School Daze: FishMama Style

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Years ago, about twelve to be exact, my husband and I entered uncharted territory: we decided to teach our children at home. While both of us had attended public schools and three of four grandparents were teachers, we decided that we wanted to do this very much “outside the box” kind of thing. We realize that this decision is not for everyone and totally respect someone else’s choice.

But, one thing we do feel strongly about is that parents should have the freedom to make that decision themselves. That, in fact, was what led us to this path in the first place. We saw the education of our children as our responsibility, not the government’s.

When our eldest was still in utero, we thought this out and made the mental leap to “homeschool.” Ever since he was a wee babe, it was in our mind. And so we had the advantage of several years to think, pray, and plan. These books played a big part in forming our philosophies of education.

In those first years it was a little scary, making our kids “guinea pigs.” But, really, in some way or another, parenting is a Great Experiment, no matter your school choice. You don’t know what you’re doing until you’ve done it awhile.

And now with a sixth grader, third grader, first grader and a couple preschoolers, we’re seeing some wonderful fruits of our labor. Our big boys can all read splendidly. They think through things critically. They listen when adults talk and they process what they’ve heard. They are quick to ask questions about things they don’t understand. They remember information about history, literature, and life and they apply it to everyday situations. Best of all, I have great relationships with my children, and they have a beautiful bond amongst them. Overall, it’s been a great thing for our family.

That said, please don’t think that you can’t have those things if you choose a different schooling option than ours. I just know what I do and what I see in my family. Whether the same “experiment” would produce the same results elsewhere, I don’t know. We each need to find our own groove. In other words, this works for me!

Here are some of the tools of my trade that have helped me teach my children at home:

As I mentioned last week, The Well-Trained Mind has been an excellent resource to walk me through the different stages of my children’s development. It offers complete curriculum suggestions that we have enjoyed over the years. We’ve followed their recommendations for most subjects, particularly in science and handwriting.

Saxon Math is a program that we’ve used from the very beginning. It is incremental in its approach in the sense that each concept is reinforced over several weeks, rather than in a couple days. Instead of doing 25 problems on the same concept, the student does a few exercises for each concept that has been covered. I love this since my own math experience was such that if I didn’t “get it” the first time it was taught then I just didn’t get it. This way provides constant practice and review. The K-3 years feature a heavy use of manipulatives which is great for younger students.

Per recommendations in The Well-Trained Mind, we’ve used the primer Phonics Pathways over the years. This is a great beginning reading text. However, I found that my oldest had trouble understanding when to change from short vowel sounds to long vowel sounds. This was highly problematic, resulting in more than a few tears. Once we started using the Spell to Write and Read program and learned all the phonograms, reading started to come together for him. Now, with the younger kids, I’ve used both resources with great success. Not a tear has been shed over learning to read since then.

Spell to Write and Read is a reading program that revolves around learning the 70 basic phonograms. I don’t follow their recommendations to the letter, but have adapted it to fit our family and my teaching style. The kids know the phonograms and use them to sound out new words in reading and spelling. We use STWR mainly for our spelling program.

Lastly, we use Tapestry of Grace as our guide for history, literature, art, writing, and church history. It is a classical, unit-based curriculum that is taking us through the study of the world. It has been fascinating for our family to learn about past times and places. One of the great things about Tapestry of Grace is that each year’s curriculum covers grades K-12. Currently we are studying the founding of the American Colonies. Each child is reading texts about the same topic, but at his own level. This is a boon to large families since Mom doesn’t need to teach history all over the centuries. Our whole family is immersed in one time period, but in an easily-accessible way. They also offer a CD program for dads so they can keep up with what their families are learning.

Have you got a great learning resource? Whether you’ve chosen public or private, I’d love to hear what you use to expand your children’s horizons.

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  1. Saxon Math is what made me want to homeschool! I struggled with math until my mom bought “this new math concept” and made me try it the summer before 7th grade. (I was in public school) I made A’s that year in math, thanks to Saxon and summer “homeschooling”. I definitely intend to use it when my kids are older (I only have one toddler now.)

  2. Get Ready for the Code and the Explode the Code reading/phonics series made teaching my kindergartner how to read a true joy. We started these over the summer and she’s already reading chapter books. I love homeschooling. I think what I love the most about homeschooling is how much time I get to spend with my kid and know her better.

  3. BTW, I was reading your blog long before our decision to homeschool. Thank you for being so candid about your life. I wonder if I hadn’t found others who homeschool (including a great family in our neighborhood) if I would have felt the courage to do it. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for this post. My eight year old is having trouble at school. He has ADD and not to mention his 1st grade teacher was never at school last year. They sent him on to 2nd grade and he just now has caught up to a 1st grade reading level. I’m considering homeschooling, but I’m not sure if I can handle it with my other two little ones at home. I found someone my mother in-law knows who homeschools her kiddos, so I plan to talk to her (like you mentioned). Thanks again, for all your words of wisdom!

  5. Because of your post on The Well Trained Mind..I checked it out from our library..awesome book! I want my own now.

    I have 4 boys that range in age quite a bit 13, 10, 6, 2. I am really torn between Sonlight and or Tapestry. What do you do about you follow the well trained mind and if so what books do you use that it suggest (they seem to suggest a lot).I like the thought of how tapestry would allow all my kids to be on the same page. I would need to do 2 to 3 cores at the sametime with Sonlight eventually. But my kids love Living Books. Hope you get time to share more posts like this..they are helpful to us a rookies!

  6. Our girls are currently in a local Christian school. At the end of each school year, we evaluate how things went. I am a former teacher, so have always been open to homeschooling, but we have been pleased with their Christian school so far. Our girls love to read, so do lots of reading outside of school. Our older daughter takes piano lessons as I feel music is an important part of education as well. I have several friends who homeschool and I admire them, as well as you, for the dedication they have to their families.

  7. Thank you for posts like this. I have a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old. I have been toying with the idea of homeschooling for about 5 years now. There is just so much for me to wrap my brain around that it makes me go nuts! I have read a few library books on how to get started and they got me excited, but also overwhelmed! I have no idea how to get started with finding good curriculum, how to get set up with my state, and so on. I will have to check out the books you suggested. I imagine that you would have to be a fairly disciplined and organized person to get everything done each day. I do not have these gifts, so that makes me a little nervous! I also am wondering if you have any tips on finding your resources frugally as I would be on a tight budget. I am a sucker for all the “fancy” learning tools that are available now, but that could be very expensive. Thanks!

  8. I just want to encourage you in your homeschooling! God uses homeschooling moms in such a unique way. I was homeschooled through all 12 grades, and now have graduated from college and have my own family (a one-year-old and one on the way). Daily I am reminded of how valuable my time at home was and I can’t wait to provide my children with a similar (I hope!) experience. It’s not always easy… but it’s oh so worth it. And now on the other side of the fence, I feel like I can begin to share with my mom the heartfelt appreciation I have for her sacrifice. PS: Saxon math is the best!

  9. I’m not a homeschooling mom, but I’ve thought about it a lot. For us right now, that isn’t the route God is taking us.

    Since I used to be an elementary teacher I was intrigued by the books you use. I did have one thought in looking at them — what do you use for teaching science? Tapestry of Grace sounds great, but it’s all Social Studies.

  10. Unfinished Mom, The Well-Trained Mind offers a complete curriculum outline in the book for every grade and subject. We follow their recs for Science which tend to be large base texts supplemented with experiment and smaller science books.

  11. Excellent post! I too love Saxon math–it has worked for every one of my children so far, in spite of their vastly different learning styles.
    My other fave is Easy Grammar; it has made all the difference for my kids. In fact, they have requested to stick with it again next year (third year in a row)!

  12. I thought you used Sonlight? Do you use these things in addition?