The Horse Barn
My daughter cleans stables on the weekends, and since her brother has gone off to college, I have been going along with her. It’s peaceful work. The stables are beautiful, the horses are award-winning and the work straightforward. We clean stalls, sweep the barn, and feed the creatures. The tack room smells of warm leather, the stables of fresh alfalfa, of horse and life.
I look at the barrows full of manure, raked from freshly cleaned stalls, re-supplied with fresh alfalfa, and think, this is life. Cleaning, feeding, sweeping up the debris from the living. We talk to whatever horses are still stalled, and some time to each other, but generally we work.
My daughter, the gardener that she is, gathers tubs of manure to take home to feed her compost beds. Content in the hard work she’s done and the money well earned, we both get in the car, sweaty and tired, smelling of horse and work and life. Her work ethic has been hard-earned, both in her education and life.
My grandparents had a fourth-grade education, yet they valued the gift of education.
Out of my four grandparents, none of them went past fourth grade in any formal type of school. They were, however, always learning. They were hungry for learning. My Gram died a few years ago, 1-month shy of her one-hundredth birthday, still living in her own home near Medway Airport in Chicago. She died in a home that she’d literally lined with books and music and animals and life. She had magnifying glasses at all her sitting places so she could see to read: books, magazines, and papers. She taught my Momma-less, illiterate Mom to read at age eight, by reading Shakespeare out loud to her and rewarded her with Mother West Wind books from the Five & Dime.
My grandfather watched the stock market daily and took careful notes. He studied the Bible with the same careful tenaciousness that he gave to everything else. He wasn’t’ “educated” by today’s standards, but he could talk to anyone about anything and made friends wherever he went. He was passionately curious about people and how they lived and was a good neighbor to all.
My grandparents relished the gift of education. They believed that learning was a beautiful privilege and one they were hungry for.
Crown & the Growth Mindset
Queen Elizabeth, as portrayed in the mini-series Crown, seeks a tutor at one point. She has all the privileges of royalty and wealth, is the most respected woman in the world, which she travels extensively, and yet she sees a need in her own life. A need filled only by education. She hires a personal tutor to fill the void that money and prestige can’t fill. She is dissatisfied with what she doesn’t know and finds a way to fill the gap that lack of education has left.
Her sister, wealthy dissatisfied jet setter, is portrayed as bored and jealous and goes after a man that won’t “work” for her circumstances. We see a person who believes that the only satisfaction they can expect in life is physical and so she drinks and smokes and philanders to excess. The demands of her life don’t lead her to seek the fulfillment of learning and knowing. Because she hasn’t developed the intellectual discipline that character and education require, she settles.
So what does this have to do with the gift of education?
So often, in the homeschooling world, I hear this idea: character is more important than the book. “Put the book down and focus on character training.” I find this odd because it assumes that character training and education are at odds with each other. Au contrair! There is so much character training to be found by educating one’s self or another!
Let’s face it, the cycle of learning can be difficult. When we first encounter something, especially something challenging, it feels overwhelming. I remember the first time I tried to teach First Form Latin. I didn’t understand the teacher’s manual. I didn’t understand the grammar vocabulary; terms like Declension, Imperfect, Pluperfect, Mood, Conjugation. It felt awkward and tough. Now, years later, I love The Forms. It takes difficult material and lays it out in all its parts- vocabulary, grammar, sayings, culture.
Learning often requires an overview and familiarity before we ever get to mastery. It takes perseverance, hard work, vision and character to grow past overview. Getting to mastery requires all sorts of soft skills, character, and strength! Education IS character building!
Education is not a given
For many people around the world, education is not a given. My grandparents received very little formal education. Kids in the third world often don’t’ have the gift of education. Even royals don’t get the education that they need. Education requires infrastructure, stable government, money, and the character and vision to pursue it. It’s a gift. Educational choice is an even bigger gift.
In my weekly Latin classes, I pray. I pray that we all appreciate the gift of Latin and Education and that we steward that gift well. Latin isn’t going to save the world, but students who learn to appreciate words and the Word that became flesh, are great instruments to lead people to the One who can!
Gratitude for a life full of education –
Homeschooling is such a unique and beautiful gift in this day and age of fast food everything. We have the time and opportunity to train our kid’s character as we school them. It’s a both-and, not an either-or proposition. You can teach math AND character at the same time. In fact, I would say they often go hand in hand. And to have the time and opportunity to train our kids well-their minds as well as their character is a gift.
I often hear that homeschooling should be fun, and I wonder where that idea got started. I’m not saying it should feel like slavery or a grind, but often hard work requires just that- work. Not that you can’t have fun while you work, but often work doesn’t feel necessarily like fun. And even if our kids don’t feel like they are having fun, they should still be educated, and we should not cheat them of the opportunity to have that deep sense of satisfaction that comes from learning and academic accomplishment. We should teach our kids to be grateful for the gift of education, for the opportunity to homeschool. It’s not a right. It is a privilege.
And what’s all this have to do with a horse barn anyway?
That simple gift of work that causes one to sweat a little and feel the good tired that comes from working hard; that’s what education often consists of. Real education – the kind that takes us beyond ourselves and transforms us, requires hard work, like the horse barn; vision, like my grandparents had; and a growth mindset like the Queen.
Gratitude reminds us of the above – that we are being given a great gift by being educated, and we are giving our children a great gift by handing them a personalized education, in the form of homeschooling.
I’ve had several young Mommas (so young I could be their Momma!) ask me about homeschooling preschool and kindergarten recently. The biggest challenge of littles is keeping them engaged. Most still have a relatively short attention span, are quickly tired, and need to be fed and watered at regular intervals. Habit is key- routine is your safest bet.
(Still considering homeschooling? Check out our post on three reasons we love homeschooling.)
So what are my tips for homeschooling preschoolers and kindergartners?
Tip #1 – Morning Baskets
I would recommend developing a morning basket for littles. This method means they get your attention first thing, right after breakfast. This basket is a great way to think about what you want your littles to learn and how to organize it. Morning Baskets for littles can include card matching games, Kumon workbooks, Memory CD’s, Poetry, Simple Bible Stories, Phonics, and math games if they are ready for them.
After years of doing this, I recommend over-planning before you get started and then going with the flow once you start. With littles, like with anything else, you don’t get what you want, you get what you plan for. With littles, you often get lots of surprises, too, right?!
Tip #2 – Add in age-appropriate chores.
Kids do what you inspect, not what you expect, BUT, they do need to know what you expect, too! One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from Andrew Pudewa is that if your child keeps asking for help, they need help. This seems simple- well, it is, really, but it might not come naturally! Life skills are a big part of homeschooling preschoolers and kindergartners.
Tip #3 – Add in Some Books
If you live with books and magazines, your kids will think having them around is normal. My kids love books on tape. We use Sonlight, Bethlehem Books, Memoria Press, and Veritas Press catalogs as reading lists. Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids, Ladybug, Boys Life have all been favorite magazines around here.
Pre- Reading: Read aloud 15 min a day. There are so many adorable books on everything under the sun; don’t limit your read-alouds to baby books.
Curriculum Suggestions for Homeschooling Preschoolers and Kindergartners
I think some table time is good at this age because it helps kids get acclimated to regular study. Art or History Cards are great to look at, even for pre-readers. Usborne, Memoria Press, and Veritas Press all have beautiful ones.
Christian Studies- Arch books are a fabulous way for your littles to get a great introduction to basic Bible stories with pictures that they’ll remember for a lifetime. We also have loved and read out loud to our kids a couple of different Children’s Bibles, including the Golden Children’s Bible.
We had tons of felts, and teaching Bible stories through felts is always an attention grabber.
IEW Language Acquisition through poetry memorization– this is a fantastic program and easily accessible for littles, especially with the CD. There are four sections of 20 poems each, starting with simple, short poems and ending with epic dramatic re-tellings. Andrew Pudewa (who put the program together and recites the poems) has incredible diction, so your kids will hear fantastic vocabulary and superb story-telling.
Letter and Number recognition– we used Kumon and Usborne workbooks, colorful, easily accessible, and fun. There are tons of complete programs available.
Phonics- We always used Alpha-Phonics in conjunction with Explode the Code. There are other great products out there. We took the low cost, no bells, and whistles, a practical approach.
Bible Study– Arch books, Bible Memory, reading a good quality Children’s Bible, Veggie Tales, Veritas Press, or Bible Study for All Ages Bible cards.
Memory Work – When our youngest was four, she learned 160 VP history cards that year (even though she was a pre-reader), along with 24 history sentences, several others hundred facts related to grammar, geography, Latin, poems and more because we regularly and diligently used CDs and table time to review. She also learned the letter sounds and started on a notebook-sized time-line. I say all of this so that you realize your littles are capable of learning a LOT.
This is NOT to say that you should set them at the table and force information down their throats. Kids this age, however, can learn a ton through CD’s, good DVD’s, books and great visual aids such as flashcards. Also, if you have older kids, why not include your younger kids? They are sponges. If you start early “training their brains to retain,” you’ll be amazed at how much they really can and do retain as they grow older.
More Fun Ways to Learn while Homeschooling Preschool and Kindergarten
Outside play, exploration, and nature walks – Nature journaling and nature tables are an excellent way for kids to display the cool things they’ve found as they explore the great outdoors! Homeschooling your preschooler and kindergartener should always be fun!
Read-alouds – At least 15 minutes a day; more is better ; )
Crafts and Art – There are so many fun art books, but in any case, an easel, paper, and paint is always appropriate. Colored shaving cream is excellent for bath/shower painting. And hey, how about a shower tile wall- works great as a whiteboard and for painting- easily wipes off- all for $15 bucks.
Gardening – This can be in the yard, with containers, or how about a Fairy Garden?
Open-Ended toys – Brio Trains, Playmobile, Duplos/Legos, Stuffed Animals. Pinterest has some adorable pins of old entertainment centers rehabbed as play kitchens. Add some felt food; and old pots, pans, and measuring cups.
Art Supplies – Easels, paint, glitter, glue, pipe cleaners, colored paper, stickers, colored rice bins, colored shaving cream to “Paint” in the bathtub, Whiteboards around the house (make a whiteboard wall with shower tile or several smaller lapboards), chalkboards and magnet boards (easily made with some chalkboard or magnet paint).
Unstructured Outside Play – Trampoline, playhouses, daily walks, parks, swimming, Gardening, Sandboxes, Swings,
“Sound exploration” – Musical makers. Kids loving making sounds.
Cooking- My kids have all loved to help cook in the kitchen. Usborne’s First Cookbook is full of fun and simple recipes.
Gross motor skill development– For years, we had a “Step 2” playscape, complete with ladder and slide, IN our house.
Sandbox or table– a friend built a sandbox in their basement for their kids, and we had a sand table on our front porch for years.
Fine motor skill development – Have plenty of pens, pencils, markers around for the kids to play with, sewing cards, small toys (once they are past the “everything in their mouth” stage- legos, of course.
Travel/ field trips – What better way to learn about the mail than actually visiting the Post Office? These types of learning experiences make learning fun AND educational.
Singing – the Wee Sing series, with books and CD’s are full of old favorites.
Daily Prayer – Family evening prayers, with everyone snuggled in a bed together, is a gentle way to teach your littles about what’s important to you. We have each child pray, youngest to oldest, ending with Daddy blessing each child. If your kiddo doesn’t know what to pray for, just help them along following ACTS (Adoration, Confessions, Thanksgiving, Supplication). We would have them repeat a simple sentence or two, such as, “Thank you, God, for this day.” This year, we made an Easter garden.
Finally, as a word of caution…..Limit screen time.
There are so many apps, computer games, DVD’s, etc., and they are all fascinating. We use some but in limited quantity. You want your pre-Ker neurology to be hard-wired to people and words, not electronics. Studies have shown that kids learn language skills by interacting with people-NOT screens.
For littles, almost everything they encounter is new and amazing. It’s so fun to explore the world together and to see it through fresh eyes. You don’t have to be super planned, but some planning does help and kids, again, thrive on routines. So what are you waiting for, take the leap to homeschooling preschool and kindergarten today!
Like what you see here but need more? Check out our post on Homeschooling Basics.
What My Child Needs to Learn Before First Grade
Reading and Writing Checklists
By Amy Vickrey, MSE
When you first begin homeschooling at a young age, it’s hard to know what is considered “on track” before first grade. Here is a checklist of “essentials” that a child should know before being ready to successfully begin most first-grade curriculum. For more information and activity ideas, check out this great article from SPED Homeschool:
What My Child Needs to Learn Before First Grade
According to Proust and the Squid by Maryann Wolf, reading is not a natural process, but strictly a learned one. Therefore, there is usually not a single method that works for every child. There may be an issue with reading if a child has difficulty with phonemic awareness skills or phonics after being specifically instructed in these areas.
Before beginning to read, your child should know:
- Letter Knowledge
- Upper Case Letters __________ out of 26
- Lower Case Letters __________ out of 26
- Letter Fluency
- Names ________ upper and lower case letters in 1 minute (goal is 52 in 1 minute or less)
- Letter Sounds
- Names _____________ letter sounds
- Knows 2 sounds for a, e, i, o, u, c, and g
- Phonemic Awareness – This is a huge “buzz word” in the early childhood teaching world right now. However, you are most likely already doing it. Here are the parts of phonemic awareness and some simple activities for each.
- Syllables – breaking words into their parts – clap, jump, stomp the syllables of familiar words like banana – ba-na-na (3 claps)
- Alliteration – Most or all of the words begin with the same sound – Sally sells seashells by the seashore (tongue twisters)
- Rhyming – words sound alike at the end like cat and hat (Dr. Seuss is great for rhyming)
- Onset-Rime – the onset is the first sound in a word (/c/) and the rime is the rest of the word (/at/). When you put them together you get c-at, CAT! (you can give your child the two parts and have them put them together)
- Compound Words – two unrelated words come together to create a new word like rain and bow go together to make rainbow (you can give your child the two words and have them put them together)
- Segmenting – breaking words apart. Say CAT, C-A-T, CAT
- Blending – putting words back together – C-A-T makes CAT
***Phonemic awareness activities are very important to learning to read by phonics and other methods. It equips children to later be able to decode words, find words within words, and perform other effective reading strategies.
Before a child holds a pencil to write his/her name, there are a lot of skills that need to be mastered to help build hand muscles.
- Pouring using 2 hands – pouring out of pitchers and buckets
- Pouring using 1 hand – measuring cups and bath toys
- Squeezing bath toys
- Using tongs, children’s chopsticks, and other small tools to pick things up
- Making balls and snakes out of play-doh (gluten-free/allergy-friendly play-doh is available for those like my son who cannot use traditional playdoh)
- Painting – with finger paints, brushes, q-tips, cars, sponges, stamps, and a variety of other tools
- Using a variety of tools for play – crayons, pencils, pens, markers, sidewalk chalk, dry erase markers
- Stickers – great for developing pincer grip (what is needed for gripping a pencil – using two fingers and thumb)
Maybe you feel overwhelmed by the list because your struggling child is just not there yet. Take heart! For some kids, things take longer. There is no timeline on a person’s ability or learning. And if you need extra support or encouragement, we offer special needs classes, testing, and advising. We’d also encourage you to join Survive and Thrive Special Needs Homeschool FB Group and follow SPED Homeschooling.
Homeschooling Basics- how do you put it all together?
How do you put it all together to create a cohesive homeschooling year when you have curriculum, kid’s abilities, goals, family size, and extra-curricula to consider?
Set your Goals – Long and Short Term
One of the biggest homeschooling basics is to set your goals! I’ve talked to hundreds of parents as I’ve done Academic Advising with students from around the world with all sorts of goals and abilities. It is often apparent to the parents what direction their students will take by or around Junior High. Most parents can sense if their kids are going on to Vo-Tech, College, Military or Ivy League, if not specifically, at least generally.
Most parents also realize around Jr. High (if not before) if their kiddo has a learning disability, processing disorder or other issues or limitations.
If your kids have a specific skill set, like setting swimming records in your state and going for an NCAA scholarship, or dream of going to the Air Force Academy, you’ll want to be even more intentional and goal-directed than not, in order to make those dreams come true.
Have a good sense of a solid academics
The “Core 4” consists of Math, English, History, and Science. Of course, these all look slightly different depending on ages/ stages, abilities and long term goals, but it’s a good place to start with covering the basics.
“Extra-curriculars” include, but are not limited to, foreign language, computer, art, music, theater, dance, sports, health, speech, animal care, life skills, soft skills, Scouts, all manner of interests, and specific areas of interest within the core classes.
Learn the Value of Homeschool Extras here.
Family Interests and Values
What is important to your family and values that you are willing to invest time and energy into?
Find out more about Pursuing Interests Through Electives.
Field Trips and travel
What field trips and travel do you plan to accomplish and how will you do this- with a co-op, camping, trading spaces with other homeschooling families? There is so much rich learning that happens when takes amazing field trips and travels, it should definitely be included in your overall homeschooling plan, if at all possible.
You can’t do it all, but you can do a lot of it.
One of the biggest homeschooling basics there is! You don’t have to sacrifice education for character training or juxtapose one set of priorities over another. Getting through difficult subject matter can be a part of character development and a good curriculum can support your child’s growth in ways that extend beyond academics. You don’t have to sacrifice or juxtapose one set of priorities over another. You do have to be intentional or something is bound to get lost in the shuffle.
How to manage it all?
Homeschooling is best goal-driven rather than curriculum-driven.
Start with the end in mind. Write the vision, make it plain, and feel free to make it outrageous and personal and epic and all yours.
- Set your goals first
- Name the course
- Determine the curriculum you’ll use to accomplish your goals.
Student Morgan Grade 1 School Year 2019-20
|Morgan reading by end of the year||English I||Alpha Phonics, Explode the Code|
|Developing creativity and fine motor skills||Art||Kumon Workbooks, MP’s Art Cards|
|Understanding Numbers||Math||Right Start Math|
|Discover the world around us||Science||Magic School Bus Books, Usborne, Nature Walks|
|Understanding broad overview of Bible and familiar stories||Bible||The Golden Children’s Bible, Arch Books|
|Develop Memory Work Skills and memorize various subject areas||Classical studies||Invictus or Claritas Memory Work, IEW’ Poetry|
|Begin to understand the sweeping course of History||History||SOTW, Timeline, History Cards|
|Language literacy and development of foreign language skills||Spanish||Spanish for Children|
Student Reagan Grade 9 School Year 2019-20
|Reading novels, plays, short stories, poetry, Writing persuasive and Compare and Contrast Essay||English I||EIW, LTW|
|Developing Creativity||Art||Music, Art, Theater|
|Algebra I||Math||Life of Fred Algebra I|
|Understand the scope of Church History||Bible||Memoria Press Church History|
|Develop Memory Work Skills and memorize various subject areas||Classical studies||History and Lit Timeline,|
|Develop an understanding of how historical events interacted and contributed.||History||HOTW, Timeline, History Cards|
|Develop fluency in Foreign Language||Latin I||First & Second Form Latin|
No plan is worth a thing without your willingness to implement it. Chart your course, headed True North, and then engage with passion and perseverance.
If you enjoyed this post on homeschooling basics be sure to check out our Homeschooling 101 post as well!
There’s always a lot of talk and questions every from those considering homeschooling. Perhaps you are wondering “Should I homeschool?” It’s always frightening to take the road less traveled. If you are sitting on the fence, take heart. Here are some easy questions you can ask to determine if you should homeschool or not.
1. Define your nightmare.
If you did or do, homeschool, what would be the worst case scenario/outcome for you? My worse case nightmare would be illiterate kids that lived with me till the day.I.die. I like my kids. Really. I don’t like cooking three meals a day, cleaning up after everybody, managing rides, and schedules and laundry. The people rock. The workload, not so much.
The 2nd nightmare is that I go a bit nuts. Actually, the 2nd nightmare is more my husband and kid’s nightmare. It does occur on occasion. Fortunately, the benefits of homeschooling outweigh the nightmare. (Right, honey?!)
2. What steps could you take to repair the damage?
You know, if the worst case scenario panned out. A solid phonics program. Installing locks on the door. Move with no forwarding address. Prepare the children well. Engage, or marry, a good therapist. Wait, I did that one!
3. What are the outcomes/benefits, both temporary & permanent of more probable scenarios?
You know, if you were more successful than the worst case scenario. My kids would be literate (and literary). They would move out, have successful, amazing lives of their own. They would travel the world, make friends, and influence people. They might even earn degrees and money. Hopefully, they will have joyful marriages and healthy, delightful kids, laughing out loud and loving the Master of the Universe.
4. If you were forced to homeschool today, what would you do to get things under control?
You know, if you HAD to homeschool. For example, I would start by developing my teaching skills and plan for the year, then creating a seasonal and daily schedule. Next, I would order an excellent curriculum, based on my plans. Enroll in quality enrichment programs. Develop a lifestyle of learning. De-clutter my house. Streamline my life. Strategize in order to get it all done.
5. What are you putting off out of fear?
Are you delaying deciding because you think you’ll fail (see step #1), or because you think you’ll go nuts? (see step #2)
6. What is it costing you?
Your kid’s safety? Your kid’s learning environment? What is the motivation to even consider homeschooling? What do you hope will be different if you begin homeschooling? Write the vision and make it clear.
7. What are you waiting for?
Will the cost diminish if you wait or procrastinate or will the cost increase? If the cost will increase, perhaps it’s time to take a leap of faith and jump on in. C’mon! The water’s just fine!! So we know the question is “Should I homeschool?”, but what’s your answer?