Right now I find myself in a neat position in my career. I am teaching a middle-schooler, two upper-elementary students, and I have a toddler-turning-preschooler. To make things VERY interesting, I am spending a great deal of energy researching high school materials so that we enter that critical period with our eyes focused on the goals my children have.
I am sure there will be plenty of posts in the upcoming years about that topic, but for now, I am sharing my personal opinions on teaching littles.
First, a few disclaimers: (Fellow professional teachers, you might not want to read this…)
- I do not place my childrens’ education at the top of my priority list. In raising my children to adulthood, my main concern is that they become Godly men of character. I firmly believe that if they have a Godly character they will be good husbands, good fathers, good employees or employers, they will be honest, fair, just, and they will have a love of learning. People with great character tend to be willing to learn new things because they can honestly admit that they don’t know it all. SO… if I raise Godly men of character, they will reach adulthood with a willingness to improve their own minds, hearts, and in turn, their eductions and finances will fall into place.
- I do not purport that what or how I am teaching my children is the best way or the only way, that children should be taught. I am, however, confident that I am teaching them the best way I know how to and in a way that I sleep soundly at night knowing that they are getting a well rounded education. This is not to say that other forms of education are not well rounded… what I am saying here, on my own blog, is that I am comfortable with what I have taught my children and that any kind education they could receive would come with holes. The holes in my kids’ education might be different from the holes in the educations of children who receive other forms of schooling, and I am perfectly comfortable with that. (P.J. Jonas of Goat Milk Stuff explains it so well and said it in a way that I can agree with: teaching our children to think is much more important than getting them to memorize tons of facts. If you want to see what Henry Ford or Albert Einstein thought about this exact topic, please read the blog post of P.J.’s that I linked to.)
- Much of what I liked in the early years has changed. There are several possible reasons: either I no longer saw the benefits of that program for my children, the need for them to learn that, or I found another format that better suited my learners. That doesn’t necessarily make the programs unworthy of being used by someone else, just that we won’t likely use that for “Round Two of Homeschooling Littles” in Jackson Academy.
Now that I have those few disclaimers behind, I want to give my overall philosophy. I had to write dozens of philosophies in college for my beliefs on education. I wrote these with the professors in mind, hoping to get a good grade on the project and ultimately in the class. Now, writing my philosophy on early elementary grades is more based on how I view those years as a homeschooling mom and less on what professionals would want me to say.
I regularly receive requests for my opinion about what curriculum I recommend for preschool. I want to be very careful here, because I know a lot of people value preschool and the benefits of early education. What I will say is that I HONESTLY believe preschoolers can learn everything they need in the two simple actions of playing and being read to. (In case you missed it, that was my philosophy on preschool homeschool.) Play with your preschooler and they’ll learn. Read to and with your preschooler and they’ll learn. I do not think a curriculum is necessary for you to teach your preschooler so I don’t recommend a single one. That is not to say that there are not great ones out there. In fact, I’m positive that there are great ones out there. But I believe that the preschool years are designed for play and exploration and I do not spend a dime on preschool homeschool curriculum. I also believe that children have 13+ years of school ahead of them and only 5 designated for just being a kid. I say let them be a KID!
Now, in the interest of full transparency here, all four of my children have gone to preschool for one or two years of their lives. That sounds so very contradictory to the previous paragraph, and for that I do apologize. The reasons for each child varied: When my oldest when to preschool at age 4 it was to prepare him for “real school” which we were going to be utilizing. We had no intention of homeschooling, and Hayden was so timid that I wanted him to have a year of “practice” to get him ready for the real thing. For Carson and Bailey, they went to preschool four days a week, just in the mornings. Matt was deployed and this gave me a small break, and a chance to teach Hayden all by himself. Now, Parker goes to preschool three days a week for three hours, giving me the time to focus on a few subjects that require all of us to concentrate. (I found that I was letting Parker watch TV during this time and I would rather him be at preschool than at home watching TV. Sure, I could come up with something for him to do, but honestly, this is right for us for now.)
(Begin shooting flaming arrows now…)
Okay, now to get on to the actual academics:
My philosophy of early elementary education is to cover the basics:
- Teach them to read (but the age at which a child learns to read is less important than developing his or her love of reading);
- Teach them math in concrete ways so that later they can understand the abstract mathematical concepts;
- Teach them that history is the story of people and make it interesting.
- Science is great, but I’m not a great science teacher… Co-ops would be a great idea for supplementing what I haven’t covered, and replying on occasional unit studies and investigating nature is easier than it might sound at first. (Pinterest can be a great resource for science.)
- Handwriting is more important than I first thought, but it’s not the main thing.
Having used a variety of curricula for the bigs, here is what I plan to use for Parker when he starts his “official” school years:
READING – Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Dr. Phyllis Haddox and Elaine Bruner) I will start with this again. If I find that he struggles with reading I will then transition from that to what I am using for Bailey: All About Reading and All About Spelling. These two programs are fantastic but I honestly believe they are overkill for a child who picks up reading easily. They are expensive and labor intensive and I do not regret not using them for Hayden and Carson. Bailey needed it and I am thrilled that these programs exist. If Parker doesn’t need the additional work, I will not plan to go through these programs with him. Please listen to this podcast on homeschooling and learning to read!! It’s a four-part series but it is invaluable! I am less concerned with my early elementary children mastering the skill of reading and very much concerned with protecting their love of reading and their appreciation for reading as it relates to every single aspect of their lives going forward. I do not regret letting Bailey take so long to master the skill. He loves to read and is not embarrassed that he learned later than his peers. This may be my hill to die on when it comes to homeschooling and I will gladly raise my sword in defense of letting children learn slowly in an attempt to protect their LOVE of reading.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION – Anything to get the heart rate up: running, soccer, playing outside, tickle fights, “muscling,” riding bikes, jumping jacks, or even a formal Homeschool PE class.
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION – I schedule in that they go to Chapel Sunday School each week. A few of our other subjects are Bible based. I also includes Bible stories, scripture, character studies, etc. Parker will also listen to Adventures in Odyssey… this is a staple in our religious education.
MATH – Saxon K – I love Saxon math and the way it teaches. If you want to research the programs and decide if you want to stick with it, I would be comfortable recommending Saxon all the way from K-High School. I chose to go with Teaching Textbooks (TT) for third grade and up because of the ability to let the kids learn for themselves. I loved that every single problem was explained by the “teachers” and that if my child got any problem wrong, they could go back and view the solution. Some Math-on-DVD curricula only have the examples explained…TT has every single problem explained.
Okay, here I might veer a little from my I don’t “do” school with preschoolers because I have a little foreknowledge that Teaching Textbooks can be used a year head of schedule. I want to start Parker on the Teaching Textbooks 3 (TT3) when he starts his 2nd grade year. Because Saxon K is basically “playing” with manipulatives, I know Parker would enjoy it immensely. We already have it and it’ll only take a few months to cover. So, I’ll probably start it with him in January before we start his kindergarten year. I followed this basic schedule with Carson and Bailey and it worked out beautifully. *See note at the bottom about scheduling your years. Parker’s Math schedule will look like this:
Just before Kindergarten: Saxon K
Kindergarten: Saxon 1 and half of Saxon 2
1st Grade: Half of Saxon 2 and Saxon 3
2nd Grade: TT3
3rd Grade: TT4
4th Grade: GT5…
… and so on…
LIBRARY – We go to the library about every 2 weeks.
PEER INTERACTION AND OUTSIDE AUTHORITY – Laugh if you want, but one of the main critiques of homeschooling is that “the children need social skills.” Okay, so fine. I give my kids opportunities to be “social” and to learn how to behave in public settings. (My thoughts on this are the same as they always have been. They spend plenty of time in social settings and are proving themselves to be quite socially adept. I do not worry about Parker being unsocial or unsocialized.)
FAMILY & HOME MANAGEMENT – Chores. You can always go back and read my first installation on some of these but I believe most of this is common sense. If you’re at home, your kids have more time to learn basic home economy skills.
SCIENCE – Part of what the kids do for Science is Jonathan Park. (Another radio drama, similar to Adventures in Odyssey.) It focuses on teaching children what the Bible says about creation and how they can defend what they believe. And, secondly, I don’t do a lot of science with elementary age children. I admit this might be a hole in their education. I won’t do a lot with him, but I will research and see more.
SOCIAL STUDIES – Story of the World. We have all three volumes and we will read through these multiple times until Parker hits 8th grade, at which point I assume I will use SonLight as I am planing to use it for Hayden in 8th grade. I’ll write back later to share whether I liked SL or not. The great thing about Story of the World is that all ages can go through it together and everyone in my family LOVES it!
HANDWRITING – Oh, one of my biggest homeschooling mistakes thus far is in the area of handwriting. To avoid this mistake with Parker I will use Handwriting Without Tears (HWT). I will work through the entire thing, K-2 since I already bought it for the bigs. (Mat Man, Chalk board, Flip Crayons, Wood Pieces, etc.) Classically Cursive was good enough for a cursive program, so I’ll use it for Parker as well.
SPELLING – I have never really stuck with a spelling program. I did a writing program for about two years that suggested that children who read a lot and do a great deal of writing could naturally become good spellers. Therefore I have never done a formal spelling program. And, let’s be honest… most of my kids’ work in high school, college, and in their careers will require them to use a computer which, if it’s anything like the one I’m typing this on, will correct their spelling as they go or at the very least, underline mistakes in red. Bailey is getting a more formal spelling education due to his issues, and I highly recommend it for any child who seems to need that additional work. I mentioned it earlier, but for your ease, I’ll add the link here again for All About Spelling.
*One major thing I would change about or homeschool if I could go back and change anything would be that we would start our years in January and school until October.
Our family has learned that we do NOT like to do school in November or December. We had to work through one summer in preparation for our big Italy trip and an overseas PCS. That worked out so well for us. The following year, we took the summer off to move again (2013 was a killer year) so that put us back on a traditional school schedule. The way we are going to remedy that this year is to start our next year in May, just after we finish this year. We will school through the summer and take our “summer” break OCT-DEC. It works for us.
So, there you have it. What I believe I will be doing with Parker when we go through the early elementary school years again!
~Jennifer (sitting here trying to avoid flaming darts)