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Homeschool Curriculum

Greetings! It's great to be back! I have missed being here... I'd like to pick up where I left off and continue with this homeschool series, things will be back to a more balanced mix sometime next week hopefully. Not everyone is interested in homeschool thoughts, I know, but it is where we are at the moment and it feels authentic to continue sharing for now. 

Many of you have asked what we are using specifically for curriculum. Emily is technically in seventh grade. For us, that is a stretch from homeschooling a fourth grader (we did that for a brief period) and she requested a formal curriculum to follow. And I must say, I am enjoying the predesigned format that serves as our guide. We've added our own spin to it which I will share more on in a moment.

For the most part, we are using Oak Meadow for our curriculum. We are taking English (Strunk & White and 100 Days are part of this), Civics, Physics, and World History. Oak Meadow's World History is integrated with Fine Arts which is really cool. Some of these courses are seventh grade, some are eighth. l love that we can customize this as homeschoolers. There is a lengthy list of literature that accompanies the English, but we did not order those books. The titles that are not already in our home library we can easily check out of our public library.

For math we went with Math Mammoth which I've had some experience with in the past. It is thorough and affordable (sold as a downloadable text). Math is an edge for Emily - if there is one academic area that I feel (slightly) critical about regarding Montessori education, it is that the math is presented and practiced very differently from conventional so it can be a challenge to transition from (and most children do transition at some point). There isn't a whole lot of formal Montessori math to choose from post elementary. Children who are naturally strong in this subject have an easier time transitioning to mainstream math. As for us, we are enjoying the pace and level that we have chosen for Emily through Math Mammoth - feeling grateful for the opportunity homeschooling has provided for us to do so.

Geography is naturally a part of our learning as an extension of World History and Civics (and Literature too!), but for fun we have added a book put out by Rand McNally covering Intermediate Geography and Map Activities. It deepens her experience with the subject and she thinks it's really fun.

Here are a few of our current math reference books. The Usborne Math Dictionary is excellent!

A few other non-computer references that we reach for everyday. We love Scholastic's Checking Your Grammar.

My sister gave our family the entire set (!!!) of Foxfire books which we find to be a wonderful resource and sooo inspiring for future projects and/or areas of study. Soapmaking! Candlemaking! Squirrel hunting! (Okay, maybe not that...)

Aside from those basics, we enhance and add things as we are inspired to. For instance, we are loving the World History course. So much so that it's a little sad to see each lesson end! To extend our pleasure we've decided to create a HUGE timeline over the course of the year adding one "card" for each unit studied. Each period is encapsulated on two 8 1/2" x 11" pieces of card stock that are secured together on the back side. Once all of her information is added we'll have the cards laminated (we've only had one laminated so far). This is going to be huge at the end of the year and I'm sure will go into a book of sorts, I think it will be way too big to string up in typical timeline fashion.

I find the true learning of these historical periods takes place during the making of these timeline cards. There is time spent on the gathering and creating, there is lengthy discussion about the likes of King Henry VIII (and his questionable behavior as a husband... ahem), Shah Jahan (how lovely that he built heaven on earth for his deceased wife's body to rest until her day came to be called to actual heaven... but, um... it was built by over 20,000 slaves Mr. Jahan). Our discussions go on and on expanding into unexpected places, following us through our days. I really look forward to this year long project! Take a look at her first two cards for our timeline...

I love how this is coming together.

Civics has been a wonderful course that brings many topics of discussion to our dinner table each night. While we all have a sense of this subject based on our experience as citizens, Adam brings an interesting perspective as this reflects his academic and professional expertise. Of course, I also bring plenty of Howard Zinn's thoughts and writings to class as well. Question everything!

I imagine Civics will be revisited during the high school years, but exploring it with a middle schooler is quite interesting - and very mind opening for them!

Where would we be without our library card? Each week (or two) we head to the library and stock up on relevant material for our classroom library. I try to keep each trip to 20 or so titles (not including Emily's pleasure reading). I find limiting the number of books allows me to display just enough titles, keeping things interesting without being overwhelming. So the books you see in our rug area and on the lower bookshelves change from week to week... things stay fresh!

Of course there is the essential basket of pleasure reading as well...


In addition to her formal coursework (which is a really great fit for Emily and our family), Emily now has her own computer located behind the work table. It is used for research, creative writing, math games, photo editing (a wonderful place of interest for her), blogging (she maintains a private blog shared with friends and family), and so forth. This is not a primary tool for us, but is certainly a wonderful addition to our classroom!

Rounding all of this out, we bake together a few times a week, handcrafts and fine art are always present, time spent outdoors and sports are a daily essential.

We are a single car family at the moment. (We have been since the beginning of September - oh, that ever so tight, single income, homeschool family budget... more on that in another post.) So that is kind of cramping my spontaneous "hey, let's go for a hike" style... but we are grateful to have friends, the library, a wonderful cafe, and our food co-op all within a five minute walk.

We definitely feel our classroom and areas of study exist beyond our front door and purchased curriculum. Freedom truly abounds and we are enjoying ourselves each and every day... even the days that are so full they leave me bone tired (mentally and physically) by the end. It's a good ride.

Homeschool Environment

Not everyone realizes they are sensitive to their immediate surroundings, but I do think most of us are. I know I am. It's important to check in with yourself about that, and to check in with your child(ren) too. As homeschoolers, we spend a lot of time within these walls that we call home, why not take some time and create just the kind of space that feels amazing for your family.

I love comfortable, purposeful spaces. Considering that part of my personality, I was excited to set up a little area to call home base for our homeschool studies and supplies. Most of the time we do wind up working right from this room, but if the mood strikes, we are not afraid to wander off to a different area within or around of our home. This space is actually quite humble as I look through these photos. It does not hold the latest and greatest from Ikea, nor does it even feel complete according to the (very DIY) vision I have in my head, but is a good start. Allow me to show you around a little bit.

To the right of the main work table you see above...

... you will find built in bookshelves, an area rug for spreading out while working, dry erase board, bulletin board (now totally full with the first projects of the year), and current books from the library (topics mostly connected to current areas of study). This is a greatly used area by all of us. It is an easy, comfortable spot to do lessons. I like how the whiteboard is low to the ground. Keeping lessons on the floor allows for gentle ease of movement which feels less confining than a chair. This actually extends the attention span of children and adults alike! ;)

There is another shelf area to the right of the open doorway that is not quite set up yet. It will holding baskets and trays filled with kitting, art and craft supplies.

The turquoise bureau (must get those drawer pulls on) holds my art supplies and extra craft/school supplies to be pulled out during the year. On top, in a wooden apple box, I keep reference materials and teacher manuals. There is also a "done" box on top of the books where Emily can drop her assignments as she finishes. A few pretty little pieces of pottery and a basket hold assorted supplies that I need to keep within reach - paper clips, scotch tape, flash drive, post it's, Tao Te Ching, Bhagavad Gita... you know, essential mama supplies

The shelves under the windows Emily is still settling into, but the top shelf holds so many useful things for her. A tray a various sizes and shapes of scrapbook paper (awesome for projects and presentations), glue, markers, colored pencils, pencil sharpener, stapler, tape, paper cutter, three hole punch... and so on.

This is Emily's corner. Here is a better look at the top of those shelves. She will tell you her most essential piece of equipment is by far the swivel chair. It was her first day of homeschool gift and she is truly one happy kid to have it. This chair completely enhances her environment. $39.00, very well spent. ;)

I love all the light in this room, windows beside her, windows behind her, so fantastic.

Behind the beloved swivel chair is her mission control. At arms length - books, planner, paper, backpack for outings, etc - it's all here, just one swivel away.

So that is about it for now. It isn't fancy, but it suits us just fine and we are happy to have plenty of room to continue making it our own as the year goes on.

And when everything is humming along nicely, I like to take advantage of a particular staff benefit we offer here, a little art time at the table for me...

What elements do you find beneficial to your homeschool environment?

Homeschool Rhythm

Today I think I'll talk about the rhythm of our homeschool days. I'll do my best to keep this post on topic, and not drift to other areas that I plan to write about in the days ahead. It's a bit of a challenge as they so easily blend together, but in an effort to be clear and organized... a little separation will be a good thing.

First, I know you all understand this but I'd like to make one point if I may... the style in which we homeschool is based on our own preferences, with the heaviest consideration being Emily's needs and desires. If I had a different child, or several children to homeschool, this post would read differently than it is about to. And I think that is important to note before I move forward. The way our days play out has more to do with who Emily is than some preconceived plan that I read in a "how to" homeschool manual. The freedom to tailor the rhythm/schedule to suit individual or family needs is a beautiful opportunity that is central to homeschooling.

We have a pretty solid routine to our days. I do write a "schedule" for us each day, and it changes somewhat from day to day. For instance, on Tuesday and Thursday we homeschool with our neighbor for a couple of hours in the morning (though I think we may switch that to the afternoon). Emily and her friend are both taking the same Physics and Civics course so it's fun to do those together. On Fridays, Emily and her friend go to a homeschool co-op for teens (there are many 12 and 13 year olds in the group) for a full day of classes and visiting. This semester she has chosen Student Council and an Interactive Stock Market Class to take. There are also "free" periods scheduled into the day for independent work brought from home or simply down time with friends. That is the general flow to our school week.

Breathing Room

Where would I be without it? I think this is so important. When you look at our schedule board, it appears as if every moment is planned and accounted for each day. This is sort of true. Things generally happen in the order that you see listed (though that order changes daily), but the times noted we are not attached to. They definitely shift as the day goes on. We think that is pretty great. It's more a point of reference than it is a time keeper. Emily prefers to work at a steady yet moderate pace and I am finding that "scheduling" a full hour per subject is more her speed. She'll often take 1 1/2 hours to work on something too. This is her choice. She likes to sink into an assignment and work through it's entirety (usually) in one sitting. Emily does not like unfinished business. Often times when studying one area (Queen Elizabeth I for instance) she'll be inspired to read/learn about something else (say Queen Elizabeth II) and I will happily support her in spending an extra 1/2 hour on an assignment to honor such a teachable moment.

Everyone in our home is very aware that although we follow a schedule of sorts each day, there is plenty of breathing room throughout. If we need an extra 10 minutes here, or 15 less somewhere else, we allow for that to happen. If we are so into studying one thing that another falls off the schedule at the end of the day, so be it. No harm done. That is the subject we'll start with the next day... things will roll on just fine. This is a freedom we treasure.

Goodness, will you look at those time errors on this schedule! Who wrote this thing anyway!? Needless to say, there was a lot of "breathing room" that day. ;)

Certain Things Remain the Same

Given all of that s p a c e mentioned above, you should know there are a few things about our days that remain pretty consistent. They are as follows:

  • We start our school day at 8:30am (give or take 5-10 minutes). The exception to this is the two days a week we do an extra math lesson with dad (at 8:00) before he goes to work.
  • We begin each and every day with a walk around the neighborhood, umbrella's extended if it's raining. Going outside for fresh air gets the blood moving and when we return home, we walk right into our school room making for a very easy transition.
  • I always have the school room prepared for the day so when we do arrive home from our walk, we sink right in. Windows are open with fresh air blowing through, lights are on, music playing softly, maybe a pot of tea on the table. I have the day's schedule already written and waiting. Emily takes a few moments to copy it into her planner (apparently, it's a "middle school thing..."). This is something she likes to do - it's gives her a routine starting point and a self-directed place to begin each day. She also likes to note due dates in her planner for bigger projects.
  • We eat when we are hungry. Drink when we are thirsty.
  • We take a fifteen minute break (with breathing room) at some point in the morning. If we need another break we take that too.
  • We take an hour for lunch each day. We call it Lunch and Leisure.
  • Emily has a "Choice" block of time available to her each day. I make a list of a whole bunch of things she can choose from, or she'll have her own idea. Things we have done during Choice to this point have included; friendship bracelets, acrylic painting, nature photography, building a patio table, assembling a rolling, swivel chair for a certain student, pleasure reading, hanging bulletin boards with power tools, guinea pig training (uh-huh), bike riding, letter writing... things like that.
  • We "do school" until 2 or 3:00pm. I don't want to get off topic (so far I've been pretty good!), but I'll just touch on the fact that when we decided to homeschool, I made a personal commitment to be present for a full school day. Now that Emily is in seventh/eighth grade, the academic load is a bit heavier than in the past. We take our time, and fill each day with learning and curiosity. I'm not looking to be done by noon... there are too many hours left in the day! For now we are keeping our work time pretty sacred. Doing our thing during "normal" school hours... sometimes with friends, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes indoors, often outdoors... but a full day of living, learning, and growing together is something I am very committed to.

I hope this sheds a little light on how we approach the rhythm of our school days. Check back in six months and I'm sure I'll have a different routine to report! Life is funny that way, ebbing and flowing as it does. Reminding us always that more important than the lists and the plans, we need to remain patiently flexible as things grow and evolve. Because they always do.

Organizing a Few Homeschool Ideas

Since sharing about our decision to homeschool, a wave of questions have come through asking for further details. Topics that I've been asked to share more about (according to our family) include:

  1. Style/Philosophy/Goals
  2. Environment
  3. Rhythm/Schedule
  4. Curriculum, Materials, and Resources
  5. Organization and Record Keeping
  6. Budget/Finances
  7. Taking Care of the Teacher (it is a full time, non-paying job with huge responsibility - self care and personal time for the teacher is crucial!)

Am I forgetting anything? I will be writing on each of these topics in the coming weeks. It seems a little much to lump into one post. Please let me know if there are things I did not list that you were curious about. I know you realize this is fairly new for us, I will openly share my experience to this point. I may even get crazy and write a post about socialization... ha!

Sorry to be so brief this morning. I'm heading out for a long, early morning walk (alone... yummy self care!). I just wanted to stop in and organize these ideas... and say hello. Hello! Oh, and offer a big thank you for signing up for my newsletter, such fun! Expect to see the first edition delivered the first week in October. Perfect timing, my favorite month.

Any other homeschool topics you were curious about? I will add them to the list. Also, feel free to share (leave a link) to your favorite homeschool blogs/websites. I'm continuously building my list of such sites. Okay, have a great day everyone!

From the Farm

So excited to have lima beans this week! I do think we might be looking at the last of the tomatoes though.

These two tried really hard to get in the way of my little veggie photo shoot. Moments after I snapped this...

... Miss Hazel swatted poor Sukha's nose and claimed her throne.

Terrible manners, this girl.

Our Summer Pantry

{Rounds of roasted eggplant layered with heirloom tomato, fresh marinara and parmesan. Popped back into a 450 oven for 10 minutes. Pile on the fresh basil and pour the wine!}

This summer, more than any other, as we gathered around our table each day, there were words spoken about "The Farm." I've talked about our CSA arrangement here, it's been such a perfect fit for our family. Next year I will add to the budget a bit so I can put more food by for the winter, this season's harvest has mainly served as our summer pantry. And oh my, with the heat we've had this summer, the abundance of fresh produce has been so appreciated.

We love Farmers Markets too, but there is such temptation (for us) to buy all of those extra goodies such as soap, wood fired pizza, homemade ice cream... the market is a wonderful outing with many fun indulgences, but heading straight to the farm every Saturday morning helps me get right down to business. And business has been so good this year.

{Sunday morning breakfast. All but the orange juice was from either the farm, or our herb garden. Eggs are from another local farm. This feast caused us to pause with deep gratitude.}

Since the beginning of June, I have posted exactly FOUR times in the Taste category of this blog. An unusually low number for me. It is where I generally share recipes and such. Things have just really shifted here foodwise. For months now we have not created or followed a recipe. If food is served cooked at all, it's with a quick flash of heat. Often a high heat, fast roast sort of thing. For instance, a tray of roughly sliced patty pan squash gets roasted at about 450 for just 8 minutes. Done! Dinner is mostly prepared!

{Patty pan ready for a quick roasting.}

Ingredient lists have gone missing this season. In their place we've enjoyed single fruits and vegetables with just a touch of sea salt, cracked pepper, and maybe a drizzle of olive oil or honey from the farm. To say things have been simple around here is an understatement. Simply beautiful. It's going to be a long winter as we dream of doing this all over again next year.

{All done!}

I read in one of Scott Nearing's books (can't remember which one) that for dinner he'd often sit down with a bowl of popcorn, a pepper and an apple from the garden, plus a paring knife. He never understood what all the fuss was about at dinnertime. "Keep it simple." he said. There are few historical figures that have inspired my own ideals more than Scott (and his wife Helen) Nearing. I thought of them a lot this summer as we ate from the local earth, easily 80% of the time.


{The finest thing I have tasted all summer is heirloom tomatoes roasted on top of a crustless quiche. I think I've made this 4 times. I can't begin to explain the depth of flavor that is revealed by roasting heirloom tomatoes .}

At the end of September I am teaching a cooking class with a friend. I have no idea what will be on the menu, likely some winter squash varities will be ready then, so there should be some of that. Oh! Apples too... and kale. In another time and place, I would have been planning recipes and testing them so thoroughly for an evening like this, but not these days. These days are so simple. It is not about me redefining these perfect, whole food ingredients, it is about me getting out of the way and letting them tell their story. Nature needs no help from me, that is for sure. My cooking this summer, and my plans for the upcoming cooking class, both certainly reflect that.

"Keep it simple," Scott said. Yes sir, will do.