids are ready for material way ahead of time! But who says it’s time? Who are you measuring against? When you homeschool, you get to nurture your children right where they, as individuals, are at. When they’re ready to learn something, they’ll learn it without heroic efforts on your part or theirs. Like walking… they walk when they’re ready and we support them when it’s time. Sure, some kids need a nudge or a hand up, but rarely is there misery in the proecess. That concept holds for most of a child’s development.

I want to illustrate this with an example from our family with math. One child was doing fine with math at first. But then, a few months in… she wasn’t. She was hiding that she was skipping lessons and getting lots of wrong answers when they tried. They began to hate math and avoid it. We sat down to try it together and it was a struggle. They just didn’t get it in any intuitive way. Our family does not have margin for drawn-out battles. We had plenty of other healthy things and school subject we could spend our mornings doing. We shelved the math. Months went by. The next summer. We picked up that math the next fall and the kid WHIZZED through it! She skipped every other lesson, because it was so easy for her. Is she behind? A little. Did it make her feel like a million bucks? You bet. Does she feel confident that she can learn math? She does now! All because we waited. For what it’s worth, when she did her annual standardized test, she tested at slightly above average for her grade in math. And six grades ahead in language arts.

Kids don’t learn in a steady, gradual manner. Like everything else they do, it’s in spurts. No need to fight that. Try to relax and enjoy the ride.

8. Relationships, emotional health, and family integrity are priority one.

Finishing on a strong note: Social development, unlike homeschool stereotyping, is one of the greatest strengths of homeschooling. And it’s not just because kids don’t have to ask to go to the bathroom or conform to institutional necessities for the bulk of their waking hours! The social rules they have to conform to at home, with friends, and at any classes you sign up for, are far more normalized to the real world. We are far more relational with our children than a teacher has freedom to be, and there is a drastic reduction in “cliquey” behaviors. I can sometimes recognize a child who is homeschooled by how comfortably they interact with me as an adult. Homeschooled kids spend their days with people who know them, interact with them with respect and interest. Shy or not, homeschooled kids are more practiced at navigating social and emotional situations genuinely and with honesty.

This hits on something important. Academics learning information about the world is valuable. However, nothing is more important than our relationships with each other, our emotional health, and your family’s integrity. If your family falls apart and everybody is yelling at each other, nobody is going to learn fractions. Putting your individual and your family’s well being as the number one priorities sets you all up for success. We learn to trust one another and respect each other. Negative self talk can diminish in the face of the love an confidence of a family that sees and hears you. It’s a beautiful foundation for success!

If you need to back off of academics, because family life is a mess, then back off. Take the time to pull yourselves together. Do what you can do as you find your footing. Hire that counselor and cancel the stressful activities you should have done some time back. Sit down with that budget with your spouse and make a date with each other with a nice dinner on the back porch or on Saturday mornings. Talk through the impact of the pandemic with your kids. Be real with each other. Set some goals together. It’s not as easy as just good intentions, but it is a good place to start.

Later, after your house is propped up a bit, you can begin adding schoolwork. It’s more important to learn how to live than to learn anything else.






Curriculum ideas:

I review what we use every year but from here on down, it’s just me talking about what I’ve used… it’s not exhaustive by any means.

Here is a list of some of my favorites I can recommend without hesitation, listed roughly by grade level.

Kumon Workbooks for early learners and kids with special needs who like hands-on practice with tracing, coloring, mazes, folding, pasting, stickers, etc.
Brain Quest Workbooks for early learners who need easy access to tracing letters, counting, matching, coloring, etc.
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons – hands down, my favorite learn-to-read curriculum. Bite-sized lessons that are easily adapted as you go along. A really well-done phonetic approach.
Singapore Math US Editions for Kindergarten through 2nd grade – These are fantastic for learning early math and helping kids conceptualize math. Is more advanced than other curriculum with the same grade level. Is chunked somewhat by subject (adding, subtracting, multiplication, fractions, geometry, etc.) so if your child gets bogged down, because it’s too hard, you can hop over to another section for awhile.
Handwriting Without Tears is my favorite curriculum for teaching how to write letters.
Teaching Textbooks math for any age, but I started at 3rd grade – This is a wonderful computer-based math program that successfully teaches math. The questions are checked and recorded automatically so the parent can review easily. Every single question can be explained, step by step if you click the button explaining it. It does NOT use weird common core and teaches methods familiar to all of us.
Christian Light Education Reading for reading kids 1st-3rd – This is an approachable program that incorporates reading alone, reading aloud, practice remembering what is read, handwriting, grammar, and a bit of spelling practice through learning phonics. Might be great for older kids too, but I love it for all that practice following instructions and reading comprehension with pleasant stories and approachable workbooks.
IEW Writing – Once I figured out how to use it, (a challenge, because I skipped their creme de la creme… but long parent training DVD) this was fantastic. I don’t try to teach writing until 4th grade or later, so we just got this and it’s been great! Worth every penny. We
Sonlight History programs – If you or your kids love to read, I can recommend the Sonlight programs for history. We skip some of their material and just do the: History nonfiction, historical fiction, and Bible reading. I also set it up so that the kids do all the reading instead of me reading any of it aloud. It’s probably better if the parent can do the readalouds, but that’s how we made it successful for us.
Growing with Grammar is my favorite grammar program! The kids don’t hate it and that’s impressive for grammar. It’s a little advanced compared to others. I decided to just offer it to the kids at 1-2 years younger than their grade every other year or so and it’s been a painless process. The program is well laid out and communicates the material well.

In general, I can recommend the following publishers of homeschool material. They’re well spoken of by either the homeschooling community in general or by myself. Doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for you, but it’s somewhere to start. Many have a heavy Christian leaning. If that’s an issue, take a look at reviews (such as on Cathy Duffy Reviews) to see if you can use it or not for your family:
Sonlight Programs
My Father’s World Programss
Apologia Science
Christian Light Education
Abeka
Institute for Excellence in Writing
Heart of Dakota
Supercharged Science
Alpha Omega Publications
Easy Peasy – All in One Homeschool
BiblioPlan
Handwriting Without Tears
All About Spelling
Wordly Wise
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

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2019-2020 Curriculum Review

Archive:
*2020-2021 School Curriculum
*2019-2020 School Curriculum and Review
*2018-2019 School Curriculum and Review
*2017-2018 School Curriculum and Review
*2016-2017 School Curriculum and Review
*2015-2016 School Curriculum and Review
*2014-2015 School Curriculum
*2013-2014 Review

Anna – 7th Grade
Writing – Institute for Excellence in Writing, level B We all liked this! The only con (and it’s significant if you don’t have much time) is that it was challenging to figure out what to do on each day. The program is not set up with the teacher manual, student guide, and DVD all easy to sync and follow each schoolday. HOWEVER, this was the best writing program and it was worth the price tag. We followed the program (with hiccups due to the problem mentioned above) and Anna’s writing TOOK OFF. By mid-year, my hesitant writer was writing multi-page responses where only 3 paragraphs were required and had launched into a novel that she actually finished! (It’s not formatted or edited, but it’s incredibly long and it’s interesting and engaging to boot.) We didn’t finish the program, because we made time for her novel. Next year, I’m going to have her go through it again, with a focus on improving and controlling what she’s learned. That is, I told her she has to also learn how to write short things. Anyway, I’m pleased with it and proud of her.
History – Sonlight D (American History 1 of 2) Because of the failure last year, I spent a few hours during the summer and made a chart lining up all of the parent reading, student reading, historical fiction, and my other supplemental materials so that Anna could follow the schedule and do her history independently. It was successful! Some valuable adds were season one of How the States got their Shapes and Liberty Kids.
Math – Teaching Textbooks 7 We still like Teaching Textbooks. It’s not math that will inspire excitement, but if a child bogs down while using this program… they’re probably not ready for the material. Anna started this program last year and she is finishing it without stress this year.
Social Studies – Christian Light Education level 5 (American History) This was a great program to combine with the Sonlight American History. It covers more modern years, but Anna has learned so much. She knows more than me about our history and geography now!
Science – Christian Light Education 6 This went over great with Anna. She has enjoyed most of the subjects and has learned a lot of great foundational science facts and vocabulary. We did not do hardly any experiments… if any… so that’s something she’ll need in the future, but I think they were in the books… we just didn’t do them, because I was unavailable as a guide and experiments are way better with a knowledgeable helper. I have some ideas for next year.
Spelling – N/A
Occupational Education – Cooking, Housekeeping, Babysitting, Money Management and Budgeting, Dog training Cooking, housekeeping, babysitting, and money management went GREAT! Dog training and budgeting could use some work. It’d help if she had more expenses worth budgeting.
Language – N/A
Health & PE – Ballet, English Country Dancing, It’s Not the Stork, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health Went fine.
Reading – N/A
Art & Music Appreciation – Art class & homework Went great!
Bible – Experiencing God, Youth (9 weeks) and Priceless: Who I Am When I Feel… Anna liked Priceless a lot. She was not a fan of the tone of Experiencing God. It did provide good discussion opportunities, though.

Maggie – 4th Grade
Writing – Institute for Excellence in Writing, level A See above for cons. This was a good fit for Maggie. Having the material given to her to absorb and re-write in her own words overcame many of her personal writing hurdles. Mr. Pudewa, despite his appearance and the sterile environment he teaches in… is funny and engaging and likeable. So glad we found this program as it took a struggling, reluctant writer and gave her some tools. We got about halfway through and will go back and redo it next year and I think she’ll be ready to master it much more.
History – Sonlight D (American History 1 of 2) See above.
Math – Teaching Textbooks 5 See above… good program and we’re sticking with it.
Social Studies – N/A
Science – Unit Studies by choice (Reptiles, pets, birds, ferns forests, knots, etc. Read/Watch/Projects/Observe/Report) This started great and then kind of fell flat. I really need a structure of prepared material to lean on.
Spelling – N/A
Occupational Education – Cooking, Housekeeping – I liked this cookbook! Maggie made several things and she is growing in skill and confidence in the kitchen.
Language – Growing with Grammar 2 Anything that makes grammar seem like an easy subject, without actually dumbing down the material is golden in my book!
Health & PE – It’s Not the Stork, The Care and Keeping of You , Tae Kwon Do – Success
Reading – N/A
Art & Music – Art class and homework – Success
Bible – The Purpose Driven Life Devotional Easy daily devotional that wasn’t a waste of time either.

Carrie – 1st Grade
Writing – Penmanship (my choice) and Cursive (her choice) I liked this penmanship book! The little facts that went with each page engaged and interested Carrie and made boring penmanship practice more bearable. They weren’t too long, too hard or too easy or short.
History – Sonlight D (partial) We dropped this for her, except for reading some of the historical fiction.
Math – Singapore Math 2A and 2B – This was much harder than expected, especially once she got into 2B. It includes multiplication, division and introductions to algebra! In second grade! She won’t quite finish it, because she’s had to go somewhat slow, but surprisingly… she’s continuing to move forward and understand it! She’s 95% self instructing with math and is learning loads of great conceptual math. She’s switching to Teaching Textbooks next year for the improved instruction and I think she’ll be overprepared.
Social Studies – Christian Light Education 2 I liked this! A little easy for her, but longer reading stretched her attention span and the questions forced her to learn how to look back at the reading and find the answers to the questions. I love both the format and the content for preparing her for higher education.
Science – Unit Studies (Doctor-related books, kits, shows, etc.) Didn’t get into much.
Spelling – N/A
Occupational Education – Cooking, Housekeeping – Carrie is also improving in the kitchen, but did the least formal cooking practice.
Language – N/A
Health & PE – Tae Kwon Do – Doing great!
Reading – Christian Light Education 2 This is a great curriculum for learning a little grammar, a little spelling, and a lot of reading to yourself and out loud and answering questions from the reading. The stories are relevant to moral dilemmas of kids her age and are engaging and show sweet family interactions. I find it a safe and wholesome reader and it doesn’t bore Carrie for it’s homeyness.
Art & Music – Art class and homework – Success!
Bible – Christian Light Education 2 – She liked this, because it was so easy. I wish it had more actual questions, but it’s one page of reading followed by a word find or coloring page or other age-appropriate busy work.

Jordan – 5th grade w/ IEP
ABA 20 hours/week at home – this has been GREAT for Jordan! He’s learning how to use PECS to request a snack and is practicing a couple basic signs.

Daniel – 1st Grade w/ IEP
By mid-year, Daniel showed signs of being ready for instruction, but we didn’t do any formal learning. Next year. He’s learned how to spell some words, can count to 100, is learning to draw simple pictures of cats, people…. and especially CLOCKS. With cords. He’s so funny.

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2018-2019 Curriculum Review

Archive:
*2020-2021 School Curriculum
*2019-2020 School Curriculum and Review
*2018-2019 School Curriculum and Review
*2017-2018 School Curriculum and Review
*2016-2017 School Curriculum and Review
*2015-2016 School Curriculum and Review
*2014-2015 School Curriculum
*2013-2014 Review

Anna, 6th grade:
Sonlight American History, Advanced Readers 1 We started this, but didn’t get far, because of the parent reading. Getting three children to be ready at the same time was highly challenging and sapped us for the rest of our school day. One kid would still be doing chores, one would be in the middle of math, and one would be stressed out, because they couldn’t find their favorite coloring pencils when I was finally done changing diapers and feeding little brothers and called them to come sit with me and listen. We’ll try it again next year. I’ll make a chart to guide the kids in reading to themselves. Their comprehension will probably be less this way than if I read, but it’ll be way better than not doing it at all!
Teaching Textbooks Math 7 Still like this program. The pacing, the lesson lengths, and the material is top notch. The ability to see every problem worked out individually as needed and the automatic grading are fantastic. It hasn’t given a love of math to any of my children, but it hasn’t caused a fear or hate of the subject either. Somewhere mid year, Anna started struggling, so we pushed the pause button and she will repeat next year instead.
Handwriting Without Tears, Cursive Success I liked this. I feel like Anna’s handwriting improved and there was no stress.
All About Spelling 2 This is a fantastic program. Unfortunately, we only go through several weeks before having to shelve it, because it’s heavily parent-led and we had the same problems with this as we did with History. I still feel like we gained ground in the small amount we covered.
Daily 6 Trait Writing, Level 5 We liked this… it gave us a little traction on a subject that Anna has anxiety about. Not stellar, but some movement.
Christian Light Publications Science 6We had too much on the plate – this one got shelved for next year.
Growing with Grammar 4 I love this program and I love doing it a few years late (4th grade curriculum in 6th grade). This program has small bites of clearly-presented grammar material. Anna is learning the material to mastery, despite a relatively small time and energy investment. I’ll probably have her do one more grammar in a few years… and I feel like she’ll be well prepared, except for fine-tuning commas and learning research paper grammar.
Art – undecided I’m doing this review more than a year later and I don’t remember what we did!
Extra Curricular – tbd
Extra:
Wordly Wise A/B/C Anna enjoyed this as “easy” school. Probably helped with some vocabulary.

Maggie, 3rd grade:
Sonlight American History, Regular Readers 1 See above.
Teaching Textbooks 4 and/or 5 See above.
Handwriting without Tears, Cursive Handwriting See above.
All About Spelling 2 See above.
Daily 6 Trait Writing, 2 See above. I’ll add that Maggie struggles a LOT with the decision-making and launching part of writing and she was able to be successful with this. She still claims she hates writing, but I think it’s as much a function of hating hand-writing as much as it is the difficulty of isolating her thoughts for written communication.
Christian Light Publications Science 3 This was easy and enjoyable for her. It introduced a lot of scientific vocabulary and did a nice overview of subjects.
Growing With Grammar, 2 I don’t think we used it this year.
Art – undecided
Extra Curricular – tbd
Extra:
Wordly Wise A/B/C See above

Carolyn, 1st grade:
Sonlight American History 1 (listening) See above
Singapore Math – (Primary 1A/1B?)Singapore math is definitely more advanced than Teaching Textbooks for this grade. It seemed like there was a big jump between 1A and 1B. Carrie mostly does math self-led and this course was GREAT for learning to “think” math concepts. It’s unclear to me if she is naturally skilled at math or if this curriculum was that great, but she impressed me and did very well, despite minimal support and guidance. I definitely prefer this to the Horizons math that Anna and Maggie started with for their early elementary math. The material is less dry/academic looking math problems and much better in conceptual education of math as well as mental math.
Christian Light Education Science, 1This was very easy and elementary for Carrie, but the sense of pride and self accomplishment while learning the format and process of working through workbooks was valuable. She read very easy material and had to recall it to fill in the blanks. The material was too easy…. but… well, she’s a little kid, so I guess it’s okay.
Christian Light Education Reading, 1 (will start by reading the “Primer” books without any workbooks) It was a pleasure to watch Carrie start the year needing support with the Primer books (very easy reading) and then take off and be able to read the regular level one books on her own. The stories are wholesome without being irrelevant or dull. The practice with reading to herself and reading out loud (Reading out loud took Carrie some practice to get the pauses right! She didn’t “hear” the periods or transitions between narration and dialogue easily.) were wonderful and then the workbooks practice recall… not to mention practice with writing by hand.
Handwriting Without Tears, Printing Power PlusLoved this. Was not stressful and was more clear instruction than some others we’ve used. Having repetitive concepts was helpful to us (such as the “magic c.”
Art – undecided
Kumon: Jigsaw These were easy and fun. She actually didn’t think they were as fun and awesome as I expected, so we didn’t do many. She prefers self-led arts and crafts.
Extra Curricular – tbd

Daniel, Kindergarten:
Turns out that Daniel was learning like crazy, but was not ready for following instructions and doing table work. He learned his letters and numbers and counting and a lot of sign language and many other things, but we didnt’ do formal schooling.

Jordan, 4th grade:
I took too long to review this and I don’t remember what we did this year for Jordan!

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Home School Curriculum 2020-2021

Archive:
*2020-2021 School Curriculum
*2019-2020 School Curriculum and Review
*2018-2019 School Curriculum and Review
*2017-2018 School Curriculum and Review
*2016-2017 School Curriculum and Review
*2015-2016 School Curriculum and Review
*2014-2015 School Curriculum
*2013-2014 Review

First of all – can’t believe I’m writing those years, much less living them!

Secondly – this is a living document – it’s where I type and list what I’m developing for next school year. Sometime around August it’ll stop changing, because I’ll have made up my mind and purchased the materials.

Anna – 8th Grade
Writing – Institute for Excellence in Writing – level B
History – Sonlight E (American History 2 of 2) – 4-day
Math – Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra
Social Studies – Study of France
Science – Supercharged Science
Spelling – N/A
Occupational Education – Foundations in Personal Finance: High School by Dave Ramsey
Language – French, Growing with Grammar 6
Health & PE – Ballet? Other extracurricular? The Whole Story, 13-15
Reading – Required/classics reading list
Art & Music Appreciation – Voice lessons, ballet, art class ???
Bible – ?

Maggie – 5th Grade
Writing – Institute for Excellence in Writing – level A
History – Sonlight E (American History 2 of 2) – 4-day
Math – Teaching Textbooks 6
Social Studies – The Netherlands
Science – Supercharged Science
Spelling – N/A
Occupational Education – Learn to use a daily planner
Language – Dutch
Health & PE – Taekwon Do, The Whole Story, 10-12
Reading – see History
Art & Music Appreciation – ?
Bible – ?

Carrie – 2nd Grade
Writing – Penmanship (Cursive Jokes)
History – Sonlight E, partial
Math – Teaching Textbooks 3
Social Studies – Christian Light Education Social Science 3
Science – Supercharged Science
Spelling – N/A
Occupational Education – Typing and Word Processing
Language –
Health & PE – Taekwon Do
Reading – Christian Light Education Reading 3
Art & Music Appreciation –
Bible –

Daniel – 1st Grade with IEP
Writing – Practicing letters (Workbooks)
Math – Beginning addition and subtraction (Workbooks)
Reading – Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Jordan – 6th Grade with IEP
ABA Therapy – 15-20 hours/week

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From Confinement

Hello from self quarantine, self isolation, social distancing, stay home – stay healthy, or whatever other new vocabulary I’ve learned in the last month. Has it only been a month? I began hearing about something called the Coronavirus back in February or March… I remember, because my brother’s work trip to China was cancelled which was actually really helpful in making a birthday celebration for my dad successful. When was that? February 23rd. A week before that, we were at a highly crowded social dance. Less than 3 weeks later, (March 13th) we decided it was time for our family to lock down… and over that weekend, the schools started closing. Later, nonessential businesses closed, Brian started telecommuting, and here we are now… schools closed until next fall. Other than a few grocery trips and take-out restaurant orders, we’ve been home for four weeks.

So, what have we been doing?

Well, amazingly, an awful lot has not changed at all! There are still five children living here and our school year was not cancelled or even changed much. Art, Taekwon Do, and Ballet were our regular outings (besides visiting family and friends, running errands and so forth.). Art class stopped for the year, but ballet and taekwondo hardly missed a beat and switched over to live video classes! I am so impressed! The teachers have been wonderful. I’m a little worried that ballet might start back up again (in person) before we can lift our isolation… they are pushing for early opening, but I lean towards the conservative end of the isolation situation. But anyway, things are going really well right now and this is a situation that’s been best to take one single day at a time. More than usual.

Brian is growing a beard. He’s wanted one many times over the years, but he’s just not a particularly hairy man! But finally, at age 37, he has the necessary follicles for growing a handsome blond beard. Know something that’s surprising? Seventeen years ago, 37 sounded really up there. And now that we’re here… well, I’m still surprised how we are the mature, older-parent people now. Not parents of college kids or even high schoolers yet, but we have the confidence and experience that comes with so many more years alive. Interestingly…. it comes with an equal measure of being aware of how little we know. There are so many things that we can do now and deal with, on a practical level, intuitively and on autopilot that we couldn’t do at all early on. Managing the grocery-food thing for all these different people and needs, chores, homeschool, errands, lessons… it’s really an astronomical weight of impossible-to-remember-it-all-much-less-do-it-all dimensions, but we just keep doing “the next right thing” (Thanks, Frozen II!) and it’s been enough.

Anna is turning thirteen years old next week! She’s amazing. It’s amazing to watch her develop her gifts and interests. She’s exploding in her independent capabilities. Yes, the moodiness, intermittent frustration, and quite frequent groans are present as you might expect with a non-emancipated older child, but the resourcefulness, kindness, and curiosity are there too. She’s a lovely dancer, a wonderful painter, a great gift-giver, and thoughtful daughter. She can often be found cooking (and often even cleaning up!) and even more often can be found painting. If she’s not doing that, she’s reading… going through huge numbers of novels. Since the quarantine has started, she has discovered that I wasn’t making things up when I said that phone calls can be fun for kids her age. Just three phone calls (about one a week) so far, but I think over 6 hours logged between them.

Jordan is turning eleven soon and he’s doing fine. He’s a bit bored with being home all the time and he prefers to be alone in his room. We drag him out to eat and toilet and invite him to hang with us a few times a day, but he doesn’t usually last very long before wanting to go be in his space again. I’m looking forward to him being able to access ABA therapy again soon as things open up. Not that I really want the pace to pick up at all… but it’s a way to push him out of his shell successfully. He’s enjoyed the sunshine this week (so thankful for a break from the rain!) and will play in the grass and rocks for a long time, before signaling he’s ready to go back inside by being naughty… usually by eating things that are unsafe. (Now I’m the one rolling my eyes! It’s not limited just to teens.)

Maggie is ten years old and bright and eager as ever. She has strong curiosity, a strong sense of justice, strong food aversions, strong loves for things that are lovely and wild, and loves to get deep into invented adventures with Carrie. She has two garter snakes that are faring very well… she’s collected so many snakeskins from them over the winter. She also now has two Northern Alligator Lizards, but I’m growing concerned that they may not be eating well. Not sure. We may have to release them again. She is missing doing Taekwon Do in person, but is persevering to keep her skills up so that she can test up to the next belt as soon as we get back to class. She is a capable cook and made her first muffins the other day.

Phew – I’m getting tired. Let’s see if I can write a bit more before signing off.

Carrie is seven and you know that if a child is running toward you, it’s her. She doesn’t walk much… she’d much rather run. She loves to talk, snuggle, create, explore, play, and talk some more. She’s very smart and capable and is often the first done with her schoolwork. She loves playing Minecraft and is growing more competent in creating more elaborate creations. She also reads a great deal, though lately she’s decided that she prefers comics and does not like chapter books any more! Ah well, she’ll be back when she’s a little older and can enjoy some of our family’s favorite series.

Speaking of reading – since the quarantine started, when we need an hour of something “special” to cheer us up in the interminable sameness of each day, we’re reading the first book of The Lord of the Rings together out loud. It’s been nice. I also ordered a few craft supplies to make sure we’re able to keep creating. A few paints, two wood burners and a few wood things to make projects on.

Daniel turned seven years old this week! Hard to believe! He’s a funny kid – sometimes very intense (as one would expect from a kid with a hard background) and often very focused (as is unsurprising for a person with autism) and very much mobile. He’s not walking independently yet… he really resists letting go and walking without holding on. Brian and I have been too tired to add home therapies to our list, but he’s learning and able to go all over the house. He will walk eventually and he’s weight bearing significantly enough that his bone health should be fine. We were supposed to leave tomorrow (Easter Sunday!) to take him back east again for more treatment of his feet. Alas, that was all postponed to be rescheduled after COVID-19 calms down. He’s drawing and writing better – making endless little drawings of clocks, including the numbers, the cord, whether it’s AM or PM and other various details I never noticed before about clocks. He remembers how to spell things if he listens when you tell him… so I think it’s probably time to buckle down and try to teach him to read more formally. Not sure… he is not one for following instructions or sitting still, so that would be challenging!

Speaking of challenging, Brian and I struggle regularly (or you might say chronically) with fatigue. You know, for years. We know we’re extra tired if we get the body aches or I get migraines now too. It’s not unusual for me to not be able to function very much at all past early afternoon. Sometimes all I get is until lunchtime and then I limp through the rest of the day. Sometimes depression and/or anxiety kick my butt too. We’re not the giving up sort, though, so we just do what we can and it’s gotta be enough.

Since the new year, I’ve set myself a few personal goals. Since I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome last fall and have learned more and gotten doctors’ advice, both my fitness and my healthy weight goals have become more important. The doctor’s orders for exercise combined with my now seven year history with depression means that I have been looking very seriously for how to be successful with this whole personal health thing. Last fall I went to physical therapy regularly and started Taekwondo. But in February, I got myself psyched up and set up for daily, sustainable exercise. I have a chart I made that I’m filling out and I’m rotating a careful 30-minute strength training routine with a 30-minute walk/jog. It’s set as higher priority than even homeschooling and I am doing one of these things about 6 days a week! I’m proud! I keep gaining weight also, which is putting pressure on already-fragile joints, so two weeks ago I made a reward chart for myself for some attainable food-related goals. Turns out, I’m money motivated, so I’m paying myself what I would have been paying to a physical therapist. It mostly keeps me from the need for a talking therapist too, so that’s $$ too. I’m only new to the food-related goals and no weight lost, but no weight gained, so I am content.

The money is partially motivating, because I am feeding some personal hobby interests with it! Leatherworking and home alchemy stuff mostly… like lotions and candles and stuff.

Okay. I have just a little time left and I want to watch an episode of a tv show. The kids are all having their screen time now and the boys are content… so – goodbye!

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