Curriculum Ideas for the Overwhelmed Homeschooler – Part 2 – ELA

This post is the second in a series in which I am responding to a reader who sent me this note:

I wanted to ask you what core curriculum you are using for Molly this year for 3rd grade specifically for Math and ELA. Also, my other child will be starting a bit of Preschool-Kindergarten work. Any recommendations for that age level for learning letters, number etc.? There is SO much out there for, which is a great thing. I am finding it overwhelming at this point, though, to narrow it down. Your recommendations in the past were great. Thanks for your continued help and support.

Feeling a Bit Overwhelmed

Hello again, Overwhelmed!  I hope my last post on math helped you.

Here’s the good news as far as ELA (English Language Arts) goes.  As a Homeschooler, your child already has a ton of the most important resource needed for Language Arts: time.

In my opinion, if you want your child to be literate, she needs to read.  And she needs to write.  A lot.

Maybe it’s because I am more confident when it comes to the liberal arts or maybe it’s just that I have had the luxury of stepping outside the insane Common Core bubble, but I have never really worried that my kids would learn how to read, write, or express themselves rationally.

Remember, ELA is primarily a Common Core term, as it is used to define the standards for getting public school students “ready to succeed in college, career, and life”.  As such, they are learning goals, whatever that means for millions of unique students.  As I mentioned in my math post, I “don’t trust completion (or lack of completion) of a certain level of a curriculum as the last word on competency.”

Even with my doctorate and a great love of reading, writing, grammar, and research, I’d rather poke my own eye out with a fork than than try to parse out how to meet these 66 pages of COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS AND LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS.  If that’s what you are looking for, you can stop reading now.

Also, there are many who believe that simply reading, writing, talking and interacting with others will teach a child what they need to know to communicate effectively.  You can read more about that here and here.  If you believe that, you can also stop here.

While I admire the Unschooling philosophy and think about it often, I think I am still not completely de-schooled.  If you read this blog at all, you know I worry that, without the guidance of formal lessons, my children won’t master a subject or skill comprehensively.

We don’t use a text book per se, but I do use a bunch of resources for helping the kids to learn how to communicate.

Here, broken down by specific skill-set areas, are some of the resources we use(d) for getting our kids to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively.  They all overlap so you might find one more useful for a specific skill than another.  Mix and Match.


For this post, I define “phonics” as the system of relationships between letters and sounds. Whether it is knowing that the letter B has the sound of /b/ or how to pronounce the digraphs ch, sh, or th, it’s phonics.  If you can do that, you can chunk a word, which makes reading and writing a lot easier.

For the early years, the Leapfrog:  Letter Factory and Leapfrog: Talking Words Factory  videos cannot be beat.  They are a wonderful introduction to phonics.  Here you can buy a box set with flashcards.

Endless Alphabet, which I’ve written about before here,  is an App that we have used with great success for all three kids when they were between the ages of 2 and 6.

We also loved the LeapFrog Fridge phonics Magnetic Letter Set and LeapFrog Letter Factory Phonics and Numbers.

We also use Starfall for the early years.

Once my kids were ready to sit and do workbooks, we turned to Explode the Code, which has worked really well, especially for Joseph.



We read a lot.  Together, at story time at the library, on our own and with any friend or family member who will read or listen.

We read every night with our kids before bed.  And I have always kept piles of books on the floor, which looks messy, but which are also irresistible to little kids.   Whether they are reading the  book, browsing the book, or eating the book, I don’t care.  I just want them to feel comfortable around books!

Back when we lived in Michigan, very far from our families, I had grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles read stories on camera so I could play the videos for my kids.  My kids loved them!  Not only did my kids love listening to the books, they loved seeing their favorite people every day, even when we were 1000 miles away!


My kids learn a lot of vocabulary just by talking with us!  We do not use any major text, but in reading and writing and talking with us, my kids are always asking what a word means or how to spell it.  For the younger ones I tell them.  For Molly, I make her look it up.  A dictionary is a good friend.  It is outdated today, when you can look up any word on line or in an App but my Dad kept this copy of The OED in his office and to this day, I have such fond memories of using the magnifying glass to find the word I was looking for.  I wish I had his copy.


I’ll buy it right now…


I’ll admit it.  I have an emotional attachment to Latin.  My Dad, an elementary school teacher for almost 30 years, loved language and made Latin a part of his curriculum every year.  Although I was never in his class, I was his sounding board and testing ground for many of the games and projects he used in his class, even after I left town to go away to school.  I have a lot of happy memories of all those word games with my Dad.

Aside from those happy memories, I think Latin is important mostly because it builds vocabulary and grammar. If you know just one Latin root word, you can chunk all sorts of English vocabulary words.

So, knowing Latin makes understanding English vocabulary easier.

As 55% of all English words are derived from Latin (90% of those over two syllables are Latin-based) and about 80% of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese words are from Latin, Latin is all around us!  Latin matters.

Once every week or so we do a few pages out of Getting Started with Latin: Beginning Latin for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age.  The kids love it and it reminds us to look for roots out in the world.

Molly also keeps Scholastic Vocabulary Packets Greek and Latin Roots  with her other books and every so often does a page or two.


One of the best parts of homeschooling is checking workbooks. I hope Joseph is in a band called “Awesome-osity” some day!

 If you don’t want to do workbooks but still want a reminder to think about words, try a 365 New Words-A-Year 2015 Page-A-Day Calendar.

You can also check out a Pinterest Board like this one for fun ideas on words.

Here also is a quick reference guide on word roots.  It is free and shows you just how many roots there are!


Even though I was pretty successful in school, I did not take it seriously until I hit college.  I just tried to pass tests and get A’s.  Actual understanding didn’t matter.  I just knew I needed to jump through hoops because that was what was expected and that was what everyone else was doing.

We homeschool because we don’t want that to happen with our kids.  We want them to seek information because they are interested in it and we want them to have the ability to grapple with it, understand it, and make informed decisions with it.  That is one of the best tools we could give them in their toolbox for life.

How do you measure understanding?  Tests.  Asking questions.  Watching your kids work.  Reviewing their work.  Being with them and talking to them.  That is how we do it.  I am really baffled by the need to test kids so much because I can tell you where my kids are at just by watching and interacting with them.  They do well on standardized tests but more than their understanding, I think those tests tell how well they take tests!

One of my favorite ways to have fun with comprehension is public speaking.

For public speaking, the Writing with Ease series cannot be beat.  Written by one of my homeschooling favorites, Susan Wise Bauer (with Peter Buffington) Writing with Ease alternates between having the student do copywork and/or dictation on one page and then listen to a passage from a piece of literature and answer questions aloud in full sentences on the next.  Its emphasis on reading comprehension and public speaking is invaluable.  I can see the gears in my childrens’ heads working as they think through their answers.

We have also really enjoyed participating in “Book Wars” with a local homeschooling group this semester.  Two other moms came up with idea:  once a month any kids interested show up at a local coffee shop and take turns presenting reasons why the book that they read that month should win for best book.  After everyone has a turn, each child is asked a few questions.  Then there is a blind vote and the winner wins a prize, which is usually some yummy baked goods.  Speaking in front of strangers is hard and thinking on your feet is even harder but Book Wars has made it fun.  Plus, we’ve gotten some great book recommendations through the group. Even if you don’t have a homeschooling group, you could just have your child present a book to you out loud.  It doesn’t matter if it is a chapter book, a picture book, or a comic book!  It is a non-threatening way to work on these skills.


Knowing about grammar helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.  You cannot communicate clearly without it.

Along with Writing with Ease, we have found Evan-Moor’s Grammar and Punctuation series easy to use and informative.

This year we have gotten in the habit of using “Daily” workbooks because it allows us to work on each subject a little bit each day.  Evan-Moor’s Daily Language Review series has been a great addition to the two mentioned above.

This post is not meant to be comprehensive but I hope it gives you an idea of some resources you can use for each skill set you may be interested in.

I am still planning to post a piece on resources for Pre-school and Kindergarten work.  And I am working on a post of resources for critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!


Molly’s Mid-Way Update on Youth Digital’s Mod Design 1

We are about halfway through Mod Design 1, which I wrote about starting here.

As I wrote in my first post, Youth Digital promises this course will teach kids to program their own Mod (an alteration of the program code of a video game in order to make it operate in a manner different from its original version).  In doing so, students also learn the fundamentals of Java Programming.  Yay!

As I also mentioned in my first post, Youth Digital gives students 365 days to finish a course, which has really made this whole course stress-free.  Molly really likes that she is in complete control over when she does the sections and how quickly she moves through each section.  She thinks it is especially cool that she can do them later at night (her best time of day), in her pajamas, wrapped in Bucky (her special blanket/BFF) with a Ninja-Turtle mask on, if she wants.

Time for coding class, Kiddo!

Time for coding class, Kiddo!

Here are our mid-way impressions:


  •  The videos are very entertaining.  There’s an appropriate amount of humor targeted to her age.
  •  The videos contain suggested times to pause and carry out coding tasks.  These are generally well placed – not too short or long a time between pauses.
  •  Molly has enjoyed the selected modding tasks.  They are small and thus, simple to do.
  •  The difficulty of the tasks seems appropriate so far.  The structure is well thought out, with each lesson building on the previous.

In sum, Mod Design 1 is a very practical, task-based, learning activity. It’s building Molly’s practical computer science skills, like being careful with typing and syntax (computers have no mercy for typos), cutting and pasting, window/graphical user interface management, mouse skills, etc. She is also becoming comfortable with basic coding concepts like using named variables and objects to define how things work.  She’s learning how to be creative, while also being careful with her coding.


  • The quizzes are occasionally too GIMP and keyboard-shortcut centric.
  • The templates have contained two coding errors so far.  These were straightforward to fix with adult help, but were frustrating for Molly alone.  She really doesn’t like to ask for help!  Back on the PRO side, though, Youth Digital offers excellent customer support.
  • The fact that Molly is already eying up App Design 1 and Game Design 1, reminds me that Youth Digital courses are, although worth it in our opinion, pricey.


So far, as billed, this is a “show me how, then I do it” class with little “20,000 foot view” discussion.  We like that.  It is actually teaching Molly Java.  If theoretical discussion of computer science fundamentals is what you’re looking for, another course might be better.  For learning the Java basics in a fun but structured way, this course is the way to go.

Wondering if this is an advertisement?  It is not.

I have not been compensated for this review.  As I mentioned in my first post about Mod Design 1, I contacted Youth Digital to ask if they would be willing to let us try it out in return for a review on my blog.  They haven’t asked for any additional reviews, nor did they have any control over either review.  I just think this has been a great find and want to share it with you.

Interested in the Common Core Debate? Watch Building the Machine Now.

Here’s a short documentary about the development of the Common Core educational standards that I hope every parent will watch:

Thank you to the HSLDA for providing the most balanced treatment of this complex topic that I have seen to date.

Is it Possible for Children to Learn Without “Instruction”?

WARNING:  My editor (hi, honey!) says this is the most boring post ever.  But it’s what’s on my mind right now.  I would love to hear what you think.  So here goes:

As a parent, I love to watch my kids learn from each other.  Molly shows Joseph how to pause for the comma, Joseph reads board books to JohnJohn, and JohnJohn gets both kids sounding out letters for him.

Joseph shows Molly how to somersault, Molly advises Joseph on how to advocate for himself to Mommy, and JohnJohn gets both kids laughing on a regular basis.

As the kids get older, I find that if there is something they want to do – – like make muffins, or enter a contest, or go on a trip, or play a video game – – they will read and ask questions about it until they figure out how to do it.  They are natural learners!

Is it me or does the cupcake that your child bakes herself sweeter?

Is it me or does the cupcake that your child bakes herself taste sweeter?

And yet, I still don’t trust that my kids will learn without formally structured work in subjects like math and grammar.  I have to admit, I just don’t trust that they will gain proficiency on their own.

I am starting to wonder if that is a failing on my part as a parent and teacher.   Have I been so conditioned by my own education that I am making my kids jump through needless hoops?  Am I wasting their time by making them do workbooks and rote lessons?

I am a really bad unschooler making my kids do math tables

I am a really bad unschooler making my kids do math tables

“Unschooling” was first defined in the 1970s by educator John Holt, (the “father” of unschooling) as “allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.”   It is interest driven, child-led, self-directed learning.  It is a branch of homeschooling that does not use curricula.

Despite the age of the movement, education researchers have not done much looking at unschooling methods and outcomes.  However, The Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning (Volume 7, Issue 14) recently published two papers on the topic.


The first, by Peter Gray and Gina Riley, The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling, According to 232 Families Who Have Chosen that Route, reports that the biggest challenge for unschoolers was overcoming feelings of criticism from others.

The reported benefits included “better learning, better attitudes, and better psychological and social well-being for the children; plus increased closeness, harmony, and freedom for the whole family.”

The results of this research make sense to me.  However, the authors’ use of self-selected unschoolers, without comparing them to other types of homeschoolers, muddled whether the results correlate to unschooling or simply homeschooling in general.

The main advantage of unschooling (and I would add, all homeschooling, even if you spend some time on curricula)  is increased time available for other, presumably more beneficial, activities.  Stepping out of the relatively inefficient traditional schooling model, in general, reclaims an enormous amount of time.  That is a fact born out by our own experience this year.

Perhaps if we didn’t use workbooks and assignments we would have even more of this precious commodity?


The second, by professors of education and unschooling mothers, Kellie Rolstad and Kathleen Kesson, Unschooling, Then and Now, compares their unschooling experiences in two different eras, one in the early days of unschooling and the other over 20 years later.

These accounts are interesting in that they actually demonstrate how unschooling works in their families.  I was especially interested to learn the importance of technology from Dr. Rolstad, who handled the “Unschooling Now”, perspective.  She writes:

Unschooled  I-Gen children, freed from the demands and constraints that school places on schooled children, spend their time engaged in their own pursuits, many of which involve playing with technology, whether designed for play, such as videogames, or for seemingly more serious purposes, such as computer programming .  YouTube videos provide an astonishing array of learning opportunities as well, with “how-to” videos on almost anything imaginable, e.g., how to gut a fish; how to speak ancient Greek; how to calculate angular refraction, how to apply anime-style makeup, etc. 

I worry that my kids may have too much screen time already.   I also worry that, without the guidance of formal lessons, my children won’t master a subject comprehensively, especially in subjects that I am less comfortable with myself, but that I also value highly, like math.

While I totally understand how my kids might seek out a video on anime-style make-up or how to clean a fish, I’m more doubtful that, without some guidance, my children will pursue information on, say, basic math, grammar and spelling.

I guess the question is, do I really need to manage my kids until they memorize those addition tables now or can I “comfortably bear” it if they wait to memorize them for years or if they never memorize them at all?

A World of Geography Resources – Part I

Can you Identify this Mountain painted by the ever-talented Molly?  Hint:  It's the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S.

Can you identify this mountain?
Hint: It’s the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S.

Geography is a special subject because it uses something you can touch (the physical world) to explain so much about human behavior.  Think about it.  Where you live and spend your time – – your country, your state, your city, your town, your street – – can tell us a lot about the language you speak, your politics, your religion, your socio-economic status, your job, maybe even your race!

I did not learn geography as a subject as a kid.  In fact, I did not learn to read a map until I was in my 20s. Embarrassing.  I’d like the kids to start early seeing the link between scientific factors (like the passability of the Bering Strait) to culture, historical events and human behavior.  That’s a tall order if you don’t know your Athens from your Athens.  So, first, they’ll need to learn the basics.

Here a some of the resources we use for Geography in no particular order:

1. BrainPOP jr.  You may remember I listed BrainPOP jr. as a resource under my Stack of Storytelling Resources post.  We use BrainPOP Jr. for almost every subject.  There is a new video every week on a different subject and then dozens of others divided by a subject, including geography.  We use the app on our iPads, which is free, although it does have two levels of paid subscriptions as well.  You can also access it via computer.

2.  Beginning Geography, Grades K-2 by Evan-Moor.  This is one of the first workbooks I ever bought and I have used it with both of our older kids as well as with a homeschooling group with kids up to 10.  It is straighforward and, as it starts with the basics of geography, will work with any new geography student.

3.  Stack the States App for the IPad.  This is one of our very favorite geography games and both my 5 and 6 year olds know more about American geography than me because of it.  The object of the game is simple.  As you answer questions about the 50 states (including capitals, state shapes, abbreviations, bordering states, location on the map and even nicknames) correctly, you get to move it, rotate it and place it wherever you want.  The goal is to carefully create a stack of states that reaches the checkered line.  Also available in formats other than iPad.

4.  Stack the Countries App for the IPad.  Similar to Stack the States, the game focuses on basic country information such as capitals, landmarks, major cities, continents, border countries, languages, flags and more.  Also available in formats other than IPad.

5.  Scrambled States of America Book by Laurie Keller and Game.  I give this book and board game together as gifts often because they are always a hit.

6.  Scrambled States of America Talent Show by Laurie Keller.  A follow-up book to Scrambled States of America.

7.  U.S. and World Placemats.  We leave these at the table and they are a constant source of conversation.

8.  Globe.  We found a globe in the house that we are renting and I leave it on the floor.  All three kids play with it all the time.  We use it to daydream, to answer questions about places we read about, and to reference when we do geography in workbooks.  I would not have thought to buy it but there is something to be said for having something physical to play with as we talk about it.

9.  U.S. Map Floor Puzzle.  This puzzle is especially fun because the pieces are in the shapes of the states.  We usually use it to talk about where we have been, who we know from each state, and where we would like to go.

10.  Where the Hell is Matt.  You may remember Matt from the early 2000s, when he travelled the world recording himself dancing in front of landmarks and with people and then posted them on his blog at first for his family and friends to see and then for the world.  His dances were joyful and fun and so millions of people started to follow his travels.  He has recorded himself all over the world and mapped it.  It is a really inspiring way to talk about Geography!

Do you have any resources to share?  How do you learn about and teach your children about their place in the world?

A Stack of Resources for Storytelling

Yes.  That is a fresh pack of markers.  Jealous???

Yes. That is a fresh pack of markers. Jealous???

One theme of our Winter homeschooling has been storytelling.  Like most kids, my children love to draw.  And they love to tell stories.  They don’t worry about being perfect or even about making sense.  They just have fun.  I’d like to credit our Letter Mondays and Sketch Tuesdays with getting the ball rolling but I am pretty sure that all this fun is just coming naturally to these kids.

The ability to tell a compelling story is a skill I want my kids to have in their toolbox.  Not only will it allow them to entertain others but, more importantly, it will allow them to advocate for themselves or others, which is something I am hopeful that they will always be able to do.  Writing a compelling story takes imagination, discipline, and the education to know proper language and grammar (three more things I want for my kids!).  Some say that storytelling is the ultimate weapon.  If that’s the case, I definitely want my kids to have it.

Here are some of the resources (in no particular order) that we are using to learn about storytelling right now:

1. Animal Party Doodles Place Mats by Author Taro Gomi.  This is a book of placemats that have an unfinished pictures with a prompt to get you talking and writing and storytelling.  We have these at home and in the car.  They are really great for restaurants.

2.  Don’t Forget to Write for the Elementary Grades: 50 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons (Ages 5 to 12) by 826 National.  This is a book of creative writing lesson plans that you can modify for whatever level you are teaching at.  The description says it is for ages 5-12 but the lessons are pretty detailed so I would say it will be more fun the older your kids get.  And when I say that, I mean I think it would be good for anyone interested in getting a prompt for writing, even adults!

3. The Second Anti-Coloring Book: Creative Activities for Ages 6 and Up (Anti-Coloring Books) by Striker/Kimmel.  This is in the same vein as the Gomi placemats in #1.  It is a coloring book that has black and white pictures with prompts, such as “Wouldn’t this person look better in a necktie designed by you?”  And then you can color in the picture of the tie.  We usually talk about what we think is happening in the photo too.

4.  Skill Sharpeners Spell & Write Grade 1 by Evan-Moor.  A basic reading, writing, and grammar & punctuation workbook.

5. S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet by Esther HershenHorn and Zachary Pullen.  I think you have to read a lot to become a good writer.  This is our favorite book on stories. It gives a different element of a good story for each letter of the alphabet.  And the explanations are wonderful.  This is one that adults can learn from too.

6. R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet by Judy Young and Victor Juhasz.  This one is like the Writer’s Alphabet, above in #5.  It gets pretty detailed and so is also a really great read for adult writers too!

7.  Draw Then Write, Grades 1-3 by Evan-Moor.  This workbook is really valuable because it has the student draw a picture of something specific, like a lion.  Then, it has the student fill in a few sentences with words from a word bank.  And lastly, (this is my favorite part!), it has the student write about that lion by answering the ever-important questions of “who, what, where, when, and why.” It adds a bit of discipline to the whole storytelling subject, especially for younger kids.

8.  Lined paper for storytelling.  You don’t have to buy lined paper but I do find that my children’s handwriting is better for it.   It helps them focus as they write their words — not just on their subject matter but also their form.

9.  A Sentence a Day by Samantha Prust.  I use this with Molly to practice editing but we don’t do it every day.  It is amazing how much time and attention one sentence can take!  Sometimes less is more.

10.  Washable Markers.  My kids like markers instead of crayons and nothing beats a brand new pack.

11.  Rory’s Story Cubes.  This game is just a bunch of dice with images on them.  We roll them and then each take a turn adding bits to a story using the images.  It is really fun with little kids because they get really silly.

12.  My kids love, love, love this video from Flocabulary:

13.  BrainPOP jr.  If you are looking for an App for an i-device, our favorite for storytelling (and a lot of other subjects too) is BrainPOP jr., which, when searched for “storytelling,” had about 16 short (each about 4 minutes in length) movies about, well, storytelling.  The App is free, as are many of the movies, although it does have two levels of paid subscriptions as well.  I think you can also access it via computer.

14.  Banish Boring Words!  by Scholastic.  A book of fun synonyms.  The book says it is for grades 4-8 but my 6-year-old loves it.

We have recently tried to pull everything together by working on a story for the PBSKIDS GO! Writer’s Contest.  It has been a fun project and I think Molly really learned from the process of editing her work.  It is definitely a fun and worthwhile project.  The deadline is still a couple of weeks away.  Check it out!

And how scary is that blueberry monster in Joseph's latest story?!?

And how scary is that blueberry monster in Joseph’s latest story?!?

Ready to write?  I would love to see what you are working on!  I’d also love to hear what tools you’re using with your kids.  Or for yourself.  And what do you think of ours?

A Glimpse of our Homeschooling Days with our New Spring Schedule (a goal) (and a few asides)


Good Old Fashioned Paper Calendars Never go out of Style

We are into our Spring schedule and settling in to our new routine.  For those of you who have asked, here is a glimpse of our days.  It is fairly specific, as requested by a few of you.

Most of the kids we know are in school, and so, more tightly scheduled activities start at 3:30 pm or later.  This is awesome for us because we have a whole day of fairly flexible fun and work (or rest, depending on the day) before that.

Most days we let the kids sleep until they wake up on their own.

We limit screen time so when they do get up they tend to draw, help me make breakfast, fold/put away laundry, tidy/clean the house (I am a big proponent of getting the kids involved early helping with household responsibilities), or just putter around.  Once we eat we start our “schoolwork”, which lasts for about 20-40 minutes each time.  Depending on the day, we will work 1-3 times.  I usually have a general idea of what I want to cover but I try to let the kids lead how the work gets done.  Of course, if something interesting occurs to us, we are always willing to scrap the day’s plans to make room for it.  And on the days it’s necessary, I do what I need to do to motivate the kids to get their work done.  Mostly, this entails me reminding them that we cannot participate in whatever social activity is planned for that day if we don’t finish our work first.

(A small aside here: I am not sure why so many people are concerned about the socialization of homeschooled kids [almost every parent bold enough to talk with me about schooling choices has said they send their kids for “socialization” or because they “don’t want their kids to be weird”].  My kids are some of the most social I know and they are comfortable in almost any social situation I put them in.  Really, I am not just tooting their horns).

We are, per the kids’ requests, continuing tennis and swim lessons as well as tae kwon do and piano.  And because we are in a town that lives and breathes skiing, Molly is joining her schoolmates for nordic (cross-country) and alpine (downhill) skiing one day each per week.  Her school actually lets out early on Fridays so the kids can alpine ski for 3 hours!  Molly also joins her classmates one afternoon per week for Library and a science/nature class.

(OK, one more little aside: I feel very lucky to have such a supportive school community.  Even though they are required to by law, it is still really great that they welcome my kids into their community with such open arms.)

If our calendar sounds like a lot, it is.  Our major goal this semester is to PROTECT OUR TIME.  That means that we won’t be adding anything else without giving up something in exchange.  We have made enough friends and figured out the area well enough that if I allowed it, we would be booked from morning through to bed time.  The world is full of fun!

(Last aside, I promise:  I am also asked pretty often how I fill my days with three small children.  And I admit, before I did it, I also wondered what I would do with all that time!  I was especially worried about the baby.  Here’s the deal: I find that the more time I leave unplanned, the more the kids fill it with interesting things.  Things that the kids like to do together!  Having a lot of downtime means there is plenty of room to follow our interests.  And plenty of room for the kids to teach each other.  Sometimes going on a wild goose chase because you’re curious is the best way to learn. And I think it is important that the kids learn how to direct themselves, without me telling them how or what to do every moment).

As for academic subjects, we are back to math, grammar/punctuation, and copywork in workbooks 2-4 times per week.  Science is as directed by the kids (and through the school as mentioned above).  I have loosened up a bit now that Molly knows what is expected of her and I basically just create goals for the week and mark pages for her to complete.  Then she works on them alone or with me.  Singapore Math, which is new to us this semester, has a great manual for me as it includes lots of fun games and activities.  Joseph loves to play them with us so that has been a really great addition to our work so far.  I will write more about our progress after we make some.

Molly’s writing is coming along and I don’t think you can work on writing and editing enough (all that critical thinking!) so in addition to “letter Monday” and “Sketch Tuesday” we are working on writing and storytelling.  The major work component for her is that I have asked her to draw a picture and write at least five grammatically correct sentences about once or twice a week.  I love, love, love, watching her think of, write, edit, and illustrate her thoughts!

As laissez faire as this all may sound, we’re on or ahead of schedule in the various subjects so far.

The only other addition has been to start preparing for standardized testing.  Under the laws of our state we have to either use a standardized test or have a portfolio evaluation (or come up with a third, mutually-agreed-upon-with-the-state evaluation of the kids’ progress).  I do keep a pretty extensive portfolio (that is the major reason I started this blog).  Nonetheless, for now we are thinking we will use a nationally recognized achievement test.  Testing seems easy, pretty inexpensive, more objective than just a portfolio, acceptable to the state, and both my husband and I loved taking them (I know, I know, what is wrong with us?? :))!

If anyone has any thoughts on standardized testing or the various types (especially California Achievement Test (CAT), IOWA Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), or the Stanford Achievement Test), I would love to hear them.  As for preparation, our goal is not to “teach to the test“, but rather to prepare with our future test takers for what to expect with regard to format, timing, and length.

Do you think we should use a standardized test?  I am especially interested to hear your thoughts if you are an unschooler who tests, as we are starting to lean towards that type of homeschooling.  Which test would you use?  Why or why not?

Our work-in-progress curriculum

As I am not yet sure what kind of homeschoolers we will be (i.e., eclectic, unschooling, classical), and as  I am still a little nervous about making sure I actually educate my kids at least as well as the State would (whatever that means), I plan to use various workbooks and curricula as well as a schedule of goals to complete until Christmas.  Then we will reevaluate.

As far as curricula and schedules go, my current working plan is that we will have subjects with assigned written work and activities to do on a weekly basis.  I have divided up the work I would like us to cover and will make a list of it.  As it is completed, we will check it off.  I really don’t care if we do it all each week, or when we do it, as long as we are making progress.  Also, I don’t really care if we do every single subject every single week.  If we really get into a subject, I’d like to take the time to enjoy it. We will join the local public school for what they call “specials”, which include art, music, and a program with Tin Mountain Conservation Center, which is a nature and science special.  I would also like to take some field trips to visit family and to attend homeschool classes/camps in NY and Philly when it is convenient.

Here is a tentative list of what we plan to use:


Singapore Mathematics Primary Math Standards Edition 1A

Dreambox on-line interactive math program

Our local public school uses Everyday Mathematics and the first grade teacher there kindly gave us a copy of the book they will be using so I am having Molly complete the first workbook before we start Singapore Math


Mudpies and Magnets, which has been great for experiments with both Molly and Joseph

Singapore Science Child’s Play Science K , for when Joseph is joining us

Singapore Science Earlybird Start-up Science 1-2.

Molly will also join the school for a special with Tin Mountain Conservation Center each week


I plan to let Molly read whatever books she likes and am buying her a scanner to scan them to enter them into a book organization database so we can track what she reads.  That seems to me more fun than assigning work.  Plus, she gets to use a real scanner!  We are trying out databases now.  I’ll update this when we commit to one.

Reading for the Gifted Student Grade 1, a pretentious name but the work in the book is quality nonetheless

The Complete Writer: Level 1 Workbook for Writing with Ease

SRA Reading Labs 2.0

Real life writing of letters, lists and signs, etc.


The Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times


First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, Level 1

Evan-Moor Grammar and Punctuation Grade 1


Evan-Moor K-2 Beginning Geography


Swim lessons, tennis lessons, soccer team and running just because Molly loves it!


Drawing with Children

Sketch Tuesdays with Harmony Art Mom, although I don’t think we will be submitting our work to the website right away

Molly will also join the school for art each week


Lollipop Logic

Logic Safari Book 1

Detective Club


D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths

Buddha at Bedtime

Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions that Help you Wonder About Everything!

I am still looking for foreign language options.  Molly loved French and Spanish class in the past so I that is a top priority to find again.

So, that is the list of materials that we will start with this year.  It is, of course, not inclusive but I am trying not to go overboard with purchases.   I will add and remove books as we go along.  I am hoping as I get more confident and less susceptible to outside criticism of our choices that we will become less regimented and didactic.  After, all the idea is to have fun and to feel free while getting a real education.