I received an email yesterday from a friend in another state who is considering home schooling in the fall. I thought her questions and my answers might be of help to some of you, so I post them here for your perusal…take them for what they’re worth…which may be little to nothing. 🙂
Anyway, I’m so glad you asked about homeschooling! I don’t have a ton of experience, but what I have learned you are welcome to! You have ALL great questions here, and I hope you don’t mind that I’ve cut and pasted here to make sure I get everything. Also, I’ll probably have a ton of links here. There is so much info on the Internet!
1- Where do you begin to look for the right curriculum? I’ve heard many home school parents say they just pull from different curriculums. Where do you search out and figure which curriculum to pull from? Where do you purchase items?
Let me say that you don’t have to have this figured out in the preschool year!! It would be a good time for you to research different options and find out what you think will work for your family. I usually approach preschool from a very relaxed point-of-view: I’ll start a bit of phonics here and there (maybe two to three times a week), do some seasonal crafts, work on puzzles and coloring (fine motor skills are important before “real” school begins). Preschool is also a fun time to do little unit studies, and take trips to the fire station, etc. But there is so much that she can pick up from you, just from following you in your everyday routine: counting, letter sounds, right/left, and character traits like diligence, perseverance, and so on. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a fellow homeschooling mom was, “Until they’re five, teach them to OBEY.” That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do anything else up ’til then, but the most important thing, and the thing that will make your life as a homeschooling mom MUCH easier, is teaching them habits of obedience early and often (which I know you are already doing!).
More specifically on curriculum, this is the phonics book I use: The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. Cameron is just now finishing this book, having worked through a little in preschool, more in kindergarten, and now completing it in first grade. Ben is about two-thirds of the way through it (he’s in K). I like it a great deal. The lessons are all pretty short, which helps the child to continue to learn without getting overwhelmed or frustrated. I will probably start Andrew in with it slowly in the fall.
For a baseline curriculum (literature/history/Bible/science/music/art), I use Ambleside Online, which is FREE. If you visit this site, I highly recommend following directions like a good little do-be and going to the “If you’re new here…” page first. There’s a ton of info on Ambleside’s site and it can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with it.
Most of my purchases for curriculum-type stuff come from either Rainbow Resource — they are a homeschooling family business, have great prices, and sometimes have good deals on shipping, though their website is a bit clumsy — or Christian Book Distributors. Many, many of my other purchases for history and literature, because they are “living books,” come from Books-a-Million (where we are members, and the prices usually beat Amazon).
2- I’d love to have a list or guidelines of goals that my children should achieve at each level. Where do I find this? How will I know if they are learning everything they should in a school year?
The most important thing is to make sure that you are obeying the laws for homeschooling in your state (remember to submit to the governing authorities, Romans 13). If you would like to check up on your children’s progress, the most helpful thing is to talk with other HSing moms. Sometimes children’s progress (especially in the early years) can vary so much from public to private to home school, that it’s easy to think, “we’re not doing that! Should we be doing that??!!”. There are also books out there that tell you What Your First Grader Should Know if you’re looking for extra reassurance. But again, everybody’s standards are different.
3- How do you know how much time to spend each day/week on schooling? I remember you saying at the preschool age it was around 20 min. a day? a couple times a day?? then it increased.
The main rule around here is, lessons stay to 20-30 minutes, unless the child is completely captivated by what we’re doing and then I milk it for all its worth. I try to keep school strictly in the morning, because even though Ben and Cameron don’t take naps anymore, they are still mildly fried in the afternoon. Their brains just aren’t wired towards school in that part of the day, and honestly neither is mine. They have outside time and rest time and chores in the afternoon.
So right now school takes about two to two and a half hours per day, four days a week, and Friday is a lighter day when we leave phonics and math behind and do more read-alouds, art, music and outside nature study. So school on Fridays sometimes takes longer than school every other day, but it doesn’t “feel” so much like school. Does that make sense?
4- How do you manage the other children in your home as you are trying to focus on schooling your children who are in school?
This is probably the most common question I get when people learn that I homeschool. And the answer is, “it varies.” Andrew and Jonathan are pretty used to our routine by now, which is lovely. They usually play together either in the room where we are or upstairs in their room.
Early on, I saved school until Jonathan’s morning nap. Andrew usually welcomed the alone time because it was the only time that he could play without interference from big brothers and his baby brother. He had the toys to himself. Some people set up a toy rotation…Monday for duplos, Tuesday for lincoln logs, and so on…so that the toys are always a little bit special and hold the kids’ attention longer. I haven’t found the need to do this (yet).
A couple things to train your little ones in will help you later…one is sitting still and being read to. If I have something to read to the boys for school, I make Andrew and Jonathan sit with us. That way they have a bit of structure to their day (they’re not just doing whatever they want during school), they learn to listen, and it’s another chance for them to develop that all important character trait of self-control! Granted, I will not make them sit for more than twenty minutes or so. Jonathan usually wants to get down by that time, because the books we read from frequently don’t have pictures. But Andrew has gotten to the point where he often chooses to stay and listen. And as we worked our way through Narnia this past time, I was amazed at how much he remembered. His listening skills have really come along.
The second thing I would recommend — and this may not be applicable to you right now, but may be down the road a bit — is using your playpen. When a child is in that nightmarish phase when they can get around at will but they have NO discernment and you have to keep an eye on them all the time, the playpen can be your best friend. BUT you must get them used to it from the earliest part of their life! A year-old child is not going to want to go in to a playpen if they haven’t been trained that it can be a quiet, peaceful place for them to play alone (rather than a prison, which is how most children see it). If you have another baby, I would highly recommend you put him or her in that playpen every day for at least a half hour when they are awake. It may save your sanity. 🙂
5- Do I need to look up anything about my state’s rules and regulations for h.schooling? If so, where do I look for this info?
6- Do I need to some how become official? I saw on your blog that you did this and gave your school a name. How do I make sure that what my kids are doing is valid/accredited?
Again, check out the HSLDA website. It varies from state to state.
Again, thanks for asking! This has been a good exercise for me to think through what we do and why all over again! If you want to know more about our specific approach, just ask. 🙂