Reflections on Our Homeschool Year (2021-2022)
Every morning, we see the big yellow school bus pause across the street. Kids are swallowed up. The bus drives away.
We fill our day with adventures: Parks, hiking, playgrounds. The grocery store or the library. Building with Lego, playing board games, baking, snacking, cleaning. Playing outside. Playing inside. Reading books. Seeing friends. Listening to music and watching videos about bushcraft or pianos. Doing yardwork. Helping Daddy with tools: adding shelves to the garage, assembling a chicken coop. Crafts. Coloring and drawing. Cleaning again. Eating again. And so much more! Every day is like a child's finger painting: different, messy, and magical.
Eventually, we see the big yellow school bus return to disgorge the neighborhood kids.
Wow, I think, they've been trapped in school all that time?
Pretty soon, the bus will hibernate for the summer. Some neighborhood kids will be shuttled off to summer camps; some will steal a taste of freedom. The summer tourists will arrive and fill up the town. And, for homeschoolers like us:
Reflecting on our homeschool year
We don't have any particular reason to follow the conventional school year schedule, and right now, we don't. We do have some seasonal rhythms: more time outside when it's warmer, in the garden and exploring; more time indoors on books, crafts, and games when it's colder. Regardless, since so many other people follow the public schools, now's a good time to reflect on what we've been up to!
My plan for this year was not complicated: some weekly activities with friends, lots of time outdoors, and an emphasis on play, curiosity, and exposure to new activities and ideas. Our kids are now 5, 3, and 1.
Our forest school co-op, consisting of about nine families, met weekly in various local nature parks, year round. The moms took turns leading the week's activity. We also attended a similar group that was open to a wider pool of families most weeks, which tended to include younger children. Both went as planned! Lots of time outside exploring beautiful North Idaho.
Our activities included:
- survival skills like fire starting, shelter building, knot tying, and wood carving
- foraging and local plant identification (read my poem for remembering 10 common conifers
- crafts such as bird feeders, ornaments, flower presses, and lanterns
- scavenger hunts, nature journaling, and hikes
- learning about spiders, bees, eagles, rocks, weather, and other parts of nature
- playing in creeks, in the woods, and at the beach
- making snow ice cream, going eagle watching, looking for frogs
- a field trip to a Birds of Prey refuge, where we learned about eagles, owls, and other raptors
- sharing community garden plot over the summer
We attended a children's music class taught by a lovely lady from Randy's parish. Initially it had been 1-2 times per month; in December, it switched to weekly. The class included rhythm, singing, basic solfege, very basic piano, and musical notation: What is a whole note? How many beats in a half note? This is a treble clef. Etc. A great class and a great addition to our week.
The plan was to listen to educational music—I had science songs, geography songs, and folk songs on CDs in the car. We've added to the rotation: classical masterpieces, Gregorian chant, a pan flute with an orchestra, a jazz sampler, oldies swing hits. The kids get lots of exposure to different instruments and styles of music this way. I pick up CDs from the thrift store now and then to add variety.
We add to this exposure at home, where we watch videos of orchestras and people playing different instruments.
I got music flash cards that we pull out occasionally to reinforce what we're learning in the music class.
And we have musical instruments available. Kids' percussion instruments, a small ukulele, a small guitar, and—the most exciting addition this year—a free piano, obtained through our local Buy Nothing group! The kids can play and experiment.
Arts and crafts
We had been doing plenty of crafts, and had planned on doing more. Check! Some winter mornings were spent entirely at the table with stacks of paper, markers, crayons, and colored pencils. We mixed it up by adding scissors, tape, stickers, and glue; or stamps and ink. Sometimes we strung beads to make necklaces.
We continued seasonal crafts, like making paper turkeys near Thanksgiving (they did all the cutting and I didn't enforce particular colors or arrangements of feathers) and cork reindeer ornaments for our Christmas tree.
We even did the make-a-plates I mentioned—which, as it turns out, are way easier to make now than in 1998, because you can get any digital picture you want printed on a plate. I took pictures of the kids' paintings.
The plan was to learn foundational math skills through board games—logical systems, reading numbers, counting, matching, basic addition, etc. This plan succeeded (or else our 5yo leveled up his counting skills through some other means!).
We played lots of games, especially in winter. We added King Dominio (tile matching, counting for scoring), a basic version of Settlers of Catan (resource management, helps instill an intuitive sense of probability when rolling two six-sided dice!), and checkers; we tried a basic version of Carcassonne (tile matching, worker placement); recently, I introduced Backgammon, and we got Forbidden Island.
Our approach to literacy has been to read lots. We visit the library and pick out new books every week or two! The kids help choose a bunch of nonfiction as well as stories; we've read about slugs and snails, castles and ancient construction, kittens and bunnies, tanks and bicycles, the life cycles of plants, rocket ships, and so much more!
Randy read aloud The Hobbit, so now our house is full of battles between our 5yo and various goblins, orcs, and dwarves. I started reading aloud some books on history and architecture (but, oops, haven't finished—we got sidetracked).
Recently, Randy and I have apparently fostered an interest in writing letters by doing printed out crossword puzzles together, so our 5yo sees us writing down words and wants to do the same. We've started occasionally working on letter sounds and spelling words using our Bananagrams letter tiles!
We plan to keep our regular activities going over the summer and next year. A local group of families are forming a Sudbury school-esque co-op on a local farm. We may try attending once a week starting in the fall—I do love all the outdoor activities with the kids, and we tend to get along well with the folks who choose various methods of self-directed education. We visited the farm recently and loved the venue—plenty of space to roam and lots of animals! Our 3yo wanted to move in with the bunnies.
Being a homeschooling mother
I try to take the time to pause, reflect, and find new inspiration for our homeschooling journey. Learning is continuous, but it can follow cycles; reflection is part of learning.
I've read a couple new books—such as A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres and Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (reviews forthcoming!). I attend a monthly homeschool mom's meetup at Randy's parish, and recently, we had a panel of experienced moms share their wisdom (all 20+ years homeschooling, 5+ kids apiece). All of these have been helpful in clarifying my vision for my home and my homeschooling—more thoughts coming soon!