Back in August, I shared a post outlining our plans for homeschooling Kindergarten with Charleston this year. Now that we are a few months into the school year and have settled into our routine, I wanted to follow up with an update on how things are going, an outline of what a typical day of homeschool looks like for us, answers to some questions I’ve received, and some thoughts on the curriculum we are using.
Let me start off by saying how thrilled I have been with our decision to homeschool. Despite some initial hesitance regarding our schooling plans, this choice has proven to be such a wonderful experience and one that has been repeatedly validated for me over the past couple of months. Not only do I feel it has been in Charleston’s best interest, but selfishly I love that I am getting to put my education training and experience to use—something that has been even more rewarding than I could have imagined. (I’ve taught many children to read, but seeing my own child read for the first time . . . there simply aren’t words to describe the marvelousness of that moment.)
I am rarely confident in my parenting choices, so I am thankful for this sense of peace regarding this significant decision. And in a year when many families have had to settle for non-ideal schooling options, I feel especially grateful that our family’s preferred educational route has worked so well for us. That’s not to say that every day is perfect (Charleston and I both have moments of great frustration) or that we are committing to home school for the remainder of our kids’ time in school, but for this year and this child, it truly has been a fantastic fit.
So what does a day of homeschool look like for us? We begin the day a little after 9:00 (or whatever time we wrap up breakfast and morning routines) with a leisurely walk through the neighborhood. I push the stroller and Charleston usually walks alongside me, though he sometimes opts to ride his scooter or tricycle instead. We talk during our walk and sometimes play word games or practice his letters, spelling, or math facts. Occasionally Charleston deems that day’s walk a Nature Hike: he dons his camping vest and brings along a bag to collect leaves, flowers, and other items we come across.
We get home before 10:00, and I put the twins down for a nap while Charleston pulls out our school supplies from the homeschool cubby of our playroom storage unit. Once the twins are down I join him at the small table in the playroom, where we start our official school day with the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. (I had expected it to take Charleston all year to learn this, but he had it memorized within a couple of weeks!) We then say a prayer, asking God for patience and focus as we settle into our school work. The final component of our morning routine is calendar (using this magnetic Melissa and Doug calendar).
Our first subject of the day is Spelling, which requires the most focus and takes us the longest. We are using the All About Spelling (Level 1) curriculum and the verdict is still out on how I feel about it. The program is very involved, with a lot of charts and manipulatives that are excessive and occasionally overwhelming. (I’m still working out what parts of the program we will use and which we are comfortable skipping.) I’ve also been baffled by the uneven pacing: some lessons take us weeks to work through, while others are mastered in a single day. Despite the tediousness of the lessons, I do like the sequence of instruction and the comprehensiveness of the program, and I’ve been pleased with Charleston’s progress: within a few weeks, he had mastered phonograms and the skill of segmenting (taught through flashcards) and we have now moved on to building three-letter words using the alphabet magnets included in the curriculum. We keep these letter tiles on our Spelling Cookie Sheet, making it easy to pull them out when we’re using them and then tuck them out of the twins’ reach the rest of the time.
After spelling instruction comes Reading. I am using this book, recommended by a fellow homeschool mom from our gym, and it is far and away my favorite part of our curriculum. The book lives up to its promise of teaching kids to read in fun, easy-to-follow lessons that take less than twenty minutes each day. I was amazed how quickly Charleston progressed from pre-reading skills like rhyming and sound recognition to reading full paragraphs. This book wouldn’t work well for a group setting, but it’s been fantastic one-on-one. And I LOVE how simple it is, requiring no extra materials, complicated directions, or even additional prep work from me.
After reading we tackle penmanship via the Handwriting Without Tears Kindergarten curriculum, which receives my full endorsement! I love that the curriculum incorporates a lot of extra activities, songs, and games to make handwriting fun—perfect for reluctant students. Often, though, the lessons are much more involved than we need them to be, so I mostly just have Charleston do a page or two of the student workbook while I supervise (i.e., make sure he doesn’t get too sloppy with his letters). We have the corresponding CD which we listen to every time we are in the car, and knowledge of these songs has really helped Charleston understand/remember/implement proper letter formation.
We follow up handwriting with journal time, which is pretty informal. Charleston has a wide-ruled journal and begins each day’s entry by writing the date at the top of the page and drawing a picture. Some days I give him freedom to write whatever he chooses, and other days I give him a simple prompt. He generally writes between one and three sentences, sounding out some words and having me dictate more difficult ones. The goal of this journaling is to give him practice with penmanship and spelling; increase his comfort with translating his ideas to paper; and establish a regular journaling habit. It’s really exciting to look back at the beginning pages of his journal (which he started last spring) and see how much progress he has made.
Math is our next subject. We are utilizing Singapore Math, and it is the one component of our homeschool that I am not happy with. The curriculum came with no teacher’s guide, just a student textbook that is more confusing than helpful and a student workbook that approaches seemingly simple concepts (like number order and addition) in some very unusual ways and doesn’t offer nearly enough repetition. Based on the program’s placement assessment, we began with the first grade curriculum but are finding it too easy. I’ve been supplementing this program with additional practice exercises, flash cards, some math games, and manipulatives (especially these number cubes). I’m determined to see the workbook to the end, but won’t be purchasing Singapore Math curriculum moving forward. (If you are a homeschool family and have a math curriculum you love, I am taking recommendations!)
Our final official subject for the day is literature, which I wrote about in this post. Each week I choose one picture book as our focus, and we read the book multiple times throughout the week. With each reading I focus on a different comprehension skill such as story arc, characters, or setting. Charleston and I interact with the text, identifying new vocabulary words and asking and answering questions as we read. After we finish reading, I have him do some sort of correlating activity such as an art project based on the story, diagramming the book’s beginning/middle/end, or writing out new words he has learned. At the end of the week he gives an oral book report, sharing a little bit of what the book was about and what he liked or didn’t like about the story.
With our core subjects out of the way, the remainder of the school day is spent on supplemental activities. On Mondays Charleston does a mini Show-and-Tell for the twins and me (and for the grandparents, who later receive videos of his sweet demonstrations). Other days I might have him do a seasonal craft I find on Pinterest, or he might work on his monthly Little Passports science activities with his dad. (Science is more Luke’s thing than mine, so I leave those projects to him!) If he’s gotten through his work quickly, or if I feel we need some reinforcement on a particular concept, I might print off some supplemental worksheets from this site. Other days I have him do an online drawing or exercise video, put together a puzzle, play with blocks, or look at board books with Kali and Sully. We are usually done with all of our work by 1:00, and if the day has gone smoothly I let Charleston watch read-aloud stories from Epic books until lunchtime (we eat when the twins go down for their nap at 2:00).
So that’s it for our school day! Not included in our official school hours are the various read-alouds we do in the afternoon and at bedtime. (Thank goodness for our library! We check out at least ten new books each week.) We also do our Bible reading and practice memory verses during non-school time, though I do consider Bible study part of our home education. The one glaring gap in our curriculum right now is history; we do read quite a few history related picture books and occasionally watch YouTube videos about historical topics that Charleston is curious about, but I would eventually like to bring some more formal history instruction into our curriculum.
We only have full homeschool days on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. On Tuesdays, Charleston attends a full-day enrichment program where he studies art, music, PE, Spanish, character development, and science with a small group of other homeschoolers. And for three hours on Wednesday mornings he participates in a homeschoolers’ sports program, where he is learning just about every sport under the sun. He absolutely loves both of these programs, and I enjoy hearing about the things he is learning and the friendships he is forming on his days away from home. They serve as a nice break from our formal instructional days and provide him with healthy social interaction and an opportunity to learn from someone other than Mom—something I feel is important, even as I cherish my role as his primary teacher. These programs also give me time to tackle errands and housework without detracting from instructional time, and they save me from having to teach subjects that aren’t necessarily in my wheelhouse.
The biggest question I get regarding our homeschooling is how I manage Kali and Sully while Charleston and I are doing school. We are able to get most of our work done during their morning nap (which is usually about 90 minutes long). When they wake up, Charleston takes a snack/play break while I nurse them, then they play independently in their room (where I’m able to supervise them through our Nest camera) while we finish up our focused work. We usually have Kali and Sully join us for story time, and the rest of the school day consists of independent activities Charleston can do without my direct supervision while I tend to the twins’ needs.
I’ve been surprised by how little prep work I’ve needed to invest in our schooling. While I spent quite a bit of time formulating plans at the start of the school year, I now plan out lessons just one week in advance and am able to get the upcoming week totally planned (using this planner) and prepped in about twenty minutes on Friday afternoon. As we get into more complicated subject matter in the future, I’ll likely need to dedicate more time preparing to teach, but the lessons are basic enough now that I don’t need to spend too much time going over curriculum ahead of Charleston.
As for work samples, I have a file basket where I’m keeping all of Charleston’s projects for the year. It is not necessary in the state of Texas to document schoolwork, but I’ll hold on to these for my own personal records and on the off chance that we one day need proof of schooling (whether because he’s starting school in a different setting, or we move to a state with more stringent homeschool guidelines).
One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that nothing needs to be permanent. We will continue to make tweaks to our curriculum and our school days as needed, and I’m sure that our rhythms and routines will go through numerous changes as the year progresses. Even with dedicating just three days per week on core instruction, we are on track to complete almost all of our curriculum well before next May, so I plan to do a lot more project-based lessons later in the school year. I am also hopeful that COVID restrictions will loosen in the coming months, which will make it easier for us to do some educational field trips.
For now, though, I am incredibly happy with what we are doing and how well Charleston has adjusted to life as a Kindergartener. I’ve been so proud of his progress and am thankful for the opportunity to shepherd him through this first year of school!