In a perfect homeschooling world, we'd always have a couple of uninterrupted hours at the end of the week to gather materials and plan out the upcoming weeks, no one would get sick, December would only be a little bit chaotic, Mom would always get eight hours of sleep, and family crises would just not happen during the school year.
Unfortunately, life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Giving our kids a good education means that sometimes we have to flip on the autopilot switch and homeschool the best we can in the middle of our crazy lives. Here are a few thing that I've found help me educate my kids well during the busiest times of the year.
Have a Routine to Fall Back On
Having a routine means that even when I fall short of sleep because I'm up most of the night with a sick kid or because I'm a bad sleeper, I can fall into the pattern of breakfast, get kids ready for the day, read aloud time, math lessons, then supervise the kids' independent work. A routine saves our homeschool day more often than I care to admit.
My kids have their routines that they fall into, too. My oldest son is so in the habit of narrating what he read in his history and literature readers that even if I am in the middle of cleaning up a big spill, he will be telling me about the Panama Canal while getting me another towel. He knows that he can't check history off his list and move on to the next subject until that part of the lesson is done. Believe me, he doesn't like to be doing a lot of work after lunch, so he is motivated to move forward.
My daughter (age 5) is still learning her schedule but she knows that she has to write something, read something, and do a math activity before she is free to do drag out her art supplies to make yet another messy mixed media collage/drawing/painting/masterpiece. So she will ask to do her math before she asks to do art.
Always Be in the Middle of a Few Longer Books
For a while, a few subjects in our homeschool week were solely dependent on shorter books from the library. This meant that if I didn't reserve my books or couldn't go to the library, we didn't have anything to do for history, art, or science.
While I still depend on the library to round out our curriculum and to add richness to our homeschool day, I am careful to have a few longer books that we are reading aloud at all times.Genevieve Foster's books and the D'Aulaires books are great read for reading aloud to a wide range of ages and they are long enough to last several weeks. My kids all time favorite science book was Birds do the Strangest Things. We would read about one bird a day over the course of a few weeks and they still talk about the crazy birds we read about. Often, I will take a book from theLets-Read-And-Find-Out series, divide it into quarters, and read it over the course of a week.
Currently, during our morning read aloud time, we are always working through a book of the Bible, a history book, a poetry book, and a science book. Even on the craziest days, if I just continue to read a chapter or section of each of those and add in math, give the kids free reading time, and ask each child to write in their journal, we've still covered seven subjects in our homeschool. That's what we call a minimum day!
Map Out Subjects So It's Easy to "Do the Next Thing"
While with some curriculum may be easy to open the book and do the next section, some subjects are a little more difficult to do without a little planning. A math book may need change for a lesson on money or a compass for a geometry lesson. A history lesson may require a trip to the library for a research project. Science labs always require materials. A writing curriculum may have some lessons that take less than 20 minutes while others take close to an hour.
There are many ways to plan ahead, without investing a lot of time. Spending a little time periodically to look ahead to make note of which shorter lessons could be combined and which longer lessons will require extra days is a great practice. Jotting down a list of materials that will be needed for each unit on post it notes at the beginning of the year and sticking them in the book is super helpful.
Technology as a Substitute Teacher
When I was a substitute teacher, I usually had to take students to the computer lab or pop in a movie. When I was a teacher, I usually kept a few VHS tapes in my top right hand drawer for emergencies. As a homeschool teacher, why should I feel guilty about occasionally relying on technology to fill in the gaps in my kids education?
There are enough great documentaries, movie adaptations of literature, websites, and apps out there that in a pinch I can call in a technological substitute teacher to help me through a pinch. ABCya, Duolingo, Xtra Math, Starfall, and Typing.com are a few websites I can count on to fill in the gaps on rough days. As a matter of fact, most of those websites show up on our homeschool on a rotating basis anyway! We just spend more time on them when Mom or the baby is sick. As for apps, we have Stack the States (geography), Zeus vs the Monsters (mythology and math), Moose Math, and Starfall (reading and phonics). I try to record documentaries on Animal Planet for rainy days. I can also pull up an episode of Salsa Spanish for the little ones.
How About You?
How do you homeschool on autopilot?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Linked to Hip Homeschool Moms and FinishingStrong
Studying art history is fairly simple to accomplish during the homeschool day, provided I have done a little prior research and gathering of materials. All of the art that we study comes from the time period in history that we are already studying as a family. Currently, we are studying Ancient Greece, so once a week we study a sculpture, piece of architecture or pottery, mosaic, or building from that time.
Finding Pictures to Use
Before we begin a unit (or a week after, since I'm usually running behind), I start searching for images pertaining to the art of the period of history that we are studying and that I can legally make a print of. Just because something is online and it is easy to download, doesn't mean that it is legal to do so. Always check the copyright first. If a picture is "public domain" or "creative commons", you can download it and make a photo print of it for your own personal use. Creative commons photos have their own requirements that can vary image by image, so be sure to check. Usually, you just need to attribute the creator of the image. (More info on Public Domain and Creative Commons here).
Once I find usable images that I can make prints of, I save them to my computer and then download them to my Costco photo account and order three of each picture, one for each of my children.
How We Do Picture Study
When we do a picture study, we study a single picture at a time. My son (12) and daughter (5) each get a picture to study at the table and my youngest (3) and I head to the couch to quietly talk about our picture together.
Once we we have our pictures, I set the timer and we study our pictures. I ask my youngest about the colors and shapes of the picture. I also ask him what is happening in the picture.
When the the timer runs out we flip the pictures over and then take turns, from youngest to oldest, to retell everything we remember about the picture without peeking. My daughter knows that she has to observe more than her little brother and my oldest has to observe even more. I try to remember something above and beyond what my son retells.
After narrating our observations, I give the title of the artwork, the artist, and the medium used. If there is any vocabulary to learn, we talk about that, too. Since we are already studying the historical time period, I don't usually have to give a lot of "historical background." Occasionally, we discuss what we liked about the picture and why we think the artist made certain choices.
Finally, the kids glue their picture onto a piece of paper and label it with the title of the artwork and artist. The paper goes into their history binder.
Other Ways We Study Art
Occasionally, I will pull out our art supplies and sketchbooks and pass around picture of the week. I let the kids choose the medium of their choice and paint or draw their own version of the art that we are studying. Here is an example of this exercise after the Rio Olympics where we drew the Christ our Redeemer Statue:
The kids each chose to use oil pastels (they usually do) and I used acrylic paint...and then quickly filled in the background with pastels. I helped my youngest by drawing an outline of the statue before they began.
I like this exercise because it combines art history with the actual practice of art. It gets my drawing something they usually wouldn't choose to draw and encourages them to make creative, artistic choices.
Just recently we have been reading The Great Art Treasure Hunt, which is kind of an I spy book with great works of art. My two youngest and I have been going through this book sporadically a couple paintings a day. Even though they think reading it is a big game, they are also being introduced to art concepts at the same time.
How do you study art in your homeschool?
Art Supplies Mentioned in This Post
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!
Linked toHip Homeschool Moms
Classical Academic Press' Writing and Rhetoric Curriculum is, by far, my favorite homeschool curriculum. Since I began homeschooling my son in 4th grade, I have changed our math curriculum, I have changed the structure of our day, and I have changed my approach to teaching science and history, but I have never changed our writing curriculum. Writing and Rhetoric is a cornerstone in my son's education.
6/7/2017 Update: I am searching for resources to help parents and teachers implement Writing and Rhetoric. Scroll to the bottom to see what I've found.
Disclaimer: Writing and Rhetoric has been a curriculum purchase for us for the past three years. I have in no way been compensated for this post. Opinions in this post are solely my own. No one at Classical Academic Press has any idea who I am.
Writing and Rhetoric Lesson Format
Most chapters in each Writing and Rhetoric book follow the same format. Each chapter starts with an introduction and a short literary selection. The literary selections all have a theme, which I like. In book 4 of the series, all of the readings where short biographies of important people from the Middle Ages:
After the reading, students process the reading, either through a narration (written or oral) or an outline. A set of discussion questions follow to encourage students to think deeply about the reading before they are required to write about it.
The next section is titled "Go Deeper" and it is a short section that requires students to look closer at elements of the story such as the vocabulary, themes, or main ideas. The following photos are taken from the teacher's guide. The student text is identical, but without the answers, of course!
In the "Writing Time" section, students do several things. They compete a series of short guided exercise where they practice writing sentences that are more complex than they might come up with on their own. My son likes that some of the writing exercises encourage humor. In later books, they also practice writing main ideas and topic sentences.
The "Writing Time" section culminates in a longer writing assignment. Books 1-3 focus on narrative writing and Books 4 and up focus on essay writing.
I'll be the first to admit that I prefer a read book in my hands over an eBook. That being said, I also take advantage of the many, many free classic eBooks that are available. I like having a couple of books loaded on my phone and tablet at all times, and here is how I use them:
This list of Free classics contains a whole range of titles and genres. While many of the titles are for middle school and up, some are appropriate for young students, too.
Disclaimer: All books were free at the time of publication. Post contains affiliate links.
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
The Complete Works of Jane Austen
Of Plymouth Plantation William Bradford
The Wonderful Wizard of OZ L Frank Baum
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
50 Famous People James Baldwin
Old Greek Stories James Baldwin
50 Famous Stories Retold James Baldwin
Six Centuries of English Poetry Tenneyson to Chaucer James Baldwin
Poems of William Blake
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carrol
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
The Count of Monte Cristo Alexander Dumas
The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Poems of Emily Dickinson
This Side of Paradise F Scott Fitzgerald
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz F Scott Fitzgerald
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button F Scott Fitzgerald
The Beautiful and the Damned F Scott Fitzgerald
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
Dead Souls Nikolai Gogol
Tales of a Traveler Washington Irving
Ulysses James Joyce
The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling
The Call of the Wild Jack London
The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe
The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
Common Sense Thomas Paine
The Republic Plato
Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Includes all 38 plays and and a collection of sonnets)
Walden Henry David Thoreau
Civil Disobedience Henry David Thoreau
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
Pudd'nhead Wilson Mark Twain
The Complete Works of Mark Twain (13 Classic Works)
The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America Vol 1 and Vol 2 Alexis de Tocqueville
The Suppressed Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson
Journey to the Center of the Earth Jules Verne
The War of the Worlds HG Wells
The Sleeper Awakes HG Wells
A Modern Utopia HG Wells
The Time Machine HG Wells
The Picture of Dorain Gray Oscar Wilde
The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman
How do you use eBooks in your homeschool? What are some of your favorite free eBooks?
Linked to: Inspire Me Mondays, Mommy Monday, Literacy Musings, Wise Woman Link-Up, Finishing Strong
For a year, I worked as a substitute teacher but I didn't realize that my humble job would one day be the subject of a New York Times Best Seller. Nicholson Baker worked for a month as a substitute teacher and shared his experiences in his book Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids.
Substitute tells, in detail, Baker's 28 days as a substitute teacher. The minute details of each day, from what the first student in the door said to him to the sound of the passing bell to what he ate for lunch are recorded within l 719 pages. When a day as a substitute has that "Groundhog Day" feel, the kind of sandwich you had for lunch is a pretty significant detail.
There are plenty of statistics about public education out there, and plenty of books out there to throw those statistics at you. However, no statistic tells you what it is like to live through a day in a classroom 20, 30, 50 years after you graduated. If you want to know what it looks, feels, and sounds like to be in a typical public education classroom today, you can't find a better book than statistic-free Substitute.
For most of the book, Baker narrates what happened to him throughout the day: the teacher's note to him, the posters on the wall, his little conversations with the students, the assignments he is required to hand out, who had time out at recess, announcements, what the kids are learning and what is going over their heads. Some of the chapters are tedious, but then again, so is the school day. His writing style matches the experience of being a substitute.
A few weeks into his new job, he has enough data to start forming opinions about the school system though he typically just shows what is happening in the classrooms that he is in to let the readers judge for themselves, occasionally he states his opinion.
The early-release day should have ended right there. In fact, all school days should be early-release days, I thought, eating a peanut butter cracker. Nobody learns a thing after lunch--the cafeteria is an endurance roaring contest. Keep teachers' salaries the same--no, increase them--but cut their hours in half. That should bring in some new blood. And fire the worst of the ed tech and enrichment specialists--the ones who are paid bullies. --Substitute p. 255
I think Baker would likeFinland's schools and their four hour days..
Baker admits often that loves the kids he teaches and recognizes that they are smart and interesting. He's filled with compassion toward the elementary student who states that he's bad at everything and is rightfully concerned about the side-effects of medications that are too liberally prescribed to students.
He acknowledges the challenges of being a teacher gives a nod to those who are doing well. When teachers and staff throw their creativity and intelligence into doing the best they can within a system that is far from perfect, the students benefit. A well run classroom with happy, learning kids is evident even on days the teacher is gone. However, Baker does not gloss over the actions and words of those who should not have so much influence over kids lives.
When it comes to the actual work done in school, Baker shows that the things that work are good literature that is read aloud, time set aside for silent reading, interesting projects, and open ended writing assignments. A lot of what counts as school work doesn't actually work, too. Overly structured writing assignments result in very awkward writing, taking recess time as a consequence doesn't inspire better behavior, and when it comes to worksheets, most students just make sure the blanks are filled in with little attention to quality. He questions teaching strategies like teaching students super technical words at a young age and not helping new writers with spelling.
If Mr. Baker ever gave up his writing gig, he'd probably do pretty well as a public school teacher. After all, even though his ideas for school reform are original and likely to work better than what we currently have, it isn't likely that the Department of Education will to pick him up as an adviser for public education reform:
How easy and pleasant it was to be in a large classroom with one student, or two, or three--even four or five. Above five was when the noise problems began. One grownup can't teach twenty digital-era children without spending a third of the time, or more, scolding and enforcing obedience. What if we cut the defense budget in half, brought the school day down from six hours to two hours, hired a lot of new, well-paid teachers who would otherwise be making cappuccinos, and maxed out the class size at five students? What if the classes happened in parental living rooms, or even in retrofitted school buses that moved like ice cream trucks or bookmobiles from street to street, painted navy blue? Two hours a day for every kids, four of five kids in a class. Ah, but we couldn't do that of course: school isn't actually about efficient teaching, it's about free all-day babysitting while parents work. It has to be inefficient to fill six and a half hours. --Substitute p. 493-4
Substitute is available from Amazon in hardback, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
Linked to: Weekend Blog Party
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. The copy of Substitute that I reviewed came from the library and I was in no way compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.
Nature journaling is something that I wanted to start doing in our homeschool when I first read about it, but we didn't really start keeping nature journals consistently until I realized that being in nature and referencing our field guide as needed wasn't connecting my kids to nature the way I wanted. Read that storyhere.
At first, I considered incorporating nature journals the way I thought that we were supposed to. This involved packing each kid a small, hard backed sketchbook along with pencils, colored pencils or watercolors, field guides, water, snacks, and toys for the three year old. I thought about packing all of these supplies in a backpack and then going for a short nature walk to try out nature journaling for real.
Thinking about it was as far as I got because I knew that no matter how short the walk, I'd be packing in a backpack and then carrying out one or two kids while my oldest grumbled about carrying the backpack back.
Sometimes we walk to the park near our house and observe the native to California trees that were planted there and the birds that live in them. Sometimes we go to a park not to far from our house that borders the river. Sometimes we wait for the weekend and go as a family to the mountains or the ocean.
The only thing we bring along is an Audubon pocket sized field guide to California with a few small post it notes on the inside cover.
When we see identify a new bird or tree or plant, we read about it together and then I mark the spot with a post it, and that is all of the recording that we do when we are out and about. The rest of the time the kids run free and explore. They gather sticks and acorns and feathers and rocks to build tiny worlds with. They play games and look at the clouds. When they get bored, I tell them to go find something interesting from nature and bring it to me or, if they can't carry it, to tell me all about it. Occasionally, we bring home a special leaf, stick, or rock.
At home, we observe nature, too. We have bird feeders to draw the birds down from the heights 30 year old trees in our yard and we know what times they search for seeds and bugs on our lawn. We pay attention to our trees and how they change throughout the season. We keep a garden and go out every day in to see how things are growing. We run out to see the sunset and sunrise. We measure the rainfall.
When we do finally sit down and journal, it is at our kitchen table. Currently, we are journaling about the birds that we are seeing in our yard and around our neighborhood. Many of the birds that we see are winter visitors and a few are year round friends.
My kids have different expectations when they journal. My oldest has to draw the bird, paying close attention to its shape, field marks, and colors. He also has to write about where we have observed the bird and something that he learned reading about it from a field guide.
As you can see, I print off some images of the birds off of All About Birds. My kids prefer that the page stays put, unlike a field guide which tends to close itself.
My girl (age 5) has to draw a picture of the bird, paying attention to the colors and markings. She also has to write the name of the bird.
Can I just say that I am so in love with that red tailed hawk!
Do you nature journal? If you do, I'd love to know what works for you!
This post is a part of a series about how we are applying Charlotte Mason's methods in our homeschool. Click the photo below to read the rest of the series.
It isn't very often that a five-year-old turns to her mom and says:
"If God is... what's the word for no beginning and no end again? ... Eternal. If he is that then what about this?" She then points to the letters BC in a children's history encyclopedia. "This means Before Christ. So how does that work?"
It isn't often that a child make a connection between theology and history and the only reason is that, as a general rule, children are taught neither history nor theology. In the schools, at her age, students are taught about community helpers for social science and in church, they are familiarized with Bible stories, the same ones that faithful parents should be exposing them to anyway.
But, against the unspoken rules, I have included both theology and history in our curriculum for both my five year old and my eleven year old. They learn the same history and they learn the same theology, and each takes what they can from the books we read and the discussions we have.
Now, I wasn't surprised that she made this connection and used a question about history to clarify her understanding of God. She was processing some of the ideas that we had been learning about in school and in life. The week prior, we had read about the eternalness of God in The Ology (Read my review here) and we have just spent nearly six weeks celebrating the birth of Jesus during Advent and the twelve days of Christmas following, so both ideas were fresh in her mind. (I was a little surprised that she had remembered what BC stood for because it had been months since I remember telling her what those two letters meant.)
I should also point out that I wasn't planning on her making this connection either. I know that she absorbs a little of every lesson that is presented to her, but I don't know what little part she's absorbing. She could be absorbing a fact, an idea, a new word, a new way to use the English language, or all of the above. Whenever she connects two dots across subject lines on her own, she is demonstrating her comprehension of what she has learned, but more importantly she makes a little bit of her learning permanently part of her understanding of the world.
The reason that I had introduced my five-year-old to theology in the first place is because I have been putting more and more of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy to the test. Theology and history are a part of the "full and generous curriculum" that I am spreading before my kids as a part of our morning read alouds and as a part of their assigned reading.
Even thought they had never met, Charlotte Mason understood that my daughter is a "born person" who is capable of wrestling with big ideas even though she has just begun the process of learning the skills of reading and writing. Mason's philosophy of education is a strong contrast to our public schools, where the emphasis is working on skill development while subjects like science and history take a back burner until middle school, and theology is, of course, completely absent.
Subjects like theology, history, and literature help young people put words to the interesting things they are seeing, the big emotions they are feeling, and the big thoughts they are thinking. They should be included in every child's life even if it means the mastery of writing and reading comes a little later.
This post is a part of a series I am writing about Charlotte Mason. Read the rest of the series here.
This post was shared with Weekly Wrap Up, Homeschool Blog and Tell, and Homeschool Coffee Break.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.