Reflections on Our Homeschool Year (2022-2023)
The rhythms of June are so different from the rhythm of life in other seasons. We aren't transitioning from "school year" to "summer break," since we learn year round, but our days change all the same. It's warm. We're remembering our warm weather patterns: beaches, creeks, playing in the water, fewer family walks and more family lounging on the picnic blanket in the shade, more projects outside, fewer projects inside.
The garden is buzzing with bees. Elian, my 6-year-old, has planted a bedfull of watermelons, and is eagerly tending them in anticipation of the fruit to come. Last week, we jaunted over to a local farm for the first strawberry-picking day of the season—and came home with over 13 lbs of berries! Perfect for a fresh strawberry pie, which the kids helped assemble.
The local school bus still makes stops on our street. My kids point it out, but they have no desire to find out what life is like for the kids the bus scoops up and disgorges. I've explained what those other kids do—all the sitting and waiting and worksheets. My 6-year-old gets a concerned, contemplative look on his face. Not for me, you can see him thinking.
Read about previous years:
Cataloging learning in an always-learning household
So much of everyday life was full of learning new things. It's hard to quantify, though!
We started the year with a family trip to Glacier National Park: hiking, fire starting, cooking, mountains, lakes, plants, geology, star gazing, and more. Last month, we spent a week at Priest Lake: again, hiking, fire starting, kayaking, collecting rocks, etc.
The kids often help in the kitchen: baking, chopping, adding, stirring, watching. Sometimes the kids decide what dinner will be, and help with all aspects of prepping it.
We did several baking projects from picture books. After reading Annie and the Wild Animals, we made corn cakes. We made cookies after reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and muffins after reading If You Give a Moose a Muffin. We also made baguettes after reading Nanette's Baguette.
The kids help in the yard and garden. They collect eggs and help clean out the chicken coop. They helped build our new garden beds. Our 6-year-old has his own garden bed this year—full of watermelons! He started them from seed, transplanted them into the garden, and is now in charge of weeding and watering that bed.
As part of our outdoor education, we're learning about plant identification and edible plants (trying to stick tg ones that don't have toxic look-alikes for now). And now, they wander around the yard snacking on dandelions, wood sorrel, and chickweed.
They're also working on projects with Dad—carving sticks into spears, making walking sticks, and, most recently, building a small tank out of scrap wood.
All winter, we did arts and crafts, baking and board games. We had markers, crayons, paper and scissors, glue, pencils, watercolors, or finger paints out almost every day. We made beaded necklaces. The kids learned a little bit about my sewing machine and sewed a couple not-so-straight seams. The 6-year-old got a selection of colored duct tape for Christmas, which all three kids use to make stuff out of cardboard: armor, weapons, forts. We also have science kits and a set of snap circuits.
There's so much more learning that's informal, too. Last week, for instance, my husband and I spent an evening explaining the silliest idioms we could think of to our 6-year-old: It's raining cats and dogs. Jumping the gun. Hit the sack. He thought they were hilarious. The conversations we have when out walking or around the dinner table, or when reading. It never stops!
We attended a new Sudbury-style, interest-led co-op on a farm this year, 1-2 days per week. Read about the co-op's philosophy! It's paused for the summer and we look forward to continuing in the fall.
We made new friends, hugged a lot of goats, and enjoyed the beautiful mountains and forests at the farm. Attendance was high in the fall. More people with young kids and more activities planned. Attendance dropped off over the winter, and picked back up a little in the spring, but there weren't quite as many younger kids.
Activities varied; some days, we visited all the animals and played outside. Other days, we participated in scheduled activities. One mom led a series of art classes in the winter - painting, mixing colors, acrylic pours, some fun stuff. Another mom led storytime for younger kids.
We held a series of picnics by the fire pit. I brought hot dogs, red peppers, and pizza dough to roast. Others contributed sausages and s'mores. The kids got to learn about starting and maintaining fires. One family brought their Dutch oven and made brownies and cobbler.
There were classes in European sword fighting, groups that knitted and crocheted together; foraging and hiking; LEGO clubs; a group of teenagers made a movie; and much more.
All in all, a good first year. I'm looking forward to when it starts back up in the fall!
Our forest school nature group is one of my favorites. We generally meet once per week at varying nature parks in the area. We have a group of mixed-age kids from babies through 9-year-olds. I appreciate that we've been seeing some of the same families for over three years!
I also appreciate that these families generally share key approaches toward raising and educating children. Unlike many other co-ops and groups, we didn't suddenly add a curriculum when the older kids turned 6. There's just as much free play now as there has ever been!
The kids play in the woods, build forts and shelters, make boats to sail down the creek, go sledding, build snowmen and snow forts, climb rocks, climb trees, play tag, and all the other things kids ought to do in the woods.
Sometimes we have activities and books to read aloud: nature scavenger hunts, making lemonade, making snow candles, Valentine's Day picnics and exchanging nature-themed Valentine's, hiking, finding snails in the rain, identifying flowers and trees, swapping books/curricula, carving sticks, making bird feeders, painting and crafts, field trips to local farms; and so much more!
We meet year round, so we're continuing through the summer. Many of our summer meetups will be by the water!
Last year, we participated in a kids' music class; unfortunately, that class did not continue this year. We did listen to plenty of music, though! I use our car time as music exposure time. I pick up CDs on the cheap from thrift stores or the library.
The kids have especially been enjoying musical stories, like Mozart's The Magic Flute, Peter and the Wolf, and The Nutcracker (which we heard on repeat all of December..!). I'd picked up a series of CDs with musical stories at a curriculum swap (here's one); we've been enjoying them. Wish I had more though; I get tired of the same ones on repeat. I guess finding more will be part of my plan for next school year!
Library subscription boxes
Two women at Randy's parish run a small, independent library. One of their amazing features is monthly subscription boxes, filled with themed books. We get the preschool level and elementary level boxes each month, and we love them.
Each box has a title book (one of these). The rest of the books support the title book's theme. For example, in the Papa Piccolo box—a book about a tomcat who adopts a pair of kittens in Italy—there were books about Italy, Italian cooking, counting in Italian, cats, fatherhood, and so on.
I like these boxes because the books are good. They're often older books. They've been collected and vetted by the women who run the library.
Here's a stark example of what I mean. We recently had a box about the ocean, tidepools, and whales. One book was the story of a young blue whale growing up. Facts about whales were snuck into the narrative. It was a lovely book; quiet and interesting; lovely illustrations that captured the feel of life in the big blue sea. We later got a book about whales from the local public library—and instead of a story, there were factoids, call-out boxes, did you know's, bright colors and a tone that was clearly trying to get your attention. Like current children's TV in a book. Like you wouldn't be interested in reading about whales unless the book was flashy and modern. We didn't enjoy it much in comparison.
I also like the boxes because they introduce a nice range of topics, via books we actually want to read. After that ocean box, my 6-year-old is fascinated by everything oceans. Randy and I are trying to figure out when we can plan a trip to the coast to see some tidepools in person… in the meantime, we're watching ocean and tidepool documentaries with the kids, and reading more books.
Other literacy activities
Besides the library boxes, we read aloud other chapter books and nonfiction, like Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto.
We made some progress toward reading. (It's okay if it takes a while—here are stories of how children learn to read naturally.) It'll happen, so long as we keep reading aloud; playing games that involve letters, letter sounds, and words (like the Feed the Monster app and games with Bananagrams tiles); pointing out letters and words where we see them in the world.
For writing, I sneak practice in. We make our own birthday cards and other cards (read why homemade gifts are our goto), and my 6-year-old has to write the words on them. We have some activity books with letter tracing, which get pulled out once in a while. I also have the large sheets of paper that are half drawing half lines, so you can write about your pictures. My 6-year-old likes coming up with the silliest sentences he can imagine to write down.
Math from board games
We are continuing to learn math and logic through board games! Our 6-year-old loves games. He's leveled up, too—now he's playing Feast for Odin, one of the more complicated Uwe Rosenberg games with us. This one involves placing workers to take actions, collecting resources, lining up tiles on his board, using silver to pay for things, lots of logic, planning, and basic math. We also play plenty of other games—Carcassonne, Wreck Raiders, dominoes, Uno.
Need ideas for your own homeschooling?
Read these book reviews and education posts:
- Book Review: Homeschooling with Gentleness by Suzie Andres
- How to Afford Homeschooling and Other Alternative Education on a Budget
- How to Involve Kids in Modern Work
- Why Watching My Parents Cook Means I Can't Share Soup Recipes—And How I'm Encouraging My Kids to Cook Too
- How to Consciously Be A Role Model in Creativity, Curiosity, and Crafting for Children
- Why Outdoor Time is Important for Kids
- Book Review: The Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres
- Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie