Start of the Homeschool School Year with Three Children (Fall 2021)
It's September! For most people, September is Back to School. Back to classrooms, indoors more than not, life by the bell, whatever else K-12 school means—I've never been.
For us, as homeschoolers, September means a change in the weather: summer lingers, with most days still sunny and warm, but the air cools at night and the mornings start off with a foreshadowing of crisp fall air. September means our garden is full of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. We eat tomatoes and zucchini, pick and dry herbs, and this year, we've managed to harvest enough cucumbers for two big patches of pickle relish. We're probably a month, maybe less, from our first frost. September means keeping a close eye on the weather forecast.
But because September means School to so many people, I've begun getting questions: Is your oldest going to school now? (No.) Have you started homeschooling yet? (Sure. Pretty much all of daily life counts as homeschooling.) What curriculum are you using? (None in particular.) Etc.
I think I'll appreciate looking back at a record of our yearly plan (or lack thereof). We don't have any particular reason to follow the usual school year schedule—and right now, we don't—but now's as good a time as any to reflect on what we're up to. So, here's our plan for this "school" year and a rundown of where we're at in our homeschooling journey.
My homeschooling approach
This school year, I have a 4-year-old (almost five); a 2-year-old; and a not-yet-one-year-old. They're on the young side to really need to consider the question of schooling at all—Idaho doesn't care until kids hit 7.
That said, there are plenty of people who begin school-ish pre-K activities at 3 or 4. And, as I said above, most of daily life can count as homeschooling. So why not! Sure, we're doing some schooling already.
As I've talked about before, I was homeschooled myself. My mom's approach to homeschooling was eclectic: no single strict curriculum. We mixed and matched books, programs, activities, and extracurriculars to get a set that kept us interested and fit the goals she had for us, and later, that we had for ourselves.
Being early in the homeschooling game, I haven't settled firmly on a philosophy (will I ever?), but I have little doubt I will tend towards the eclectic. I'm drawn both to unschooling philosophies (the emphasis on following a child's intrinsic curiosity and motivation, respecting children as people, and so forth), to classical education, as I discussed in my review of Homeschooling with Gentleness, and philosophies that emphasize being outdoors, experiencing things, and doing meaningful projects. So, for now, we are emphasizing play, curiosity, and exposure to new activities and ideas.
Our school year activities
We have some weekly activities and routines. We also plan plenty of park days and playdates with friends.
We attend a weekly forest school group. This group meets in different semi-wild areas and nature parks 1-2 times a week. One day is co-op style with a small consistent group of families; we take turns leading an activity. The other day is usually more geared toward exploration and play, and is open to a wider group of families.
The activities vary widely: making musical instruments or leaf crowns, carving sticks, dissecting owl pellets, learning about the sun or what floats and sinks, growing beans in plastic bags on the window, playing in creeks and in the woods and at the beach. For the coming year, we're going to have themed months around topics like the weather, tool use, fire starting and cooking, plant identification and foraging, and a bunch of other fun stuff.
I'm hoping to add other activities. Field trips to museums, farms, parks, festivals, car shows, other and events in the area. Our libraries have regular events again. Last year, we started attending an occasional music class geared toward 4-5 year-olds (it met once or twice a month); we're hoping that starts up again. We may also add a kids' music class at a local arts center or community center. And who knows what else we might find!
Books and literacy
We try to read a lot. A love of stories goes a long way toward wanting to learn to read!
We read all sorts of picture books. We do a few audiobooks. We try to read some poetry every week, and some history or other wholesome tales. Lately, these have included Little House in the Big Woods, James Herriot's Treasury for Children, The Children's Book of America, The Children's Book of Heroes, a collection of stories illustrating various virtues, collections of fairy tales and folktales, a children's world history book, and a nature encyclopedia.
This list will only get more exciting; there are so many fun books I'm looking forward to reading as the kids get older!
I still can sing many of the songs I learned at age 5 or 6 for a play we put on, as well as songs from cassette tapes played in the car. From the classical education point of view, my kids are exactly the right ages for their heads to be filled with facts and foundational knowledge, for memorizing songs and poems. So, educational music is a big area for us this year.
So far, I have CDs of geography songs, folk songs, and science songs for us to listen to while driving. I'm on the lookout for more to add to our rotation!
One set of science songs I bought because about eight years ago, Randy and I went to Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia. It's one of the biggest nerd conventions there is, with cosplayers, panels by celebrities, a large artists' gallery, parties, and so on and so forth. Randy and I attended a talk by a couple Georgia Tech researchers about their work creating music to teach science concepts. Their music worked, they said, because of its structure: catchy tunes with the most important information about the concept in the chorus. Details were in the verses. That way, if all you remembered was the chorus (very common), you would still retain the most important information. The researchers sang a couple of their songs, playing guitar in accompaniment.
Some of the songs are not musically amazing. But eight years later, both Randy and I remembered the choruses to several songs they sang at the Dragon*Con panel: "Convection, conduction, radi-adi-ation: these are the three ways bear can move from a location." I tracked them down. If I remembered the important part, eight years after hearing the songs once, well, that might just be educational!
Arts and crafts
I like crafts, so I'm trying to involve the kids in all the crafts I do as well as making sure we do some just for them. I want the kids to be familiar with making things. So, we draw with crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Sometimes, we practice drawing letters. We paint. We watercolor. We cut paper and glue it to other paper. We weave and sew, carve wood, make instruments and decorate sticks, and squish clay.
Some crafts are seasonal: collecting colorful leaves in the fall to sandwich in contact paper and hang in the windows, paper snowflakes, new Christmas tree ornaments. Some can be keepsakes: I plan to do a set of make-a-plates soon. My mom still has the plastic plates sisters and I made when we were preschool-age, and I still have some from March 3, 1998 (I wrote dates on them when I made them). Recently, I made little aprons for the kids from scrap fabric; they regularly help me bake and cook.
We're not doing any formal math yet. For now, we're learning new board games. Taking turns, logical systems, reading numbers, counting, matching… games have it all.
Our 4yo is progressing from simpler games like Hoot Owl Hoot (draw and play colored cards to move owls along a colored track) and Orchard (take turns rolling a die to get fruit, match tiles on a raven picture) to Uno (matching numbers and colors), Dragonwood (collecting sets of cards, rolling dice and counting numbers to attack dragons and other creatures), and Wreck Raiders (basic worker placement and resource management game). I think we can try a basic version of Settlers of Catan soon, and I'm on the lookout for more games.
A good start to the year
While this is not an exhaustive list of everything we're doing, it's a summary of the more academically-minded activities we have planned so far.
Next June, I'll write a follow-up to let you know how it went!