Preschool, Take Four

IMG_6697Someone asked me what I did differently with preschool the fourth time around.

Answer: not much. Really, my approach to preschool boils down to one thing. A lot of reading.

At our house, preschool for any age (2, 3, 4) consists of:

  • A story from a Bible story book (this is our new favorite)
  • A story from Aesop’s Fables
  • Several pages of one of our collection of Mother Goose anthologies (it turns out that nursery rhymes are key for pre-reading skills, but I also think they are a good introduction to poetry and they turn up in literature all the time) – a few of our favorites are this, this, this, this, this, and this,¬†but we have others. ūüôā
  • Five (or more) picture books from our collection

Ideally, I kick off the day with Eliza’s one-on-one preschool time, because she’s always up and raring to go early and it fills her tank so she can listen and color or play quietly alongside the big kids when they are getting my focus the rest of the morning. Eliza turned 4 in May, so this year she adds in reading lessons (5 minutes) and some basic handwriting and numbers (5 minutes) to the usual preschool¬†routine described above. She is fairly desperate to learn to read, and is diligently identifying words and sounds whenever she can. She sits for long stretches of time with books in her lap, attempting to read them, then announces to all and sundry that it’s VERY difficult to read when you can’t read WORDS. We’ll get there.

We use picture books from a variety of lists, from Ambleside Online, Sonlight, etc. I started with lists but didn’t stop there. , Over time I developed a sense of what kind of books I like to read and share with the kids–interesting illustrations, vivid language, no didactic lessons or tiresome data or cartoon characters–with good books I feel like I know it when I see it.

I’d love to read more picture books than our preschool time, and some days I do, but even when I don’t get to it, Eliza has a lot of reading in her life. In addition to her preschool reading, Eliza sits in on all Bible and school reading for the other kids, our family read-aloud time, and her older siblings read to her daily.¬†Some days, if time allows, I do Margaret’s reading (five or more board books) right after Eliza’s preschool, and both girls listen to both types of books.

My focused preschool time with Eliza takes 30-45 minutes per day, depending on the length of books we read. This is not to say that she doesn’t do other preschool-y things throughout the day, such as cutting up bits of paper with scissors, playing with playdough, coloring, doing puzzles, lacing cards, etc. We have a box of those things that she can use during school time, and she does. But I’ve found that kids actually do better and enjoy those things more when Mama isn’t hovering. Fortunately, with five children in the posse, helicopter parenting is right out!

And that’s preschool at our house this year (you can read more about our school day here). If you have preschoolers, what does your day look like?


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Oh Right, We’re Homeschooling

I recently stumbled on a post written when Hannah was 2 1/2.  It was about what we were doing for homeschool.  With a 2 1/2 year old and a 1 year old and a babe in utero.  I think at the time I felt like I needed to quantify what I was doing, because I felt like I just read out loud for hours every day.  In hindsight, that was probably the most important thing I did for the kids, and that habit is still one we benefit from.

So yeah, I’ve been a homeschool junkie for a while. ¬†I will say that I’ve learned a lot over the past five years. ¬†I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie. ¬†But some things are the same–the core of our day is reading out loud together and I’m still passionate about education. ¬†I don’t know, and would not venture to guess, what our schooling will look like in years to come (or even next semester), but this is what we’re doing now.


Most days, we start with math. ¬†The day just goes more smoothly when we get this under our belts immediately. ¬†That’s why there is a lot of oatmeal residue on the math books.

  • Hannah: Saxon 3
  • Jack:¬†Saxon 2
  • Sarah: Saxon K

We took a detour last spring and Hannah and Jack both completed Singapore math books. ¬†I like the approach, but the reality is that I don’t have time to do extra drill, whereas Saxon builds that in for me so we’re back to Saxon this fall. ¬†And no, Sarah doesn’t really need a math book at age 4, but she likes to feel a part of things and kept asking for her own Saxon book.


We cover a lot of subjects together, because it’s easier and fosters a shared body of knowledge and I think that reading aloud together is just about the most important thing I do with my kids. ¬†We’ve been reading together since they were babies so they pay attention pretty well and we all like this part of school best. ¬†As we read, the kids narrate back to me what they remember, so I can tell if they are paying attention and getting it, or if I need to backtrack and explain something. ¬†We have a lot of interesting conversations along the way. ¬†Here’s what we cover in Reading Time:


We are using Training Hearts, Teaching Minds¬†for our Bible study. ¬†Finally the kids are perfect ages for this fantastic book. ¬†Each week focuses on a different catechism question and talks about related scripture and issues. ¬†We also do Jack’s Sunday School Biblestudy, work on our memory verses, and sometimes sing a Psalm or hymn.


We do a lesson from First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1¬†together. ¬†This is for Jack, but Sarah knows it just as well as he does and Hannah really ought to be doing the lessons from Level 2 but I haven’t gotten around to adding that yet. ¬†Her workload is a lot higher this year, and I think she needs time to feel secure about that. ¬†We might add Level 2 work for her later. ¬†Meanwhile, she’s doing a lot of extra writing and grammar work with Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids–her co-op class is doing level 3.

History and Literature

Sarah and Jack are in the Lower Grammar class of our Tapestry of Grace group, and Hannah is in Upper Grammar. ¬†So we do the Lower Grammar history and literature assignments as read-alouds, while Hannah does the Upper Grammar reading as independent work. ¬†Jack reads aloud from a short chapter book related to the topic we’re studying as his reading work (he’s reading chapter books really well, but still working on expression when he reads out loud). ¬†It’s a lot of reading, but it’s interesting. ¬†This year we’re doing Tapestry of Grace Year 2. ¬†We also use the Classical Conversations history statements and timeline, although we are not part of a CC group this year.


We learn the Classical Conversations science statements and read living books about science (lots of these are listed on the Sonlight reading lists, if you’re interested). ¬†Our Tapestry co-op meets every 2-3 weeks and does an experiment from Noeo Physics, and once a week we try to do a science experiment at home–either from Classical Conversations or another experiment book. ¬†We’re taking a break from a science textbook for now.


Sarah is in preschool and although she enjoys learning along with Hannah and Jack, I don’t want her to miss out on the fantastic literature I used to spend all day reading when the big kids were little. ¬†So every day we read some Mother Goose (good for rhyming and cultural literacy, if you want to get technical), an Aesop fable, a fairy tale or folk tale, and three or four picture books (we have our favorites from all sorts of lists, but I go for strong storytelling, great artwork, proper grammar, and no twaddle). ¬†Sarah is learning to read from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading¬†but we do her lesson separately once we go back to the table (see below).

Memory Work

In addition to our Bible memory and Classical Conversations memory work, we also use Reading Time for memorizing our Shakespeare speech, doing math memory like addition and multiplication facts, Latin vocabulary, and so forth.


After finishing up Reading Time, we head back to the table for other subjects.


  • Hannah:¬†Spelling Plus¬†(she does this as part of her independent work, but does the dictation sentences at the table) and looking up vocabulary words in the dictionary (one or two per day)
  • Jack: All About Spelling Level 2



We do the Classical Conversations map work as well as the Tapestry of Grace map work that ties to what we’re studying that week.


Hannah is doing a lot of writing this year, or at least it seems like a lot. ¬†As I mentioned above she is doing level 3 in Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids. ¬†Each week she writes a composition incorporating a different pre-writing technique or type of writing. ¬†She learns about the type of writing on Monday, pre-writes on Tuesday, does a rough draft on Wednesday, and a final draft on Thursday. ¬†She’s catching on. ¬†Last week she wrote a three page treatise on Joan of Arc with only help on spelling and a few reminders to alter her sentence structure. I was proud.


Our Tapestry group is doing Latin for Children, and I really, really like this program. ¬†Concepts are well explained, and grammar is presented well so that kids (and parents!) can understand it and apply it. ¬†I think we were a little burnt out on Prima Latina, and it’s helpful to have the co-op for accountability.


We do orchestra once or twice a week (listening to a composer’s music while reading about him), and listen to classical music frequently. ¬†We do art study when it coincides with what we’re learning about in history that week, and on Shakespeare Fridays we do a lot more music and also do lessons from Drawing With Children. ¬†We have had some good art study so far in covering the Middle Ages, and as we move further along we will have even more chances to learn about artists in their historical context.


Written out like this it seems like a lot, even to me. ¬†We build on a little bit year by year, so it’s not overwhelming to us now. ¬†Generally we start school some time between 8 and 9, and Jack and Sarah are almost always finished by noon or 12:30. ¬†Before lunch, at any rate. ¬†Hannah spends a portion of afternoon quiet time doing independent work at her desk–usually reading her history and literature assignments and working on spelling, handwriting, and writing assignments. ¬†Occasionally we have days where everyone is determined to be as sloooooow and inefficient as possible and the kids are still straggling over schoolwork at dinnertime, but that’s rare, thank goodness. ¬†It’s more fun when school is finished early, so that after quiet time they can play or we can do an art project or read for fun or go on a walk or something.

One reason this works is that I have learned to plan ahead. ¬†I’ll go into that process in another post–this one is already pretty long. ¬†I hope it was helpful and/or interesting. ¬†I always like to read about what other families are doing, even if I don’t do the same things. ¬†I definitely don’t want to present what we’re doing as prescriptive in any way. ¬†If nothing else, this post will probably be good for a laugh in another five years, when schooling a 7 1/2 year old will seem as simple as “school” for a 2 1/2 year old seems to me now. ¬†ūüôā

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments or send me an e-mail. ¬†I’m not an expert, but a lot of what I do know I learned from other homeschoolers who were willing to talk about their experiences, so I’m happy to do that too!

A New School Year

We started school three weeks ago when we returned from our vacation. ¬†A couple of weeks of break were welcome, but I like a year-round schedule so we don’t have to spend much time reviewing things and so we can take more breaks during the year when we need them.

The biggest change to our new school lineup from last semester is that we began using Tapestry of Grace. ¬†In case you haven’t heard of it, Tapestry is a program that integrates all sorts of subjects around a four-year cycle of world history, with each cycle including assignments for all 12 grades. ¬†I have prepped the first half of the year so far and I’m absolutely thrilled with it. ¬†There are three key things I love about TOG:

  • It integrates subjects chronologically, because no subject exists in a vacuum.¬† Tapestry starts at the beginning and shows you how to study the history, literature, writing, art, music, philosophy, government, geography, and Bible/church history as it happened together in each time period. ¬†I took a series of five classes structured this way in college and it was the most transformative educational experience I ever had–and one I have been trying to replicate for my own children. ¬†I’m so happy to have found a way to integrate subjects like this even for younger children. ¬†I can already see how much the kids are learning and it’s exciting to watch them make connections, plus I love being able to look at each week plan and see where we are headed in the next learning stages.
  • It includes what I like best about classical and Charlotte Mason educational ideas. ¬†I appreciate the classical model’s emphasis on chronological history, learning levels, and studying foundational texts, and I also appreciate Charlotte Mason’s emphasis on ideas rather than just facts, using narration and picture study, and learning from living books. ¬†Tapestry of Grace uses all of those aspects and offers great suggestions and topics for discussion and digging deeper. ¬†Have I mentioned yet that I am in love with this program? ūüôā
  • It inspires me to use more hands-on activities in our day. ¬†We love to read. ¬†Even though Hannah and Jack are both reading now, we still like to pile on the couch and read out loud for a long time every day. ¬†But I have noticed that Jack especially REALLY loves to do hands-on stuff, like making models and drawing pictures and making books and acting things out. ¬†In addition to extensive age-appropriate book lists, Tapestry also includes fabulous suggestions for art and activities that tie in to each week’s topics, including detailed instructions and pictures which are super helpful to this less-than-crafty mom. ¬†We have done all sorts of activities so far that I would never have thought to do on my own and all of the kids have enjoyed them and learned from them.

If you aren’t familiar with Tapestry of Grace but are interested, you can learn more about it here or in the link in my sidebar. ¬†I am a TOG affiliate, so if you do decide to purchase something from them through my link, I get a small kickback that contributes to funding the books I review on A Spirited Mind. ¬†If you buy something and it asks for the email of the person who referred you, you can enter chgillespie {at} gmail {dot} com. ¬†Thanks!

Other Subjects

Since it’s the beginning of a new school year sort of, I’m including a list of the other curriculum we’re using.

Hannah (6 1/2):

  • Bible:¬†TOG and Awana
  • Reading/Spelling:¬†Hannah is keeping a book log this year of the chapter books she reads. ¬†She’s tearing through books now so I’m always hunting more lists of good books. ¬†Feel free to make suggestions! ¬†For spelling we are using Spelling Plus, and I’m making my own worksheets for her to do her spelling copy work in cursive. ¬†I feel like this kills several birds with one stone.
  • Writing:¬†Hannah is keeping a notebook of People of the Ancient World and adds a page for each major person we study, along with a few sentences about him or her. ¬†She is still working through First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind Book 2¬†and has a section in her school binder for pages on each part of speech she learns, its definition, and its function. ¬†She does the copy work associated with FLL.
  • History: TOG (main and supplementary book lists for lower and upper grammar levels), Story of the World, activities
  • Literature:¬†TOG book lists, plus read alouds we do as a group including daily poetry, Aesop’s Fables, fairy tales, etc.
  • Science:¬†We’re still working in Apologia Astronomy, reading Pagoo (about ocean life), and reading the Burgess Flower Book for nature study.
  • Art/Music:¬†TOG includes suggestions for picture and art study related to the topics and time periods studied each week, and we’re also incorporating lots of art projects. ¬†Hannah takes piano lessons, and we use a variety of books about music.
  • Latin:¬†This year we’re doing Prima Latina again, but Hannah is doing a lot more copy work associated with it, and also taking the weekly tests.
  • Math:¬†Hannah is still working in Saxon 2, and we’re also reading through the Life of Fred series and doing daily flashcard work.
  • Geography:¬†Each week of Tapestry of Grace comes with Map work so the students (and parents!) can learn the geography associated with the other subjects. ¬†We trace the maps, use them as reference, and color and fill in blank copies each week.

 Jack (5)

  • Bible:¬†TOG and Awana
  • Reading: Jack is reading one reader-type book aloud to me every day and keeping a book log of what he has read.
  • Writing:¬†Jack is keeping a People of the Ancient World notebook too, but he only copies the person’s name and then colors a picture. ¬†He does some copy work.
  • History:¬†TOG and Story of the World
  • Literature: TOG, daily reading of poetry, Aesop, fairy tales, etc.
  • Science:¬†Apologia Astronomy, Pagoo, Burgess Bird Book
  • Art/Music:¬†picture and art study, music books, art projects
  • Latin:¬†Prima Latina, but with less of the copy work
  • Math: Saxon 1 part 2, Life of Fred, daily flashcard work
  • Geography:¬†Map work as above

Sarah (3 1/2)

  • Sarah is along for the ride and listens to all of the TOG reading from the other kids’ history, literature, art, etc, plus our daily read alouds of poetry and Aesop and fairy tales, science, and whatever else. ¬†She also does the art projects and science projects the other kids do.
  • I try to include some purely preschool books every day for Sarah: Mother Goose, great books for little kids (no twaddle) and things like that. ¬†I know I don’t read as many of these to her as I did to the others, but the others didn’t know anything about ancient Mesopotamia or Latin like Sarah does, so maybe it all balances out.
  • I have a box of things Sarah can do while the other kids do schoolwork, but she mostly likes to draw and practice writing her name. ¬†I did get one set of numbers flashcards so she can play the flashcard game too. ¬†This she proudly refers to as “becoming a mathematician” which I guess it is since we all have to start somewhere.

I’m planning to post more this semester on the interesting things we’re doing for school (mostly as my own impetus to actually do those interesting things) so stay tuned.

This post is linked up at the (Not) Back-to-School Blog Hop.  Check out other school-related posts at the link below:
Not Back to School Blog Hop


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Books for Kids: Music

It’s important to us that our children develop a love and appreciation for good music, so we often listen to classical music at home and in the car, and were happy to study the orchestra last semester in our Classical Conversations group. ¬†Naturally, we also read a lot of good books about music, so I thought I’d share a few of our favorites:

Story of the Orchestra : Listen While You Learn About the Instruments, the Music and the Composers Who Wrote the Music!¬†is an excellent overview of different time periods, styles, and composers of musical history. ¬†Best of all, the book comes with a CD and the book tells you which track to play as you read each part, so the children can, for example, be listening to one of Mozart’s famous pieces while hearing a short biography and description of his music. ¬†I think this book is a really excellent resource, and can be read with varying levels of detail, making it appropriate for children of a wide variety of ages.

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra¬†follows a similar format, presenting an overview of the instruments in the orchestra, major sub-genres of classical music, and highlighting composers. ¬†It also comes with a CD, but is not designed to be read along with the CD. ¬†The CD contains Benjamin Britten’s composition by the same name as the book, which I think is a very helpful way for kids to hear the differences in instrument families as well as enjoying a rousing and beautiful piece of music. ¬†This book is different enough from The Story of the Orchestra that I would recommend both.

Animal Orchestra¬†is a counting book that also has great illustrations of different instruments. ¬†Although my kids are a little older, Sarah is not too old for counting books, and neither am I. ¬†ūüôā ¬†Mostly, I like this book for the illustrations and the reinforcement of the names of instruments. ¬†The idea of having animals play the instruments adds a fun layer, and it’s fun to talk about why different animals might have the personality to prefer different instruments, just to be silly.

 The Violin Close Up is a really great book of beautiful black and white photographs of the different parts of a violin.  The kids, especially Jack who loves string instruments, have really enjoyed this book and have learned a lot about the parts of a violin and the mechanics of how the instrument works.  If you have a child who is learning to play the violin, I would highly recommend this book.




Meet the Orchestra¬†is another book of animals playing instruments,although this one goes into a lot more detail about what each section does and how the instruments differ than Animal Orchestra¬†does. ¬†There are also far more instruments covered. ¬†I like how the book describes the sound each instrument makes using imaginative terms. ¬†For example, the bassoon “chats and chuckles with the other instruments…chugging along like a tough little engine.” ¬†I think that gets kids in the mindset of using descriptive language about music but gives them room to use their own imaginations to describe what they hear.
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin has been one of our favorites for a long time, with its interesting illustrations and catchy rhyming text.  This book also uses imaginative language to describe the sounds instruments make, and also introduces other musical terms such as what we call different groups of musicians playing together (duet, trio, octet, and so forth), which is very helpful.



The Young Person’s Guide to the Opera: With Music from the Great Operas¬†is similar to the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. ¬†It follows the same format and presents a good overview of the history and development of opera as a genre, as well as information about famous opera composers and their most well-known operas.

These are some of our favorite books about music, but I’m sure I’ve missed some good ones! ¬†What other books about music for kids would you recommend?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

A Funny and Useful Read Aloud for Kids

We usually have a read aloud chapter book going in addition to reading picture books.¬† I think it’s good for the kids’ attention spans and they like a longer more involved story sometimes.¬† Recently we read a fantastic book that not only made us laugh but also helped our character studies.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a book of stories about a lady who loves children and knows all sorts of interesting ways to break them of their bad habits.  Distraught mothers from all over town call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for advice about their child who is an answer-backer, or a slow-eater-tiny-bite-taker, or a fighter-quarreler or whatnot, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle dispenses a cure.  The cures are mostly inventive ways of showing the child what he or she is doing, and then helping him or her make a different, positive habit to replace the bad habit.

As we read the stories, we found a lot of applications for our own little bad habits.¬† One day when I was really at the end of my rope over some recurring bad behavior I said, “I just don’t know what to do with you guys!” and Jack said, “I think you should call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.”

Although some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s cures are unlikely, I like the idea of the kids hearing about a behavior that isn’t right, seeing the parent’s perspective, then understanding how the kids overcame the problem.¬† I don’t think you can read TOO much into this book – it’s very lighthearted and funny – but it did give us some good conversation topics along the way and I’d recommend it as a good read aloud for little ones.

I’m linking up this post at Read Aloud Thursday on Hope is the Word.¬† Be sure to check over there for more great ideas!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Learn About the Platypus

Although I don’t generally use unit studies in our homeschool, I do like them for occasional study, and I like how unit studies integrate subjects.¬† With summer coming up, if you’re looking for something fun to do with your kids that will be good enrichment but not overwhelmingly textbookish, I’d recommend a unit study book like The Curiosity Files: Platypus from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

This e-book is a great reference about platypuses and includes helpful suggestions for activities to reinforce what your child learns about the animal.  If your kids are younger like mine, they will probably really enjoy the coloring activities and making the platypus burrow with dried beans for the platypus babies, and older kids might be interested to find out how scientists figured out the taxonomy of the platypus and how the platypus finds food via electroreception in its bill.

Other sections in the e-book include a set of studies about how to care for the earth God created and how the platypus reminds us of God’s creativity in creation, ideas for how to use the platypus theme to practice math and science concepts like classification, counting by tens, percentages, and the like, suggestions for writing activities, spelling and vocabulary, geography study of Australia, and a list of books about platypi.

Since my kids are 5, 3, and 2, we didn’t cover a lot of these topics in great depth, but they did enjoy doing some of the crafts and learning about classification and taxonomy.¬† We looked up Australia in our atlas and tried to decide how we would get there from Indiana.¬† I checked out most of the books on the reading list since we usually like to learn through literature, and we especially liked the illustrations in A Platypus, Probably.¬† Hannah read Platypus! out loud to us.

If you have an interest in particular animals or topics, an e-book unit study guide like this one might be really helpful to you, whether you homeschool or are just looking for something interesting to do with your kids after school.¬† In the past when we’ve done unit studies (like the unit study we did on The Netherlands) I’ve just done my own research, but if you’re pressed for time I can see how it would be nice to have everything outlined for you.¬† The $6.95 you pay for the e-book might be worth the couple of hours you save scouring the library and Amazon and looking up ideas online, unless you just enjoy doing that sort of thing, which sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

In addition to Platypus, the Curiosity Files series also includes unit studies on other animals, insects, and natural phenomena.  Some of them are only $1 right now!

If you’ve tried unit studies, how do you use them?¬† What are some of the best ones you’ve tried?

Disclosure: Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, Old Schoolhouse links are not.¬† The Old Schoolhouse magazine sent me a complimentary review copy of the Platypus unit study, but I was not compensated for the review nor required to post a positive response.¬† Opinions contained in this review are my honest reaction to the book.¬† Whew!¬† That was a lot of disclosure. ūüôā

What counts as a school day?

I often wonder what counts as a school day.¬† Some days we just breeze through everything in two hours and I think yeah, homeschooling is so easy I can do it with one hand tied behind my back.¬† More often we get through everything but it takes longer than two hours because we have to take a long break to play outside, or because two siblings prefer to fight over who gets to use the green pencil and who has to use a plain yellow one, or because I’m trying to simultaneously teach Latin and do eight loads of laundry.¬†

Then there are the days when it’s like pulling teeth to get anyone to do anything at all and we wind up hitting lunch time with everyone still in their pajamas, having only finished Bible and half of a reading lesson.

I figure there are three main options when it comes to what counts as a school day:

  1. Decide that a school day lasts a certain number of hours. This is the standard school approach.¬† I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of time in school watching videos and sitting around waiting for other kids to finish worksheets.¬† Since my kids don’t watch a lot of videos and only have their siblings to wait for, if we took this approach our day could be considerably shorter than the standard public school day.
  2. Decide that a school day means certain subjects were covered. Bible is easy to do for us since we cover that during breakfast, but in terms of other subjects, I guess if I were to pick a real core I would say maybe reading, math, and Latin?¬† I don’t know where I would draw the line for this option, since I really think all the subjects I cover are important, or else I wouldn’t be covering them in the first place.
  3. Figure that the whole “school day” concept is overrated and focus on turning out kids who get their work done in one way or another. I realize that at some level it doesn’t really matter what constitutes a school day as long as the kids are learning and staying at or above grade level.¬† In our state you don’t have to keep records of attendance until the child is seven, so fortunately I have time to perfect my system!

If you homeschool, what do you count as a school day?  Do you count by hours or by subjects or some other way?

A Day in the Life: School

I like reading about what other people do for school or enrichment with their kids, and I like being able to look back on my own homeschool posts to see how much progress we’ve made.¬† Since I’ve been writing about classical education recently, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into what we’re doing for school these days.¬† Hannah is 5, Jack is nearly 4, and Sarah is 2.¬† We call this year preschool, but my intention is to keep the kids in the grades appropriate for their ages but not limit their school work to what is usually done in that grade.¬† I don’t really know what grade Hannah would be in if we put her in a standard school, but we don’t plan to do that right now so I don’t think it matters.¬† One of the benefits to homeschooling is being able to educate at the child’s pace, and one of the benefits to titling the grades like a public school does is keeping them in the right Sunday School class for their age.¬† ūüôā

I will note up front that when I read posts about what other families do for school I get overwhelmed because it sounds like a LOT of time and work.¬† I hope this doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed.¬† As I note at the end of the post, this whole process usually takes us around two hours, not counting stuff we do at other times of day like at breakfast, during play time and rest time, and in the car.

A Day in Our Preschool

Bible: We read a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible at breakfast.¬† I like the JSB because it ties all of the stories together and shows the flow of biblical history and God’s plan of redemption rather than treating each story as a stand-alone tidbit.¬† After we read, we work on our Bible memory passage (right now we’re learning Romans 8 – we have verses 1-9 learned so far), Sunday School memory verses, and a selection from the Children’s Catechism.¬† Usually we review about 20 questions, and then read through the new questions we’re learning twice.¬† We’re up to question 90 now.¬† We also review a few of our old memory verses.¬† Sometimes we sing the New Testament song, which is a great way to help kids memorize the order of the books of the Bible, and often we sing a Psalm or hymn.¬† In all we probably spend about 20 minutes on Bible and Bible memory, depending on how the morning is going.

Reading: Hannah is reading Little House on the Prairie for her reading book now.¬† She reads a couple of paragraphs out loud per day and is getting a lot more fluent and quicker at sounding out unfamiliar words.¬† Best of all, she really likes the story of Laura and Mary and is proud of being able to read to us.¬† She usually reads a few easy books per day out loud to the little kids, and she reads to herself during rest time.¬† Jack is working through The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading and is reading three letter words now!¬† He is on lesson 38 in the book today.¬† He also reads one easy phonics reader per day, or more if he really wants to.¬† I had a much easier time teaching Jack to read than I did with Hannah, I think in large part because he’s been hearing me work with her for so long!

Language Arts: While one kid works with me on reading, the other kid does a few pages in a phonics/writing/spelling book.¬† Hannah is working through Explode the Code Book 2, and Jack is working through Get Set for the Code.¬† Hannah also recently started writing stories, so after she does four pages in ETC (I have to tell her to stop after four or else she’d finish the book in one day and they are not cheap!) she writes exciting tales of lions eating mice and dogs and cats who are pals and whatnot.¬† The reading and language arts part of our school day usually takes about half an hour, depending on how much reading the kids want to do beyond the section I assign for them to read out loud, and how long they want to work on their Code books.¬† As long as they do the amount I ask them to do with a good attitude and not too sloppily, I don’t mind if they do more.

Math: Both Hannah and Jack are doing Math-U-See Primer.¬† I make their practice sheets myself because I think Primer is too easy for Hannah and writing numbers gets tiring for Jack.¬† They both watch the short video excerpt of the day’s lesson, then I walk them through it again with the manipulatives, and then they work on their practice sheets.¬† Sarah plays with the blocks and watches the video, and sometimes I make her a practice sheet too so she doesn’t feel left out.¬† We’re on lesson 10, and I’m not sure how long it will take to complete the book because sometimes we spend two days on one lesson.¬† I don’t know if we’ll continue with Math-U-See beyond next year, or if we’ll switch to Saxon.¬† Depending on how long the kids play with the manipulative blocks after their lesson, math usually takes about 20 minutes.

Latin: We talk over the current Latin lesson vocabulary, usually play a game with the vocabulary like pretending to be animals or playing Simon Says in Latin, and then we listen to the Latin songs.  While the kids listen to the songs I give them some sort of art to work on, and I make sure the beds are made and the laundry is progressing and do this and that.  Latin is usually about 20 minutes of our day, sometimes a little more if the game is really fun.

Literature (and Art and Science and History…): We always read some Mother Goose rhymes and a fable from Aesop, as well as some poetry (right now we’re using The Harp and Laurel Wreath but sometimes we read from other poetry books).¬† We’re also enjoying a story per day out of Fifty Famous Stories Retold.¬† Our daily book boxes each have a sampling of books about history and other countries, art, science, and classic stories and living books (you can see some of our lists of recommended kids books by topic here).¬† We read a few from each category.¬† We also read a few chapters from our read aloud book, which currently is Pinocchio (the original version).¬† Depending on what we have going on that day, we read between 30 minutes and an hour or so.

History: In addition to the books we read about different historical periods and cultures, we’re also enjoying listening to Story of the World on audio book. Our library has all four volumes, which is fortunate since the audio sets are otherwise not cheap!¬† We listen to this in the car primarily, but the kids sometimes ask for it while they are playing in the playroom too.¬† I like The Story of the World because it’s a good detailed history but puts everything in context and uses a narrative structure that is a lot more like a living book and less like a text book.¬† I’m learning a lot too!

Music: We usually have classical music playing at some point during the day, and I play Lingua Angelica (pretty songs and hymns in Latin) during rest time.¬† Sometimes the kids play on the piano, and Josh gives Jack guitar lessons every now and then.¬† We’ve done composer studies in the past but right now we’re just listening to classical music.

Recitation: In addition to the Bible and catechism memory work we do, we’re usually memorizing a poem too.¬† Right now we’re learning “Rebecca Who Slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably” by Hilaire Belloc.¬† This has the added bonus of helping the children with their character studies, as they are remembering not to slam doors as often!¬† It takes about five minutes to read the poem through twice and let each kid take a stab at reciting it.

Geography: Based on what I read in The Core, I decided to start adding an element of map drawing to our usual atlas work.¬† We pull out the atlas and look a the picture of the world, then find our continent, country, and state.¬† We talk about the name of our city and town and address.¬† For map drawing, we’re learning how to draw the Great Circles.¬† Each kid gets a piece of paper and folds it in half, then draws a line on that fold and labels it “E” for Equator.¬† Then we draw in lines in the right spots for the Arctic Circle, Antarctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, and Tropic of Capricorn.¬† It’s not as hard as it sounds.¬† Depending on how much detail the kids want to talk about in the atlas, geography takes us about 15 minutes.

Since some parts of our schoolwork happen throughout the day – like listening to music and history, or doing Bible at breakfast – it’s hard to say how much time we really spend on preschool, but our core work of reading, math, Latin, and reading takes about two hours usually.¬† I like to keep things moving and go back and forth between types of work so that the kids don’t get tired or overtaxed.

We’ll be making some changes in the fall for Hannah’s kindergarten year, but for the most part school is going great now!¬† It’s a fun part of our day and a good structure for us, so I don’t have any plans to take a summer off or anything.¬† Learning is fun for us and it doesn’t take too much time, so we’ll just keep going.

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The Core

Classical education encourages us that we are capable of becoming an Oxford don who builds bicycles, or a plumber who reads Milton, or a business owner who spouts theology.  The classically educated are not defined by their occupation so much as by their breadth of knowledge and understanding.  -Leigh Bortins

I’ve been disturbed recently by a trend of demeaning the idea that everyone deserves a good education.¬† You have probably seen these items too: “Does one need to read King Lear to be qualified to write speeding tickets or draw blood?” or the insinuation that for most students, studying calculus and physics and classic literature is about as useful as “trying to train your cat to do your taxes.” Once you start down this road things quickly get out of hand: if you don’t need to study classic literature and calculus (which I suppose means you¬† don’t need to know how to read proficiently and think analytically, which is what literature and calculus teach you) to be a cop or a plumber or a salesman, then what else can you skip?¬† Should those people be allowed to vote?¬† Do they really NEED to give thoughtful input into how their communities or businesses are run?¬† Do some people really NEED to eat with a knife and fork?¬† Do they really NEED to speak with proper grammar, or would grunting suffice?

Pshaw, you say, surely there is a vast gulf between reading Plato and being civilized.¬† Is there really?¬† I think every child could benefit from learning how to think and read well, and how to understand current events in light of history.¬† As Leigh Bortins says in her book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, “The goal of education is to teach children to become adults who can handle complex ideas in uncertain situations, with confidence…Classical educators teach subjects not because they are practical, but because they also train people to think clearly about difficult issues.”

In this book, Bortins discusses the reasoning behind taking a classical approach to education, and I appreciated that she directed the book not only toward full-time homeschooling parents, but also to parents who have children in public or private schools, and even to teachers in those schools.¬† Bortins’ perspective is that all parents can be involved and take an active role in their child’s education, and all teachers can implement better standards and practices in their classrooms.

I also liked Bortins’ explanation of the classical model not as a series of stages that happen at set ages, but as a logical progression of how people learn new subjects.¬† One common criticism of classical education is that it only allows rote memorization for little kids, with no allowance for ideas or synthesis until middle school.¬† I don’t know anyone who actually does that in real life: most classical people are happy to see a four year old making connections and interacting with ideas.¬† Bortins expresses this well when she talks about how even as an adult she approaches new information with the Trivium model: “When encountering new information the brain must know how to store data (grammar), retrieve and process data (logic), and express data (rhetoric).”

Although it’s not as detailed as The Latin-Centered Curriculum, The Core does discuss ways to approach different subjects classically.¬† I got a lot out of the section on math – particularly the explanation of why math concepts have to be over-practiced to be mastered and the importance of speed and accuracy.¬† Bortins is an engineer by training, which explains her in depth understanding of how math and science work, and I appreciated the time she took to explain the goals of teaching math.¬† Because I’m a big picture thinker, I really need those “here is the vision” type explanations so I can understand how to carry out the day to day process.

Another helpful chapter is the geography section.¬† Perhaps because I changed schools a lot growing up, or perhaps because it’s just not taught that much anymore, I never studied geography in school!¬† Honestly, my understanding of where the states are located in my own nation has come almost totally via my childrens’ wooden United States puzzle.¬† I’ve always wished I had better geography knowledge, and have tried to teach myself geography along the way.¬† Bortins’ chapter on geography gave me some great ideas for map study and how to teach myself AND my children geography.¬† If my kids happen to take Soviet Empire with Professor Kotkin when they go to Princeton, they will not fail the map quiz like their mama did!¬† ūüôā

Although I got a lot out of The Core, I didn’t find myself in complete agreement with the author’s ideas.¬† That’s pretty normal for me.¬† I plan to put more emphasis on language study than she lays out in this book, and I would say my vision on several points is more closely aligned with The Latin-Centered Curriculum as I’ve previously written.¬† However, I did get some great ideas and inspiration from The Core and I would recommend it.

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Celebrating with Catechism

The title of Leigh Bortins’s book, Echo in Celebration, is taken from the English meaning of catechesis, the word from which we get “catechism.”¬† A catechism is a body of knowledge memorized and recited – most often a set of questions and answers about theological beliefs, but also referring to any set of information you memorize and repeat often.

Many people have a negative view of catechism – they see it as meaningless rote memorization and think of kids reciting endless reams of uninspired facts in monotone voices, with all light of joy in learning stripped from their sad, meager little lives.¬† I think that sort of thing only happens when the parents or teachers aren’t excited about what they are teaching.¬† If you’re deeply grateful for God’s sovereignty and love for you, if you’re amazed by how logical and cool math is, if you’re fascinated by the twists and turns of history, your kids will pick up on that and their lives will be broader and deeper, not restricted.

When we teach our children the catechism, we are teaching them wonderful truths about God and we are showing them how all of life hangs together in God’s plan.¬† When we help them memorize history or math facts or foreign languages, we are giving them the tools to build connections and have their own great ideas.¬† If the parents are excited about what they are helping children memorize, the kids get excited too, and then it really is an echo in celebration!

Like any habit, memorizing gets easier the more you do it.¬† Our kids have been memorizing since they learned to talk so it goes pretty smoothly.¬† We’ve learned the first 80 questions and answers of the Children’s Catechism, we’ve memorized lots of poems (right now we’re learning “Rebecca Who Slammed Doors For Fun And Perished Miserably” which has the added advantage of being a great incentive to gentle door handling!), we’ve learned long Bible passages, and we memorize other stuff as it comes up.¬† Next year we’re planning to join a co-op that includes learning a history timeline and memorizing helpful information about science, math, and grammar.

As with most things in life and parenting, catechism is not a hard and fast rule.¬† It fits with some families and not with others.¬† But in general I think catechizing, done with joy and excitement, can be a great tool for “echoing in celebration” together.