Homeschool School Year 2020-2021

It is so strange to think that this is already our 8th year homeschooling, and yet it is! This year Miranda is in 5th grade, MeiMei is in 4th grade, FangFang is in 1st grade, and Atticus is in kindergarten.

We actually started our school year back in June for a couple reasons. We are continuing to stay home almost all the time, including skipping our pool membership for the summer – it didn’t feel safe for us. But Missouri in the summer is hot and humid and miserable. The kids and I all agreed that we would rather do full time school in the summer and have a more flexible school schedule in the fall when the weather is nicer. Additionally, with me starting grad school this fall, it would be nice to have some of the kids’ schooling already under our belts to give me more room to adjust their school schedule as needed in order to allow me to do my own school work.

Tomorrow we will finish week 8 (out of 36 weeks) of our curriculum, so we’re already into a solid routine as we head into the fall. That was my goal, and I’m feeling so good about accomplishing it!

We’re continuing to use Sonlight for the main pieces of our curriculum, and, as usual, box day was an exciting day at our house. That is, of course, partly because of the boxes themselves!

The little kids are doing Core A this year, learning about world cultures. They’re using Language Arts 1, including the first grade readers, and both are doing Singapore Math 1. We’re also using Handwriting Without Tears, and I’ve just recently started All About Spelling with them. I think they’ll have a good, solid year. They love the stories – Atticus strongly identifies with Benny from the Boxcar Children, and we ordered the sequels to My Father’s Dragon so we could read through all of the books, as everyone wanted to know what happened to Elmer and the dragon next. They are also getting exposure to a wide variety of topics through one of our favorite books, The Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia, and we’re just all generally having a good time learning together.

I’m doing a bit of supplementing for all 4 kids. We’ve done a little bit of Telling God’s Story (which I’m on the fence about). And I’m trying to make sure they are all exposed to history beyond what is mostly centered around white people, so a book we’ve all been reading together is The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World.

The older two girls, of course, have their own curriculum. We are working our way through one of the Sonlight cores about which I was most excited – Core F, Eastern Hemisphere. We started off learning about China and then moved on to learning about North Korea and South Korea, and now we are studying Japan. I love that they are getting so deeply exposed to cultures other than our own at such an early age, and we’re finding so much of the material fascinating. We’ve talked about our visits to China, and we Facetimed with some of our friends who live in Japan and got to hear firsthand about their experiences last week. We’ve already ordered sequels to some of the books to read even more than what Sonlight assigns. I’m also super excited about their Science curriculum this year, which is about Health, Medicine, and Human Anatomy (though I am going to replace some of the materials about sexuality and gender, as we are more progressive than Sonlight is in this area).

MeiMei just started Singapore Math 3A, and Miranda will finish Singapore Math 5A tomorrow and start on 5B next week. Both are continuing to work through All About Spelling – we’re in the middle of level 2, because I slacked off on spelling last year, but I’m hoping we can finish 2 and get through 3 this year. Both girls would be better able to keep up with the flow of their thoughts in writing if spelling came more naturally to them. Both are also continuing to work on learning cursive and on typing. For Language Arts, we’re doing some of the Sonlight Language Arts F program, but I’m supplementing with other materials. I’m finding that since they are on the very young end of the recommended age for Sonlight’s materials, I sometimes need to modify assignments for them, and they could still use more work on the basics (sentence and paragraph structure) than what Sonlight sometimes offers. I talked with them about some options, and we decided together to use these Editor in Chief books, so we are working through those right now.

It is interesting – and so cool – to me that as the kids are getting older, they are expressing more of their own preferences about how they want to learn. This year the older two girls asked if we could do something different for Bible – they didn’t like just reading a passage on their own and reading a passage with me, they wanted to have more of a discussion about it. We decided – at Miranda’s suggestion – that the three of us would all read one chapter a day on our own and write down what stood out to us from that chapter and then discuss it together. That has been one of my favorite parts of our year so far. I love hearing their thoughts and getting to have those discussions with them.

With this being an election year, the older two girls are also going to be working through the US Elections Lapbook.

I’ve been loving our school year so far, and I can’t wait to continue to learn with my crew!

Temporary Homeschooling Tips, Part Two: Schedules

Yesterday I published a post with some general advice for those who may be temporarily homeschooling children due to the coronavirus outbreak. The most frequent question I have gotten since then is about our schedule – how do we organize our day?

First, a disclaimer – we are homeschoolers, but by no means does that mean that we usually spend the entirety of our days at home. All four of our kids usually swim two to three times a week. The big kids and I usually ride horses at least a few times a month. We take “field trips” – we go to the zoo, we go to art shows, we go to the pumpkin farm, we go to parks. FangFang usually has weekly PT, and it feels like we always have a pediatrician or dentist or eye doctor or specialist appointment coming up for someone for some reason! All four kids participate in a homeschool enrichment group 3 mornings a month. Spending more time at home is a change for us, too.

That said, we do have a general routine to our days. Note that a routine is different than a schedule. To me, a schedule is based on specific times, and one of the things I appreciate about homeschooling is that it allows for flexibility and freedom to spend more time than planned on an area that is particularly difficult or especially interesting. Plus, I’m a control freak, and I get stressed out about schedules. Routines work well for us, though!

We divide our academic work into two different categories, loosely called “table school” and “couch school.” Table school is for subjects the kids do at the dining room table but also includes, for the older kids, any subjects on which they do their work independently. Couch school is for subjects we do together on the couch. For the older kids (4th grade and 3rd grade), table school is math, independent reading, and sometimes Language Arts. For the younger kids (kindergarten and pre-k), table school is math and Language Arts.

Each night before I go to bed, I write out assignments for table school for the older two kids for the next morning.

If I’m on top of things, I might get out school books for everyone the night before, as well, but that’s not super frequent 😉 The older kids are quite capable of getting their own materials.

The older kids’ job is to come downstairs when they wake up, get themselves breakfast (or ask for help getting breakfast), and get started on their table school work. I’ve found that they find table school more challenging than couch school – perhaps because they are expected to do more independently – and so it goes better if we start with that. There is no specific wake-up or start time – my kids all usually wake up once they’ve gotten enough sleep, and they just start once they are awake (usually by 8:00 or 8:30, sometimes earlier or later).

After I have breakfast, I start table school with the younger kids.

Everyone gets a break after table school. I would say, on average, we’re all finishing up table school between 10:00 and 10:30, but it can vary pretty widely. What that break looks like depends on the day and whether everyone is ready for a break at the same time or whether the big kids and little kids are finishing up their work at very different times. Regardless, each kiddo definitely gets a break, though I may stay busy working with one group and then the next. Sometimes that break is just free play time. Sometimes we all go for a walk. Now that we’ll no longer have swimming as part of our regular weekly activities, we will need to be sure we’re getting enough physical activity, so I’m hoping we can go for walks more frequently. Otherwise, we might play outside or do some Cosmic Kids Yoga, or I may put together some more active work-out type activities to do with everyone.

What we do next depends on the time. Often times we can move on to couch school, but sometimes we need to break for lunch at that point.

Couch school subjects are always History, Science, and Bible. For the little kids, we also do Literature and Reading as couch school subjects; for the older kids, Language Arts is sometimes a couch school subject, depending on what we need to do that day. Whether the big kids or little kids do their couch school subjects first depends on who finished table school first that day. Usually I sit together with each group on the couch, and we read each of our books and discuss them. Often times the big kids will join us for the little kids’ books – I’m reading the same books with the little kids that I read with the big kids 5 years ago, so those stories feel like old friends to them!

After we’ve finished lunch and our couch school subjects, we do some clean-up. In particular, the common areas of the house (the living room and dining room) need to be picked up. Sometimes I’ll also have kids work on cleaning their own rooms or doing their family teamwork jobs (things like sweeping, unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, etc).

Then we have our afternoon downtime. Sometimes we’ll all have independent quiet time in separate rooms. Sometimes we’ll all sit in the living room for half an hour and read our own books. After that, almost every day, the kids are allowed to watch 1-2 hours of tv while I work. I have a very flexible part-time job, and I try to get in at least an hour of work each afternoon.

What happens after that really depends on the timing. Sometimes we’ll transition straight from that downtime into dinner prep. Sometimes there will be time for a fun activity together. This is another window into which I’m hoping to fit some free play and time outdoors and exercise.

We all have dinner together as a family, during which we go around the table, and each person shares their high of the day, their low of the day, their buffalo (something strange or interesting), something kind they did that day, and something they’re looking forward to.

After dinner we might do a family activity, or the kids might all play independently. Every child also needs to finish any family teamwork jobs that they did not do earlier in the day. Atticus really likes to play Wii or Xbox, and this is the only window of the day in which we allow that, and sometimes MeiMei or FangFang will play with him.

Around 8:00 Matt puts the little kids to bed, and between 8:30 and 8:45, the big kids and I head upstairs for their bedtime routine. After they’re ready for bed, they snuggle with me in my bed, and that’s when I do Literature with them, reading to them as bedtime stories.

The routine is subject to adjustment, as needed, but it’s the general structure we follow for each of our days! As always, feel free to ask questions and let us know if I can help in any way 🙂

Some Tips for the Temporarily Homeschooling

We, like most Americans, are wondering what the coming days and weeks hold, as we wait on the brink of the coronavirus spreading more widely within the States. Three of the six members of our household have medical conditions that could complicate our prognosis in the event that we were to contract the virus, and we also find the argument for flattening the curve to be highly persuasive, so, when possible, we have started limiting our interactions with those outside of our household.

We, of course, already homeschool, but a number of families may be facing unexpected days or weeks of children being home from school. I posted on Facebook that I would be happy to give suggestions and/or resources to anyone who will unexpectedly have children home for some period of time, and I received a number of comments and messages requesting advice, so I’m sharing here some general suggestions.

First of all, I don’t think that any unexpected time away from a school setting has to be spent 100% focused on academics. This can be a great time to build relationships and just enjoy spending time together as a family. Additionally, there are so many fun ways to learn.

My older girls practice math skills by playing games (some favorites are Yahtzee and Masterpiece)…

…and baking (an activity we are hoping to resume soon – but one of the tasks on our list for today is to order a new range, as our oven died last week!). My oldest likes to make up her own recipes, which used to cause me a lot of stress…until I realized that even if the result was terrible, the worst consequence would be that I was out a couple dollars worth of ingredients. She would have had a great time and had the opportunity to explore an area in which she is interested.

Art projects are another great option for fun learning!

But also, I recognize that many families will want to continue some more formal academic pursuits for their children, and I think there is wisdom in that.

For the pre-school crowd, kids truly learn best through play, so my suggestions would be pretty simple – have some good toys available (puzzles, blocks, magna tiles, art supplies, play dough, railroad tracks), and avail yourself of those, in addition to reading to your children. Reading aloud is truly the most academic that I would get with young children. Many kids do best with some structure, so it might be helpful to create some sort of routine that will work well for your family, but it is simply not necessary to have a very detailed schedule focused heavily around academics.

For children in early elementary school, much of what they learn does not rely on prior knowledge – it doesn’t build on itself in a way that is entirely necessary. The same social studies or science concept can just as easily be taught to a 6-year-old as to an 8-year-old and vice versa. Kids can learn about plants, animals, chemistry, and space in any order at all. And I can think of no essential concept in those areas that is going to be taught to an early elementary school student and never revisited. That means that unless your school gives you specific guidance, it is not of paramount importance to study any particular concepts in an exact order. Doing some study of science, history, and social studies would be lovely, but really any area of interest of yours or your children’s would be a great focal point.

Beyond those generalities, if I were going to be temporarily homeschooling my children, I would focus my attention on 3 areas –

(1) Reading. I’d figure out where my child was at with reading and continue working with them to build their skills in those areas. You probably have a number of resources in your home already that will allow you to do that. If you’re wondering what a sample reading program might look like, we’ve used Sonlight’s programs for years. You can check out their offerings here (we’ve used every program listed here from Kindergarten through the E Readers). Obviously you will not need a full year’s program, but looking at these books can give you an idea of what sort of books you might already have at home that you could use in working with your child on reading. For kids who can do some independent reading, those with Kindle Freetime Unlimited have access to huge numbers of free books on e-readers. The Epic app is also a great resource for e-books for kids.

(2) Math. This is another area in which skills do build on one another, and it is helpful if your child continues to learn and grow. Ideally, you could figure out what curriculum your child is using and where they are with it and work with them there, but even doing some workbooks at your child’s general level or reviewing math facts could be helpful. The math app that we find most helpful for our older two kids is Xtra Math – it’s a game that helps kids build their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. It learns which facts your children need to practice most and works with them on those.

(3) Reading out loud to your child. Children, especially at young ages, can comprehend so much more than they can read themselves. They learn so much by having their adults read to them. You can read literature or non-fiction science or history books or any mix thereof. Reading with children is a great way to bond, to share experiences, to have great discussions, and to learn together. Our times curling up on the couch or snuggling in bed and reading together are some of the highlights of my kids’ and my days. My older two kids and I recently read through the Harry Potter series, and it was such a joy for all of us to share that experience together. You can also use those times of reading aloud to teach your children about history or science. Our core curriculum is from Sonlight, and many of their read-aloud packages include some great historical fiction that truly brings history alive in a different way than textbook reading does. We’ve read books like the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Caddie Woodlawn, Johnny Tremain, and The Witch at Blackbird Pond, among many others. My kids have also greatly enjoyed reading books about science (Sonlight packages here) – books about space, animals, plants, how things work, and much more. You may already have a lot of these books or others that are similar in your home, or you could consider ordering a few that look interesting to you and your children.

You could also do some writing – practicing handwriting or just having kids copy out a sentence or two of good writing – to keep kids learning in those areas, but my top three areas of focus would be what I’ve listed above. If you’re a more fun mom than I am, doing science experiments together could also be a great option for learning!

For older children, I’d try to find some creative and fun ways to challenge them to grow while also keeping them engaged and interested. For instance, even children as young as 8 or 9 can do research projects – MeiMei and Miranda both wrote research papers last year about animals (MeiMei’s was on hummingbirds and Miranda’s was about cats). This year they each tackled a different science topic, with MeiMei learning about how sharks’ gills work and Miranda focusing on the planet of Mars. We’re about to dive into a project in which they each research and write a report about a state. Obviously older children would be capable of learning about even more complex topics or delving into them in more detail in a report or presentation.

Students might also read and learn and think and perhaps write about historical or philosophical topics – comparing and contrasting the Jesus of the Bible with To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch and/or Atlas Shrugged’s John Galt. There is more than enough classic literature to reach well beyond what any middle school or high school curriculum can include fully, and this would be a great time for students to check out some of the books on Sonlight’s readers lists or google a list like, “100 books to read before college.” Reading and discussing books like these would be a great learning experience.

This spring would be an excellent opportunity for students of any age to learn about the election process in the United States, following primary voting, learning about any current issues that interest them, or researching the history of suffrage in the United States. Sonlight has a free downloadable unit study or a US elections lapbook kit.

This time, facing the unknowns of a global pandemic, can obviously be stressful. However, it can also provide a beautiful opportunity for us to spend time together as families, and there are so many ways in which we can nurture our children’s minds even outside of school settings and large group gatherings.

Please let me know if you have additional questions or if there are other ways I can help! And if you’re local and would like to borrow some resources from our homeschool library, we would be happy to loan out whatever we can!

Homeschool School Year 2018-2019 (The Bigs)

This school year (Miranda’s 3rd grade year, MeiMei’s 2nd grade year) was one of learning and growth for all of us. We had a lot of “firsts.”

For one thing, this was the first year that the littles were officially doing school, and though their schooling was pretty light, it still introduced another element to our days. I’ll give the littles’ school year its own blog post soon!

Another new aspect of our school year this year was that everyone participated in a local homeschool enrichment group one morning a week, which was exactly what I’d hoped it would be! The kids did some academic learning, but more than that, they gained some additional opportunities for social learning. They needed to be able to learn from adults who were not me, walk in a line, raise their hands to speak in class – all valuable skills but all difficult to impart from home 😉 They also got to do some partner and group projects and even put on a play. I’m so thankful that they had those opportunities to learn in a different context this year!

My narrator…

…and my little beaver.

Beyond that, they just seemed to grow up so much this year. This is the first year for which their independent readers were chapter books whose content generally corresponded to the history learning we were all doing together through books I read to them. They actually each wrote their first research paper, complete with notecards and a bibliography!

There was also a fun new development, though – they loved using the Sonlight lapbooks with crafts and other projects corresponding to what we were learning! We still have a few projects to finish this summer, but this was a favorite for both girls.

Here are the girls with the stacks of school books we read this year!

I love hearing their reflections about their learning – and looking back on those later! – so I’m recording some of their thoughts here.

Favorite school book Mom read to you this year:
– Miranda: Biology Level I and The Landmark History of the American People: From Plymouth to the West
– MeiMei: Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body and Johnny Tremain and The Very First Americans and If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution

Favorite school book you read on your own this year:
– Miranda: Om-kas-toe and The Courage of Sarah Noble and The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and Naya Nuki
– MeiMei: And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? and Phoebe the Spy and Stone Fox and Sarah Whitcher’s Story

Favorite subject this year:
– Miranda: History
– MeiMei: Science

This was a great year – I really enjoyed learning about American History with the girls, and I can’t wait to continue our studies during this upcoming year!

What I’m Reading

It’s an icy, wintry day here in Missouri – perfect for curling up on the couch and reading!

I’m actually working my way through a large number of books right now – this is the stack of books in which I’m currently spending my reading time.

One thing I’ve loved over the past years has been building relationships via book discussions. One Thanksgiving, our whole family read and talked about a book. Matt and I have read books together for years. And I’ve loved talking about books with friends – and it is one of the great joys of motherhood for me that my children also love reading and discussing books.

I ordered Mary Oliver’s Devotions for Christmas, and Matt and I have been reading through it together. Her poetry is challenging and inspires contemplation but is also a peaceful resting place for my soul. We’re also reading All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung, a memoir by an Asian-American adoptee, and we’re finding ourselves encouraged to think about what it means to raise our children, particularly our Asian-American daughters, well.

My mom gave Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson, to Miranda for Christmas, and the older girls and I have started reading through it together as our bedtime reading book. Already it has prompted some interesting conversations about friendship, immigration policy, and intelligence.

Madeleine CaiQun received the first five books of the Wings of Fire series from my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas, and both she and Miranda are devouring them. They love them so much that they pleaded with me to read them, too, so I’ve been spending time in the world of Pyrrhia, reading about dragons and their adventures! I’m only on book two so far (Miranda is in book four, and Madeleine CaiQun is reading book seven), but they’re an enjoyable light read. The girls are delighted to have me participating in this reading with them, and I so enjoy that they want to bond with me over our shared experience of books.

My friend Courtney and I are currently reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, a fascinating and thought-provoking story interspersed with philosophical observations. It’s been the springboard for some interesting conversations!

And though these books I’m reading with others are absorbing most of my reading time, I’m also slowly making my way through Suffering and the Heart of God, by Diane Langberg. The question of how an all-sovereign, all-good God co-exists with a world filled with tremendous suffering has long been one with which I’ve wrestled, and I’m appreciating this book’s insights, as well as its counsel on how to love those who are suffering.

I’m enjoying these books – but also looking forward to what I can dive into next! Here are a few of the books currently waiting on my bedside table – gifts from my mom and my friend Marisa and my brother David.

And if anyone else has any great book recommendations – I’d love to have them! I’m always looking for more good reading material.