Since making the transition to homeschooling our children, I am constantly asked by fellow parents about how we are approaching it. Whether it’s because they are curious as to how a working mom would even go about tackling it or if it’s because they have felt the same pull in wanting to have more control over what their children learn, how they learn it and what they are exposed to daily. I shared all about our WHY in making this huge lifestyle change back in the fall, but now I want to share with you the HOW. Or at least the current HOW. Because if there is one thing I have learned when it comes to homeschooling, it’s that it is never going to be perfect. You must be willing to go with the flow and it takes time to find what best works for your family and your lifestyle. I wanted to make sure and give you a peek into everything – our homeschool curriculum, resources, and flow that we are currently using. It’s an approach that we have really come to enjoy!
And I want to make sure and preface this post by saying that I am in no way an expert. We are not even a year into this and I am learning right alongside my children. However, since making this change I have heard from so many readers who have felt the same pull and who have had questions so I wanted to make sure and pull back the curtain a bit.
First, let me touch on our overall approach and big-picture thinking when it comes to how our children are currently learning. I knew I wouldn’t want to follow an overly strict schedule and that we would be educating and learning six-plus hours a day. One reason is that I run a business as does my husband. We needed to be realistic in what we could really take on and how we approached educating our children. The other reason is that in leaving public school we also knew we wanted to leave behind the rigorous schedule and grind that can be so exhausting, especially with multiple children all at different stages.
My desire was to ensure that we had the space to do things that they normally wouldn’t have been able to. For instance, finding time to do art with my girls is very important to us. Teaching Blake Photoshop skills because she has shown an interest in it or baking in the kitchen. Tanner loves math and also shows a strong propensity for business and so we have made sure to include him in how Jarett bids an account. Or how I approach finances as a business owner in paying myself, contractors and taxes. These are real-world things that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience until much later. I wanted them to have the space for play and relaxation and exploring and adventures.
All of the things I feel like they should be enjoying with the opportunity and flexibility that homeschooling has given us. And this is also the reason that we lovingly refer to it as “hackschooling”. We are quite literally hacking our kids’ education and tailoring the entire experience to each of their specific needs, interests, and talents.
Now, with that, I also knew that we would need some structure because while our family loves a laid back approach, too much of that and we are then accomplishing nothing. So what we have found works is a Monday through Friday approach. Because the change in our kids’ education has been really a lifestyle change, they are always learning, but sitting down and diving into different subjects happens for 2-3 hours a day Monday through Friday for the most part.
Every Sunday I take the time to prepare the entire week ahead so I know what each day is going to look like. This ensures that outside of that 2-3 hours daily of teaching them, I am able to devote time to everything else on my plate. I created a planner page for myself to tackle this and I simply fill out a new one for each day. No worries, I have made sure to share my “Daily Hack Plan” template with you and you can download it for yourself right here. This planner page lays out the following for me:
I will also prepare any printables, notes, homework instructions for the older kids, etc ahead of time. While I simply choose a different subject daily that we dive into to keep things fresh, there are seven things that they always do no matter what the main subject is for the day:
Prayer and study. This has been a HUGE blessing in our lives. Before when they were in public school it was a rush to get out the door in the morning and we were exhausted by the evening so family prayer and scripture study didn’t receive a lot of effort or thought. We knew we wanted to change that and put it at the forefront of everything we do. Not to mention, just one month after leaving public school, our church announced some changes. They shortened our Sunday schedule from three hours to two. The reason for this was so that more time can be devoted as families to teach within our own homes. This change was huge and one that strengthened our testimony on the feelings we had about adjusting our lifestyle to have more of a hand in what our kids learn and how they learn it.
With this change, our church also came out with the Come Follow Me program which is a wonderful resource for individuals and families to teach and learn the New Testament in 2019. You can find out more about it here if you are interested, and you can also get the complete program online for free right here. Before we do anything for the day, we begin with family scripture study and prayer and it has completely changed the spirit and feeling in our home and family. Our days are so much more joyful and peaceful and it has been something that I have been so thankful for.
Family workout / outdoor activity. We used to make sure and get to this during the day at some point, but Jarett and I have learned that we do better when we tackle it at the start of our day. And it was not only something Jarett and I needed to make sure we do, but we want to make sure the kids are staying active, getting fresh air, running around and enjoying the fact that we have the flexibility to do so!
Calendar. Miss Blair left Kindergarten only after just a few months so we are still working on days of the week, months of the year, seasons as well as actual dates. I ordered this calendar as one of the very first tools and I have really loved having it available for both her and Owen. And the older kids are good sports at singing the songs with us.
Our “Weeklies”. This is what we refer to as our weekly scripture, word, and quote. I have strong feelings about the damage that technology can do to our brains over time and, while I know we are blessed with it and enjoy it in daily life, I want to make sure that we are doing “old-school” things like actually memorizing! I am always shocked when I realize my older kids don’t even know their own phone numbers! Digital dementia is a real thing and I just want to ensure I am doing what I can as a parent to lessen the blow. I simply choose a scripture (it usually coincides with what we are teaching in the Come Follow Me program for that week), and then a word that I think is age-friendly across the board as well as a quote.
I print these things out each week to hang on the fridge so the kids have access to it all week long. By Saturday, if they are able to recite all three by heart to Jarett or me then they earn $1 for each one. I try to stick with shorter sciptures and quotes so Owen and Blair don’t feel left behind, but I also want to make sure I am pushing the older kids so it’s a bit different each week.
Creative writing. This is a big deal for me. I am a writer and have been from the beginning. I had an AP English teacher in high school who assigned us journaling time at the start of every class period before we dove into anything else. I remember writing pages and pages about my life then and found it so therapeutic and meaningful. I wanted to make sure I am giving my kids that same space.
Because journaling can be hard for the little ones, however, I do give them direction and right now we treat it more like creative writing. So I give them a prompt every day (I actually type the daily prompt and print it out so the little ones can copy it and then continue their writing from there). I simply purchased composition books for Tanner and Blake and then these primary journals for Owen and Blair.
Spelling words. This was another important area for me that I wanted to make sure we put time and effort in to. Proper spelling is a big deal. I am a strong speller so I find it shocking when I see how much is misspelled by adults on a daily basis. Again, I love writing and am strong in that area so I know my bar is high, but I didn’t want to neglect this area in the slightest. I give the older kids twenty words each week and the younger kids have ten. I simply work off of master lists I found online through K12Reader.com. And for the younger kids, we started at the very beginning with the Frye list of 1,000 that I have broken up each week. (The K12Reader.com site has tons of other resources to check out!)
I take the beginning of the week and, after writing all of the weekly words on flashcards, the kids will pair off and simply run through them with each other. This is mostly for the two younger kids to work on sight, memorization and sounding them out. Then for three days straight I will simply quiz them and we will hold our own spelling tests. By the end of the week, everyone is getting one hundred percent which is so wonderful to see.
Reading. This is another extremely important one to me. As much as I love reading and always have, I didn’t facilitate it as much as I should have from the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, we have always done bedtime stories and if the kids bring me a book we will read it together, but I should have been doing more to instill that love of reading. There is nothing that will teach kids as strong, as quickly and as meaningfully as reading can. It helps with comprehension, spelling, speaking, vocabulary, grammar… the list goes on and on and I am just now correcting this which, as you can imagine, has its good days and bad days.
The older kids are expected to read no less than one hour a day, but we are working to actually enjoy it. The little ones love reading books and we usually get to about 3-4 a day on top of bedtime stories and daily scripture study. I recently just shared my favorite books for younger readers and will eventually be sharing books that my older kids have actually enjoyed.
Outside of those seven things, I simply switch off between main subjects each day. The curriculum and resources I use for each vary so let me go through those.
Math. In all honesty, my eyes glaze over when it comes to numbers so I knew I needed an outside source for this to ensure that the kids are getting what they need especially with Tanner and Blake. We purchased the ‘3.0 Subscription’ for both of them through Teaching Textbooks and we have loved it. The kids log in, listen to the lectures and work through the lesson. To find out what level they were both in we simply had them take the placement tests that the Teaching Textbooks website provides.
With the younger two, I use Khan Academy online which is free and has been great! They each have a login so we can track their progress and we simply started at the beginning. We will also work with mathlink cubes which they have enjoyed and we also purchased this money set for them to get the hang of change and bills. We will also pull it out for Tanner and Blake to teach them how to give exact change and we will even do speed races. They laughed about this at first, but now they love it and I am going to be proud to have kids that don’t need a computer to tell them what the correct change amount is!
History. For this I wanted to make sure and do it right so we went with The Good and the Beautiful curriculum and I have really been blown away by it. We are working through History 1 and I was so thrilled to see that the very first lesson was on God and the creation of the Earth. It is Christian based and the fact that we speak about God within our home education has completely built my testimony on the power of educating our own children. The lessons are laid out in a family friendly way which means multiple ages get different things out of it and everyone can still learn together. We have really enjoyed it!
Science. Same thing, I went with The Good and the Beautiful and we have started with The Human Body manual. I love what it involves and the hands-on activities have made it even more fun for the younger children and allow them to retain information in a much better way.
English and Language Arts. Whew. Okay, for this area I wanted to reverse a bit and really spend time correcting some issues and getting each child solid on some things. Again, this is such a huge thing for me and so important to know sentence structure and grammar and punctuation… so we are hacking this currently.
With the older kids we are working on figurative language and knowing the difference between smilies and metaphors. This site has a wonderfully ridiculous amount available in the language arts!
For the younger kids, I am simply taking them through the entire alphabet. We are working on each letter individually, the different sounds it makes, what words start and end with them, writing them properly, etc. Owen was in first grade and had already learned the basics the year before in Kindergarten. However, once we started homeschooling and I have much more one on one time with each of our kids I noticed that he writes about 40% of his letters the wrong way. He had an absolutely wonderful teacher for Kindergarten who was such a beautiful fit for him – this is just an example of overcrowding in classrooms. The teachers can’t divide their time enough for each student that they have.
As I feel more comfortable that they have a more firm and solid foundation, we will most likely be purchasing courses for each of the kids through The Good and the Beautiful.
Outside of those core subjects, we truly try and make learning a part of every single thing I do. I have founds things here and there to have in our home that really facilitates learning even in play. I am always adding items I purchase and that we love to my Amazon page here and recently I grabbed this puzzle from Crate&Kids and we are in love with it!
The kids are expected to help out quite a bit. This is because they don’t have the same workload they did before and because Dad and I have less time to accomplish the same amount we were doing when they were in school. They each have about 3-4 daily chores. We have always expected a lot from them, but I have been amazed to see how much they have matured in the last few months. They really do just pitch in and help where help is needed, but I don’t think there is any other way to function as a large family.
We also prioritize time in the kitchen as a family and every evening we all cook together, eat together and clean up together. It seems like such a small thing, but it has truly changed our relationship as a family as well as among the siblings. And once we settle in Nashville in about a month, everyone will be choosing sports and activities to get back into and start meeting friends. We also plan on being outdoors a lot more!
All in all, homeschooling was never on my radar and I assumed I wanted my kids to have the same experiences I did in my childhood. I grew up and going to school was what you did so I just assumed it would be what my family did. And while I am still coming to terms with what this change means for the vision I had of their childhood, I am seeing the blessings and the magic that come out of this approach daily and it brings a smile to my face. And whether it’s homeschool, public school, private school… there are wonderful things about all of them and what an amazing blessing the have the choice of what is best for our children and our family.
So what about you? Do you homeschool? Are your kids in public school? I would love to hear about your own family’s experience!