We’re just past the halfway mark in our homeschool year and it’s been far too long since my last blog post. I thought I would share how our year is going so far–the resources we are using, what’s working and what’s not, what we’ve set aside for the moment, and what our daily and weekly rhythm is looking like right now.
Our Current Rhythm
Right now, we homeschool Monday through Friday and take weekends off. We do language arts and math almost every day, science two or three times a week, history one or two times a week, and use one day for nature outings, field trips, or hands-on activities outside of our curricula.
My oldest has been ready to start her day about half an hour before my youngest lately, so I usually sit down with her first to do language arts. I begin with anything she needs my help or guidance to complete. By the time my youngest joins us, my oldest is finishing up language arts on her own, and moves on to independent reading while I work with my youngest on language arts.
After I finish language arts with my youngest, my oldest reads a little to my youngest while I get everything ready to move on to math. My oldest takes a break at this point–usually to play outdoors–and I do math with my youngest first. When she’s finished, she gets a chance to take a break and then I do math with my oldest. Once we wrap up math, everyone takes a recess for about half an hour. This really helps them to stay fresh and not burn out before our “main lesson” of the day (science or history, most days.)
After recess and a snack, we all do our “main lesson” together. Sometimes this is science, sometimes it’s history, and sometimes it’s other fun things, like their Kiwi / Doodle crates or little units we’re throwing in, or interest-led projects, or field trips and outings. Sometimes we’ll call it a day after LA and math because life during a global pandemic can be exhausting and that’s all we’ve got in our tanks for that day.
This is our rhythm. It’s not a strict schedule by any means. The length of the lessons vary day-to-day but I usually cut math off around the 30 minute mark, whether or not we’ve finished the day’s lesson. If we don’t finish it, we just pick it up the next day where we left off. And I keep the main lesson to around an hour max, unless we’re watching a documentary in addition to the lesson. On days when we seem especially tired or distracted, I don’t fight it. We keep it short and sweet, stick to the basics (math and LA), and call it early if we need to, so we can recharge with rest or fresh air or whatever it is we’re needing. On days when they’re really into it and want to go deeper, we do. It’s definitely a season of ebb and flow, and learning to listen in to our bodies and our hearts.
Alright, let’s take a look at what we’re using for curricula and resources this year!
Language Arts and Reading
First Grade: Brice is using Blossom and Root Year 1 Language Arts, The Stories We Tell, as her main language arts and reading curriculum. We’ve read many nature stories and fairytales together this year already, and are about to transition into folk tales from around the world. Because Brice is a very visual learner, I’ve been using picture book versions for all of the fairytales, and we often watch a movie version of it at the end of the week.
Her narrations are far more elaborate if she is allowed to “act out” the story with peg dolls, so I usually let her set up a “stage” and she chooses peg dolls for each character. (We occasionally make new ones for a favorite story.) She tells the story as she moves them around and I write down her narration. If we’re pressed for time, I usually just ask her to tell me her favorite part of the story and I write that down instead. We do not do the copywork at this point in time–we use a handwriting notebook instead (more on that in a bit.)
In addition to The Stories We Tell, Brice uses All About Reading Level 1 to help her with confidence and fluency. Unlike her older sister, who never needed any supplementation for reading, Brice really benefits from the reinforcement AAR provides. We don’t do everything–I skip activities that seem unnecessary, and we often shorten the “word list” review sheets. Her favorite parts, which we never skip, are the stories from the readers. She usually reads each story twice in two days–first to me and then to her dad. When she gets through an entire reader, she gets to keep it and she treasures it! She asks to read to me from her completed reader almost every night. We do about one to one-and-a-half lessons from AAR per week. We began back in April at the tail end of her kindergarten year. This is a really manageable pace for us.
Finally, Brice has a handwriting notebook. It’s just a simple creative story tablet (click here to see what we use.) We started with one letter per day (upper and lower case) and moved on to words and sometimes sentences after that. Right now, she likes to tell me what she wants to write and I’ll write the words with a highlighter. She copies what I wrote first, then she writes it in her best printing, herself. We keep this pretty short, and she likes to spend a lot of time on her drawing (which also helps to strengthen her writing grip, so I encourage it.) Her handwriting and her grip strength have really improved so much, already, from the beginning of the year.
Third Grade: Blake is using Blossom and Root Year 3 Language Arts, Curiosity and Courage, as her main language arts and reading curriculum. So far, we’ve read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and several books on William Shakespeare and the Globe theatre), Wonder, and El Deafo. We’re now reading My Side of the Mountain. Blake loves language arts and creative projects, so I try to make time for her to do each optional activity and any deep-dives she’s interested in. She especially loved making a “diorama scene” from Alice in Wonderland, making “synonym buns” for a Phantom Tollbooth party, and got hooked on Shakespeare stories during A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I purchased A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories by Angela McAllister as a gift for her, and it’s become a constant companion.
Blake has transitioned into writing most of her own journal entries and narrations this year. She loves the vocabulary page each week and always (always) makes up some wild comic about our dog, Ringo, using the provided vocabulary words. We occasionally throw in a Mad Libs page or two, to enhance the gentle grammar work in each week’s copywork lesson, and we used some supplements from The Moffat Girls on Teachers Pay Teachers to explore homophones and synonyms more during The Phantom Tollbooth (click here for synonyms and here for homophones!)
We started cursive in earnest toward the end of Blake’s second grade year, and have focused on it a lot this year. Blake really enjoys learning cursive and finds it much easier on her hands than regular printing. We started off using a “cursive ABC” resource from Teachers Pay Teachers (click here to see it) and, once we finished that, we started working from a notebook I ordered online (click here to see that one.) She does 2 pages most days, while I work with Brice. She loves listening to audiobooks while she works on her cursive, and we’ve managed to squeeze in a lot of extra literature because of that. She’s already flown through two entire American Girls series and The Penderwicks series, and The Wild Robot during cursive work. To say we like audiobooks in this house would be a gross understatement.
Blake usually works from an additional spelling resource most days, too. We use Evan Moor’s Building Spelling Skills for third grade. (Click here to see it.) She actually really enjoys the “puzzle” feel of many of the exercises, and we’ve found this to be a good fit for her. It’s low-key, simple to use, and only requires 5 to 10 minutes per day, most days. She does this independently, except on the last day of the week, when I test her, so I use this time (and the time when she’s working on cursive) to work with Brice.
Finally, Blake does at least an hour of independent reading most days (often more.) We recently discovered that she loves reading to Brice, so a good chunk of her independent reading time is spent reading out loud to her. She also loves to read in bed, and I absolutely count that time toward her daily total. We don’t keep reading logs or anything like that for independent reading.
I had purchased Brave Writer’s Partnership in Writing program to use with Blake casually over third grade through fifth grade years, but we haven’t cracked it open yet–she’s had lots of ideas for her own stories and projects so I’ve just been letting her follow her inspiration instead. It’s nice to know that it’s there to use in the future, but we haven’t needed it yet.
Both of my girls use Right Start Math as their main math curriculum this year. Blake is a little over halfway through Level C and Brice is a little over halfway through Level B. This program is such a good fit for both of them. It relies on a lot of manipulatives to introduce foundations, which resonates well with them as they’re both hands-on learners. And the best part is that much of the practice is done through games, rather than tons of worksheets. The lessons can be short, taking five to ten minutes, or longer. Some lessons take us multiple days to complete. We generally cut things off around 30 minutes for the day. This is a pretty teacher-intensive program, so it wouldn’t be a great fit for families that want more independent work for their child, but it’s a really high-quality program and we’re enjoying it so much.
We also use Wild Math, typically two to three times per week. I usually just look for activities that line up with what we’re doing in Right Start, and we do them when we have outside play or go on a hike or outing. These are usually really short activities, five to ten minutes max. During warmer months, when we do a lot of our homeschooling outdoors, we tend to do more from Wild Math, as it’s easier to take outside than Right Start.
Finally, we play math games at least once a week. Favorite go-tos are Clumsy Thief, Clumsy Thief Jr., Clumsy Thief in the Candy Shop, Race to Planet X, and Sums in Space. We also love the Yahtzee variations in Wild Math.
Both girls are doing Blossom and Root Year 3 science, Wonders of the Animal Kingdom. We are really taking our time with it, and adding in a lot of books and videos. Typically, we spend 1 – 3 weeks on each wonder. We spent over a month just on the insects and myriapod wonder. I’m not in any rush to go faster, as they’re really enjoying themselves and learning a lot.
In the student notebooks, I usually write down Brice’s narration for her (and she draws a picture) and Blake writes her own narration. A few weeks ago, she asked to type her narration up for the first time, and I was shocked by how long she went on. She told me she likes typing more, because she can fit more into her narration without her hand getting tired. I’m all for it, and will encourage that as an option for the remaining wonders. I also use the notebooks a bit like a scrapbook, and staple or tape in pictures of the activities we do together and the models they make.
We also did half of the Wonders of the Prehistoric World extension over the summer (up to the end of the Cretaceous) and will do the other half over next summer. And I should mention that we skipped wonders 1 – 3 in the Animal Kingdom at the beginning of the year and will circle back to them at the end of the school year. Because we’d talked about evolution and the history of life so much over the summer, we were ready to jump right into sponges, cnidarians, and echinoderms. I plan to use wonders 1 – 3 as review as we finish out the year.
Blake has been using A River of Voices: The History of the United States, Vol. 1 as her main history curriculum this year. We covered parts one and two during the first semester. Some lessons take only a day or two while we spent weeks on others. Her favorite units have been on Indigenous people of the northeast and southeast, Fort Mose, and daily life in and around the early colonies.
We are taking a brief pause during January and part of February to explore medieval Europe, because she’s been really curious about it, and has asked to do a rabbit-trail on it. I’m kind of piecing things together for that unit, and will share a post about what we used when we finish it up next month. I did purchase Curiosity Chronicles Snapshots of Medieval History over the summer, but I don’t think we’ll use it for this little rabbit trail. I think I’ll actually save it to use with Blake and Brice together in the next year or two instead, when Brice is ready to dive into history herself (and we’ll start with Snapshots of Ancient History first.)
Once our “medieval Europe” rabbit trail ends, we’ll be hopping into a concentrated unit on the revolutionary war with A River of Voices Vol. 1.
Brice participates in the history activities from time to time, but she’s not listening to all of the readings or watching all of the videos with Blake. She does enjoy the hands-on activities we do in A River of Voices and usually jumps in with us for those. Unlike Blake, she doesn’t have a history notebook and I don’t require narration or anything like that from her at this point. I probably won’t do a complete history curriculum with her until the second half of the second grade year.
This month, we’ve also added in several resources for Black History Month. We have all been learning a lot from the “History of Black History Month” pack from Read Like a Rockstar and Education with an Apron (click here for that link.) We’ve also selected Florence Price as our composer for the month, and have been looking at artwork by Alma Thomas and Faith Ringgold on our Friday “arts” days. (More on that in a bit.)
We seem to have a tidal approach to French this year. Some weeks, we do a lot. Other weeks, we don’t do any. I use a number of resources, including the Phrases Fanastiques bundle from Maternelle avec Mme. Andrea on Teachers Pay Teachers (click here for link.) This is a great resource, and we use it to build sentences and learn vocabulary. It also comes with wonderful little readers, which we sometimes incorporate (but not always.) It’s a resource we will use for years.
We also read from the Language Together readers by Germaine Choe (click here for link.) These are wonderful, and the girls love them! We don’t have a formal plan here. I’ll choose one and read it to them for a few days, and then I start leaving out words for them to call out, and eventually they take over reading it to me.
We have some new French “pen-pals” this year that we met through Instagram. We’ve really enjoyed sending videos back and forth to each other! Finally, we use the French workbook from Our Kiwi Homeschool. This ties in beautifully with a lot of the vocabulary we cover with the other two resources, and it’s easy to flip around to the relevant pages as we go along. At our leisurely pace, we’ll probably finish it in a year or two. (Click here for the link.)
Art, Music, and Nature Study
Welcome to the part of the year that has been dialed back temporarily. I don’t know about you, but my energy is a precious commodity these days with everything going on in the world, and I’ve had to make some adjustments accordingly. Art, music, and nature study are still a really important part of our homeschool, but we haven’t been using a curriculum (not even my own) for them for most of the year so far. This is actually not all that unusual for us. I’ve found we like saving the nature study curriculum for spring and summer most years, starting around March and wrapping up by the start of the new school year.
I like to set up “free art” time on Fridays–setting out clay or watercolor painting supplies or construction paper, glue, and scissors. And we listen to lots of different music while we create. Right now, we are loving the concert series on the Castle of Our Skins YouTube channel. (Click here for the link.)
So Fridays have become “free creativity” time for now, and we cover art and music in a very casual way. We will pick our Blossom and Root art curriculum back up, and some of our favorite music curriculum resources, when the time is right. But right now, this is the balance we’re needing.
Similarly, nature study has been quite free-form this year. While we’ve been working on the bird book project from Blossom and Root Year 3 nature study, we haven’t done many of the other prompts yet. Usually, when we head outdoors right now, we’ve let inspiration be our guide. We go on hikes, we take pictures of interesting things we see and then look them up when we get home. We have picnics. We play. For now, I’ve given us permission to just enjoy our outside time without any agenda.
We have joined the Kids Moon Club this year and we are loving it! There are so many great activities and resources included in our membership, but we’re definitely taking a minimalist approach at the moment. Last month was our first month, and we read some of the books from the list, did a coloring sheet, and did a full moon walk on the night of the wolf moon. Even with the minimalist approach, we got so much out of it and the girls loved it! It’s really fun to approach nature study from a “nighttime” point of view. (Click here to learn more about the Kids Moon Club.)
I feel like we’ve settled into a good flow for the year, but I have to keep my aspirations in check, week-by-week. I keep over-planning what I “hope” we will do, and end up realizing (almost every week) that this year is all about quality over quantity. How has your year been going so far?
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