Monday, July 7, 2014

The Homeschool Series - Schedule & Curriculum

The Homeschool Series - Part 2
 Wow! What a wonderful response I got to the Homeschool Series - Part 1.  Thanks for reading along, commenting, and offering encouragement.  I am happy to say we survived our first day back in the books.  We will start with some more cuteness tonight.  Here are our final day of school pictures from the 2013 - 2014 school year taken at the end of May.

Olivia - Age 8.5

Addison - Age 5.5
Allye - Age 2.5

As promised, I am going to cover what a day in our school life looks like and our curriculum choices.  Buckle up, it's quite a ride...

What Does Our Day Look Like?

This is somewhat of a loaded question right now.  Today began a new chapter for us so I will speak to our previous school year and can update you later as to how things are working for us with two in grade school and one in preschool.  School year 2013-2014 had Olivia in second grade, Addison in Pre-K, and Allye in Mom's Morning Out two to three days a week.  

Originally, I was not going to place Addison in Pre-K.  In the state of Florida, Pre-K is known as VPK and is paid for by the state.  Lotto money at work folks.  Guess what else that means?  State controlled and mandated.  But, as I was planning Olivia's school year and Allye was coming into her own, I was afraid Addison would get lost in the shuffle of the madness.  She much prefers to be at home with me but she also needs her own attention from me that I was fearful would not be possible.  So, thinking about her best interest I signed her up for VPK at the same school she attended for preschool.  It was a commitment.  She had to attend every day, M-F, from 8:15 to 11:15.  She could only miss 30 days or we would be asked to pay or leave.  Well, I had already signed her up and paid her fee for Classical Conversations (CC), 24 days of the best thing my money could buy... and I wasn't giving that up.  The school happily worked with me on this.  I was slightly concerned about what she would miss out on knowing that they would be testing her multiple times during the year for Kindergarten readiness.  Her initial test, about one month in, revealed that she missed only two questions on the entire test.  I worried no further about that.  I then turned my worry to what would she learn if she was already "Exceeding Expectations".  The obvious making friends, playing together, etc.... but what else?  This threw us for a loop.  Addison misses the public school cut-off by 11 days.  That did not effect our ability to go ahead and homeschool her for Kindergarten and it was strongly considered. However, I was looking forward at what might happen if we should ever insert her back into the system.  I was not sure how flexible the system would be or where we would be living.  If I had to do it all over again I would not have done the Pre-K.  The best advice I can give you if you are facing this dilemma is to go with your gut.  My child was ready for Kindergarten and I did not need a test to tell me that.  I made a decision in fear, which I do not advise.  

With all of the placement decisions made, here is how it all went down.  We dropped Addison off each morning at 8:15.  Two mornings a week we sat in the same parking lot until 8:45 until I could drop Allye off at Mom's Morning Out (MMO).  During this time Olivia would read or work on her penmanship.  When we returned home the school day began and here is how it was scheduled.

Now, let's talk.  When Olivia was in first grade I did not have a schedule like the one you see above.  We also had less work to complete, more interruptions, and more flexibility in our day.  Olivia is very much like me and likes to know what is going to be next in her day from one event to another.  It dawned on me, now that she was capable of reading anything, that she might like the schedule and I could be free to spend more time doing house chores or playing with Allye.  It took several weeks for her to adjust to me not being at the table with her the entire day, but ultimately she liked the responsibility.  Once Allye was napping after lunch we sat down together and completed the subjects that she needed my help to finish.  While this has been successful for us, it is not for everybody.  I found the positive side of the schedule to be that she absolutely learned to be responsible with her time, how to solve problems on her own, and how to better manage her time.  I only found one real negative side effect to the schedule.  When the day had to be altered for appointments or life, she had a hard time adjusting.  After several months and several occurrences she better learned how to handle those moments.  Another life lesson learned.  Things will not always go according to schedule.  ;)  

Let me throw this in now...  In the spring of 2013 I offered to teach preschool activities to my neighbor's little girl along with Addison two days a week.  Those days would fall on Tuesday and Thursday.  Ultimately I had to flip-flop Olivia's schedule so that I could work with her in the morning on those mornings and the little girls in the afternoon.  I fulfilled that schedule through Christmas.  I dropped her down to one day a week after Christmas because in June of 2013 our CC community did not have enough tutors and I accepted a position there so that those students would still have a place at CC.  More on that later, but let's just say I was overwhelmed with all of the planning, teaching, and everyday life that was going on.  Her mom graciously let me off the hook.  Some people questioned my sanity to teach another person's child.  Let me just say that those moments with her, here in our home, gave me some of the best memories that I get to have forever.  I would not trade that for anything.

Of course, we had extracurricular activities.  I would tell you those are a vital part of the homeschool experience.  For Olivia, she attended drama classes on Monday afternoons, Wednesday night she went to AWANA, and Thursday night she had dance class. 

 Now we can get to the how I got that schedule above.

Let's start with this.  When I decided to join CC I studied the idea and philosophy behind a Classical education.  I truly believed in what it offered and wanted to bring it into our home as well.  Now, whether or not you choose the Classical method to train your children, I would consider this a must buy book for every homeschool family.  I call it the Homeschool Bible.

This mother-daughter combo thoroughly explain how to achieve a Classical education in your home.  They also tell you what, in their opinions of course, children should be learning at each stage of development, the amount of time the child should spend on a certain subject each day, how to organize it all, track it all, and the curricula they endorse.  This is what I was looking for the first year I taught and had no idea what I was doing.  Sure, each person you meet can tell you what they do, but there is nothing like feeling you are getting expert advice.  With my confidence firmly placed in this book and its contents, I began to study the curricula they suggested and what I thought would work for Olivia.  Here is my 2nd must-have for every homeschool parent.  Ms. Duffy has obviously spent countless hours pouring over every curriculum out there.  She has a Top 100 book that really narrows down her favorite selections as well.  She explains the curriculum you are researching on her site, gives the pros and cons, compares it to other curriculum at times, and tries to give you an idea of what type of student would do well or poorly with each one.  I cannot say enough positive things about her site.  Are you with me so far?  #1 Get the Homeschool Bible #2 Go to the site.

Here is what you have been waiting for.  Let me remind you, these are the selections we made to best fit the needs of our daughter.  What works for your child, may not work for mine and vice versa.

There is one book missing.  Prior to the Route 66 Bible book you see above we read and completed all of the lessons for The Jesus Storybook Bible.  Also missing are her penmanship is below.

The only curriculum I kept from first grade is Horizons math.  When I decided to homeschool her I consulted my experts (my two teacher friends mentioned in part one) and they gave me their opinions on curriculum.  My friend who was/is currently homeschooling gave me great advice on the basics and her reasons why she was choosing those specific curricula.  I did go with her Language Arts at the time but swapped it out once I began to take up the Classical method.  Another requirement I have held to, thus far, is that none of what I use will be Common Core aligned.  We don't even have enough lines here for me to go there.  There are sites available to help you know which ones have aligned and which ones have not.

Below are each of my selections with some thoughts about each one.  If you have further, more specific, questions comment or send me a direct message and I will do my best to answer.

Horizons Math

Olivia is very strong in math.  The problem we had in public school is that they wanted her to do upwards of 10 or more pages on the same concept before moving on.  On top of that, she was supposed to draw circles (Common Core) for simple addition etc. and that was not cutting it for her.  She catches on quick and wants to learn something new.  In my discussions with my teacher turned stay-at-home mom friend, who knows Olivia very well, she said I should look for a spiral math curriculum.  That is how we got to Horizons.  She learns a new concept about every day or so, sees it for a couple of days behind other new concepts, it drops off, and then it will return later down the road for review.  In CC THE math is Saxon.  I have talked it over with my resident CC math expert and she says we are fine and they are quite similar.  So far I am of the opinion, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Spelling Workout

In our first year, I made up the spelling list each week.  We mastered days of the week, months of the year, and all sorts of other fun words I would come up with.  So, I really didn't know what to expect from a spelling curriculum.  This one had good reviews and was recommended by The Well Trained Mind so I went with it.  We were five lessons shy of completing two books in one year at the end of our last school year.  For Olivia, the words were too easy.  So, at times, it seems like busy work to her.  But, the strength in this curriculum is the way they teach the rules of spelling from proper names for letter combinations, phonetic symbols, and early proofreading marks.  I could have never done that for her without guidance.  She will begin Level D in a couple of weeks and it is suggested to try and have that one done by the end of the fourth grade.  We are just starting third grade.  I can happily report the words did seem to make quite a jump in Level D, so I am confident she will feel somewhat challenged.  I will continue to use these for Addison.

More Mudpies to Magnets

Science.  Ah yes.  My children love science.  I, however, do not.  It mostly comes from the fact that I just can't explain it all very well and I don't care.  Of course, I can't tell them that.  So, when we showed up to CC and there were awesome experiments with explanations I let this slide too much.  The fact that I was having to now do the explaining is for another day.  Thankfully I survived.  We did do several projects form this book and all worked beautifully and they did come with the basic information to explain it to a young child.  I would say these are great for a young child who likes to see something really neat but is not too concerned with the ins and outs.  I have remedied this area for this school year.  More on that later.

Writing Strands

I will leave this to Ms. Duffy and the experts to explain how this process works.  I will tell you that Olivia has enjoyed doing these writing exercises and I have enjoyed the process of teaching it to her.  It thoroughly covers each step in the writing process for different types of writing.  It guides the teacher and student through each step, leaving plenty of time to grasp the concept.  I am excited for where this process (there are 7 levels) will take us.  The earliest age is 7, so about second grade.

First Language Lessons for The Well Trained Mind 

This is where the Classical method becomes very evident.  There is no fluff, cute pictures, or fancy strings to pull the child in.  This book is about learning grammar from the ground up.  It is taught through repetition and memorization.  Doesn't it make sense to have a strong foundation in grammar?  In addition to learning all of the basic rules of grammar and complete lists of verbs and prepositions, etc., Olivia also memorized and recited, multiple times throughout the year, 5 poems or rhymes.  It was quite amazing to see her do this.  I really did not believe it to be possible but she loved that challenge.  This is what I see over and over with the Classical method, proof that our children have the capability to learn at a much higher level then we give them credit for.  We just have to create the expectation and they will meet it.  It might not look the same for every child and probably will not, but they all CAN do this.

Route 66 - The Bible Curriculum

Like I stated above, before beginning this one we read and completed the handouts for The Jesus Storybook Bible.  Every child should read that book.  I did not purchase the complete curriculum as it is quite pricey.  But, the handouts worked great.  There were a few times that an answer sheet would have been great though.  I did a little research before I found Route 66.  I really liked that it was intensive in its demand for her to truly use her Bible.  This workbook takes the child on a journey along Route 66, stopping off at all 66 books of the Bible along the way.  Clever, right?  Olivia loved this.  Each stop off includes a set of questions about particular versus in the book you are studying, some type of game (word search, crossword puzzle, etc.) passages to focus on, a key verse, the key people, the purpose of the book, the author, and the time line.  Just make sure you have an adult Bible on hand, as her children's version often did not have the same wording so she had difficulty finding the answer at times.  I would highly recommend this if you are looking to have your child study passages of the Bible.

The Story of the World and The Usborne Book of World History

Let me preface this with the fact that I have never enjoyed learning about history.  My step-father is falling over right now.  But, it is the truth.  So, with that being said, I absolutely LOVE The Story of the World.  I have said so many times that I wish I had been taught history in this manner.  Are you ready for this?  They actually teach history from Creation to Current Time.  I know!  It is told in a story type format that draws you in and truly makes you want to know what happens next.  I will read one excerpt from the small book you see at the top and then turn to the much larger activity book to ask questions from and to pull maps for learning about the story geographically.  Each chapter includes questions and dialogue for you to have with the student, specific points that the student should identify on the provided map, always 5 or more additional books that you can find at your library to enhance the chapter, several hands-on arts and crafts activities to further the story as well.  I am not sure about you, but I never had any of that when I slept sat through history.  The Usborne Book of World History is referenced in each chapter to provide a great visual learning experience for the child.  It is not mandatory, but a great addition.


So, Olivia wanted to learn cursive last year.  It is one of those things I just do, but couldn't even start to think about teaching.  I turned to my trusty CC website and researched there only to realize they offered these books that would teach her for me!  She loved every minute of both books.  She began with letters and drawings in her first book.   The drawings were a learning tool for her hand to practice the movement of the letter she was learning.

The second book focused on transitioning from one letter to another, mostly the harder transition combinations.  I would really like her to continue these books but she did accomplish the task to my satisfaction.  So, for now I will let her rest, but should I see any slipping I will return to these books. 


I thought I would go ahead and let you see the new books we are venturing into this year.  Everything has stayed the same with the exception of the above.  I am truly excited about each one, especially science.  It is going to be a very hands-on experience with lots of projects to reinforce the idea taught.  Latin will be interesting to say the least.  Thankfully we began this in CC last year and there is a CD for pronunciation.  Latin and Southern don't always come out pretty together.  ;)  The top book is for my art lovers.  I can't wait to see what happens when we experience the Monart method!  

Honey For A Child's Heart

I couldn't ever do a post on curriculum and not include this wonderful resource.  Have you ever wondered what the best books out there are?  Which ones are right for which age?  Are you sick and tired of reading My Little Pony, Barbie, and Dora?  Welcome then to the best book since sliced bread.  Ms. Hunt tells you, in depth, which books are the best on the market for each ages 0-14.  I have truly enjoyed every selection we have purchased on her recommendation.  This book was given to our family as a gift from our last church librarian (a "retired" homeschool mom herself) and I could not imagine being without it now!

Where to Purchase Curriculum

I use three main sites to purchase all of our curriculum. 

Classical Conversations 

I typically begin in January evaluating what I have liked and what I want to change or add.  I have found that I need to be prepared to purchase in April.  From everything I have seen that is when the largest discounts are offered, specifically through the site  That is where the large majority of our books come from so the discount can be substantial.  I do subscribe to Amazon Prime so I can order from there any time and often hold those books until I need them and they will be here in two days.  Love, love, love Amazon Prime! 

**Important Stuff - No one I have talked about in this post knows me, pays me, or gives me anything for writing about their product on my blog.  All of these opinions are my own and without influence.  I have included links for your convenience and receive nothing if you make a purchase by clicking through.**

May 2014 - Allye, Olivia, Addison
Learn On,
The Homeschool Mama

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Homeschool Post

 The Homeschool Series - Part 1

So, we are two years into this homeschool gig.  Lots of you have questions about how it all works, what we do, how we do it, and much more.  I thought, with our new school year beginning tomorrow, it would be a good time to get some of your questions answered through a series of posts.  Please know that I am happy to answer anything not answered here if you want to comment below or direct message me.  Here goes.  Let's start with the cuteness.

August 2013


First, if you don't know how our homeschool journey began, then you should start here.  That might help you with some of the things I refer to and talk about now.  I also want to say very strongly that this is my blog, my views, and a representation of me.  Please don't think you have to do something the way I do it, or that my way is the only way, or that I am Supermom.  We are about to get very real with each other.

Laying It Out There

When I made the decision to homeschool Olivia I was under duress (somewhat of a strong word but we will go with it).  I was in a new city, my husband was thousands of miles away, I had an eleven month old baby, and a house still full of packing boxes waiting to be unpacked.  I had meticulously planned and scoped out all of the schooling options for both Olivia and Addison, wavering Olivia into the "best" school.  We experienced a wonderful year of Kindergarten in Texas, so my radar was slightly relaxed for my personality.  This combination did not make for a smooth transition, for any of us, into this new lifestyle. 

The first year of homeschool was VERY hard.  Olivia is a social butterfly and went from being around 20 kids every day, all day long, to the sole student sitting in front of her Type A mother/teacher.  Our main struggles during the first year dealt with her adjustment to not having "friends" around.  I use that term loosely because she was not allowed any time to make a friend except for the short recess outside each day.  No, not even at lunch.  She also struggled during holidays knowing she was missing classroom parties and the extras that are associated with holidays at a school.  There were tears, many of them, in regards to loneliness.  We pulled her out in September of 2012 and the first homeschool field trip, that I could get us to, was scheduled for January 2013.  It was torture (the wait, not the field trip).  I will go further into co-ops and groups later.  That first field trip produced a light in her eyes.  Until that point she felt like the only homeschooled kid in the universe.  Suddenly she was surrounded by thirty or more of them.  There are times she still struggles in this area.  She has more quality time with children her age than she ever did before, but she can not see this yet.  

Perhaps you want to know what the struggles feel like for me?  Here it is.  I love my children more than anything and all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a mom.  Let's just say I have fulfilled that dream...and then some.  In the thought process of pulling Olivia out of school I had grand visions of cute art projects, efficient use of time (no more car line wait...Amen?), a new refreshed and happy daughter, sing-a-longs, etc.  And then reality set in.  I was running one child to preschool three days a week, giving a 12 month old two naps a day, trying to teach my first grader with my 12 month old climbing on God only knew what, a husband still thousands of miles away, laundry that would not stop, dust a mile high, boxes still waiting to be unpacked, dishes that I was too tired to do always waiting in the sink the next morning.  The list goes on and on.  But, in the midst of all of that and the sinking feeling I felt everyday in those first few months I knew one thing.  I knew that my daughter was now loved, growing, healthy, learning, and thriving once again.  So, for all the tears I cried when it was HARD, I was so very thankful that we were able to give this to her.  Keeping it real - there are still days with tears because life gets better not easier.  I am doing my mom job plus my teacher job 24/7.  Obviously we know I have to be a mom 24/7 but this all consuming feeling takes over when you are THE teacher.  Everything turns into a learning opportunity, everything.  I constantly worry if I am teaching her everything she needs to know, am I good enough to do this job, am I smart enough to answer every question she asks.  You have never felt the insecurity you feel when it really sinks in that your precious child's future is truly in your hands.  That is an awesome responsibility. 

Two years in and I will tell you that I struggle most with my own selfishness. There are days I wake up and I do not want to do school.  I want to drop my kids off, swing through the Starbucks, roam the mall for a few hours, have lunch with my husband, and then some quiet reading before my kids get home.  I want to go into the grocery store solo and stare at the cookies without a kid asking for the free one.  I want to sew.  I want to clean my house and see it clean for at least thirty minutes.  Notice what all of these sentences start with?  I do.  And then I feel guilty for wanting those things.  I had two friends that I consulted with before embarking on this journey, both public school teachers, one turned stay at-home-mom and the other was/is homeschooling her daughter.  The latter told me very clearly that I would have to take time for me.  I heard her.  I can honestly tell you I never thought I would really feel that way.  I.was.wrong.  It is in these gut wrenching, I better not have another mishap today and it is only 10 a.m. moments that I turn to two people.  God and my husband.  God has to work on my inside (a lot) and my husband is my "rescuer".  There have been two times I have called him in a twit and he states the very obvious, "Just don't do school today then."  I listened both times.  Other times he walks in the door and I walk out.  The look on my face needs no explanation.  I have gotten much better at seeing when these breaks are needed and I schedule them with him.  At first I thought it should fall on the weekend, but sometimes you just gotta have that Target run on a Thursday.  Amen?  The absolute secret to the success of homeschool, without any doubt, is a support system.  I don't think anyone who does this would tell you different.  If you are thinking of doing this you MUST have a system in place.  If you are married, your husband/wife MUST be on board.  If you are single or working (I have met both) you must have a support system in place.  It will not work without the support because NEWS FLASH: YOU CAN'T DO IT ALL!  Trust me.  I have tried.  It is never pretty on the other side.

Will there be tears?  Yes.  Will you feel inadequate?  Yes.  Will you want to quit?  More then once.  Will you be the recipient of the best pay (unlimited hugs and kisses) anyone has ever gotten for a job?  Yes.  Will you wonder what you were thinking when you decided to do this?  Yes.  Will you rest better knowing what your child is learning from the books and the people they associate with? Yes.  Will you be tired?  YES.  Will they ever learn IT?  Yes.  Will it get ugly sometimes?  Yes.  Will you get laundry done...ever?  No.  Will you feel fulfilled?  Yes.  Will you feel smart enough?  Every day.  Will you be thankful that Starbucks has a drive-thru?  Yes.     

Homeschool Co-ops and Groups

I don't really know what to call this because there are so many forms of homeschool gatherings and they really all do mean something different.  When we first began I joined a local group called GCCHEA.  I chose this group due to its size and information availability in regards to Florida regulations.  I quickly learned that is was so large that there were cells broken down based on where you live.  Now, I could travel and go to other groups, but the idea seemed to be that you would want to know more people living near you.  Made sense.  The problem that I saw was that most people did not participate in the functions that the two leaders created.  I could not understand this.  This avenue was a total bust for us in terms of meeting friends for Olivia.  I was able to make some great acquaintances with a couple turning into friendships based on time we spent in our next endeavor.  Classical Conversations.  Oh how I wish I had that when I first pulled Olivia out.  Homeschool mom/teacher from above told me about this group when we first spoke.  I located a group in the next town over and went to an observation day in March 2013.  We will call it CC from here on out.  I knew, from the moment that they covered the learning philosophy, that this would be perfect for our family.  There is so much to say about CC that I will do a separate post to give my thoughts on this.  I will say this, I have nothing bad to say about this experience.  My children have learned far beyond what I thought was within their capabilities.  I found great women in CC who shared my same values, were open to new friendships, loved my children, encouraged me, and had a passion for their children's education like none I have ever witnessed before.  I can not stress enough that you need to find a group that fits your needs, your child's needs, and is made up of a group of people that are like you.  Don't be afraid to try out groups and quit, like I did.  Most of the time these groups will cost money, so be picky.


That is all for today.  Tomorrow I will talk about what our day looks like and Olivia's schedule.  I will also give you the low-down on our curriculum.  If you have any questions you want me to answer don't forget to post them in the comments section and I will answer all of them in the final post for the series, along with other most asked questions.

August 2013 - Allye (22 months), Olivia (7), Addison (4)

 Learn On,
The Homeschool Mama

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