Thursday, January 29, 2015

What's Working and What Isn't-- A Homeschool Update


I've been thinking for awhile that I needed to do a homeschool update and share what has been working for us this year, and what hasn't. I know that I learn so many good things from other people that I thought I'd mention what we have been doing in case it is helpful to anyone...or if you have any suggestions of things to try. 

This is our second year of homeschooling. Asher is doing 1st Grade and Rose started Kindergarten. Overall we have really been enjoying it. I won't lie and say that we don't have tantrums at least every other day, that often the things I plan turn out to be total flops (or I am too lazy to do them), or that there are not days I think I must be totally crazy for not taking the public school option and having at least five hours a day without FOUR kids under the age of 7 running around my house.

Yet, when it comes right down to it I know that this is what God wants me to be doing right now, and-- for the most part-- it working! It has been amazing to see how this process of home school has changed me as a mother and helped me learn to be a nurturer . Home school makes you face your parenting weaknesses and family problems in  a head on approach. There is no avoiding them when you are together so much. We've worked through a lot of things, and everyone is learning. Things aren't perfect.... but there are moments that are.

It is also so rewarding to see the friendships between my children and to see them learn and to be an active participant in all of those moments.  I'm grateful for this time in my life.

It is precious.

So I'll share what we have been up to as long as you realize that not everything goes perfect everyday. It is a work in progress. 

Every Day Things: 


Last year our home school group leader suggested I use a curriculum called Sing, Spell, Read and Write. I wasn't so sure about it but I figured I'd give it a go since they had a free set I could use. It worked really good for Asher to learn his letters and their sounds. All my kids loved the songs that went along with it and he enjoyed doing the worksheets everyday, which included lots of coloring, cutting, and gluing. Yet once we moved more into the phonics part of it he really struggled. The easy reader books provided with the curriculum were not great and WAY too wordy for a new reader. And it was so phonic based that he had a hard time getting the idea of sight words. He struggled a lot last year, and by the end of the year wasn't really reading very much beyond basic phonic words.

I knew that this year I needed to find something else for him but I had NO idea what would work. He was really discouraged and hated to even try reading. When we started school in September I had no plan for reading and kept praying that God would help me know what he needed. One afternoon we were at the home school group and I was looking through the pile of used books that people can take for free. I found an old Scholastic Phonics workbook that only had a few pages written in. It looked about Asher's level and so I picked it up thinking that it might have a few fun things for him to do.

I brought it home and forgot about it. Then several weeks later, on a Sunday night,  I was getting things ready for school the next week and I pulled out the phonics book to see what was in it. As I looked through the book I was so excited because it was EXACTLY what I had been looking for. It had simple (photography packed) pages, that focused equally on sight words and phonics, and had wonderful two page books every few lessons.  When I realized how perfect it was going to be for Asher I said a silent prayer of gratitude. I know it might sound silly, but I know that God led me to that book. It was like God was just letting me know that He was there and that He sees what I am doing and wants to help me be successful teaching my children.

We've been using the book all year, and it has been wonderful! Asher is still not a strong reader but he is doing SO much better and is starting to be able to read simple books (like the Elephant and Piggie books) by himself. It has been so exciting to see.

The book is old (it is from 1998) and is out of print, but you can still buy it through Amazon for about $4.00.  I bought another copy of it and have started Rose with it just a few weeks ago (after she mastered her letters) and she is doing great with it too. I don't know if it would work well for everyone but my kids have really loved it. Which I know was an answer to my prayers!


We do a LOT of reading together. Everyday at around 10:00 AM we take a snack break and I read to the kids while they eat. Last year we started reading the Little House books. I thought we'd just read the first two, but my kids have loved them so much we've read almost all of them now. Tomorrow we are going to start the last one.  I'm not sure what books we'll do next, so if you any suggestions let me know!

At bedtime Jon and I have been reading the Harry Potter books to the kids while they go to sleep. This has turned into one of my most cherished family experiences. All of us have loved these books and it has turned bedtime into something exciting and fun instead of a battle, which it usually is. We are half way through the fifth book right now, and I think we will finish all of them. I know that the last two get more scary but I think that my kids will be okay with them. Abe usually falls asleep not long after we start, and Asher and Rose are so enthralled with the story I don't know what they would do if I made them wait to  find out what happens. In fact, they are two of the most Harry Potter obsessed kids I have ever seen. They carry wands (chop sticks) around in their pockets, and are constantly shouting spells at each other, and playing "Hogwarts" any chance they get. The other day they were asking me lots of questions about going to college and when I asked them why they said, "Well, college rocks! It is going to be like going to Hogwarts!"


Math has been our best subject this year. Which is exciting for me, because I hated Math growing up, but my kids seem to love it. Last year we used Horizons Kindergarten Math and Asher liked it for the first few months, but it is really repetitive and he got frustrated that they kept making him practice things he felt he already understood. It also moved really fast and it didn't give very many idea for how to teach concepts. I bought the teachers guide and it was COMPLETELY unhelpful. Granted I know that Kindergarten math isn't hard to teach, but I'd had no teaching experience and the book would give suggestion like, "teach the clock". Which was no help to someone like me who had no idea how to "teach the clock".

Needless to say, Asher and I were both a bit fed up with math by the end of last year. I knew that I needed to find something different. When I went to go visit my cousin this summer I saw the Singapore Math curriculum that she was using for her kids and was really impressed. I bought the 1A and 1B textbook and workbook for Asher (both about $10) and the two Kindergarten books for Rose (both about $24) and they have been awesome. The Kindergarten books have lots of good illustrations and they give suggestions for EVERY section about ways to make the learning more concrete-- by playing games, doing a project, etc... I think it is designed to be used in a classroom but it works perfect for a not- so- good- at- math-mom like me to be successful in teaching. Asher has excelled with this program too, and I'm impressed at the way it encourages mental math and problems solving skills. It isn't just memorization, but is giving them a strong basis in how to THINK about math.

We actually finished the first books really quickly (before November) and so we took a break and read the first Life of Fred book (Life of Fred: Apples) . Life of Fred is my type of math, because it is math in WORDS. Jon thinks it is a bit weird (because he hasn't read them yet) but the kids really liked it. We read two chapters a day and then I'd have them do the questions at the end (there are just a few) in their heads. I've told them that their reward for finishing their next math book is to read the next Life of Fred book, and so far it is a pretty good motivator.

Once a Week Things: 


This is my favorite subject, so I'm afraid that we do more of this than just about any other "extra" subject. We've been using the first volume (Ancient Times) of The Story of the World books and it has been a lot of fun. I bought the read-a-loud book, the activity book and the Audio book (which is SO wonderful). Usually about once or twice a week we read a chapter, do the map work, and then do a project out of the activity book. Sometimes I print off a narration page and have them write about what they have learned and then stick it in their history notebooks. Honestly, I think I learn just as much from this as the kids do. It seems like public schools usually don't do a good job of teaching history!

We aren't moving through it quite as fast as I'd expected, but I guess that is okay because we have been really enjoying it. Some of our best lessons have been on Gilgamesh (mostly because we read these books which are awesome), Moses and the Israelites (we watched The Ten Commandments, it took us three days, but they loved it) and our lessons on Egypt. We actually made a chicken mummy for one of our activities... which deserves a post in and of itself because it was quite the adventure!


Asher is incredibly talented at drawing. Literally, he spends at least two hours a day drawing pictures on any piece of paper he can find. He mostly likes to draw boats and ships, but I've noticed lately he's been branching out into dragons and robots. His pictures are fun because he "plays" on his paper just like he would with Legos or action figures. His pictures are action packed, with arrows and scribbles documenting who shot which cannon, who jumped into the water, or who got strangled by the giant octopus.

This is one that was just sitting on the table. I think it is suppose to be a dragon's lair!

So I really don't need to encourage art too much, because it naturally happens ALOT around here. But last year I heard about Artistic Pursuits and bought their Preschool book. It is a mix of classical paintings and projects to go along with them. The preschool book focuses on helping parents learn how to help develop their children's creative talent, which was awesome for me! In fact it gave ME much more confidence in my own artistic abilities (which aren't very much) and has given me courage to try to express myself through art (which is scary for me).

This year we are doing the 1st Elementary book and it has been just as good. I bought all the recommend art supplies through Rainbow Resource and while it was a bit of an investment (around $50) they have gotten a lot of use already, and I think most of them will carry us through next year as well. We usually pull this book out in the afternoon and do a project. Most of the time my kids give the project an attempt and then just spend the rest of the time drawing, painting, or coloring whatever they want. I think maybe when they get older they might enjoy going back and doing the lessons more closely, but for right now it at least gets us to pull out the paint and the pastels and that is good enough for me! And if I can get Asher to draw something other than a boat, I feel like it was a really good day.


I'm afraid this is the one subject I haven't been as dedicated at. But honestly, I feel like science is something that is most easily taught by just living life and taking the time to be curious about it. We do nature walks quite often (okay, not right now because it is cold and I am wimp) and we have notebooks, magnifying glasses, and backpacks for documenting, inspecting and collecting. One of my favorite thigns to hear is Rose say, "Hey mom, can we investigate this?" And then we usually do, to whatever extent she wants. So in my book... that counts as science.

We also put together a worm composting bin and have had fun exploring that. I've also loved this book (actually I love all the books by this publisher) and we've made several different things out of here-- like perfume, scented oil, crystal stars, and liquid lasagna. I think my kids would like it if I did science more often, but it takes more work to put together. So sometimes I am too lazy. I did buy some of this stuff though, and am excited to try it out!


This is one of my other favorite subjects and I really want my children to have a good grasp on the world and the  different type of people who live in it. Over the summer I spent a lot of time putting together some boxes for each continent that have books, maps, activities, pictures, figurines, objects, coloring pages, etc... dealing with people and animals from that area of the world. If you are interested in the type of things that I have put in you can see my Pinterest board where most everything is listed. So far we have done Australia, Asia and Africa, and are going to do Antarctica next (I guess I like the "A" continents the best!). I think the best part of the boxes has been the read-a-loud stories that we have done with them. We read "Little Pear" for Asia and my kids thought he was hilarious and learned lots about Chinese culture. It was months ago but they still talk about him. For Africa we read the Anna Hibiscus books and they are wonderful. They are about a middle class African girl and really give you a good feel for African culture and the way that other children live. For Antarctica we are going to read Mr. Popper's Penguins!

That is about all that we do! And like I said, sometimes it goes well an some times it doesn't. But the important thing is we are trying and that we are spending time together. That is worth more than anything right there.

And just to keep it real.

Here is an image from last week-- when doing home school was such a battle I gave up at 10 AM and we just watched movies the rest of the day. Sometimes that happens. 

I'd love to hear what has been going well for you in your home school-- or not so good-- and if you have any suggestions or ideas!


  1. This is my first year homeschooling my children, grades 1, 4, and 7. I enjoyed reading about your experiences because some of them mirror my own. It's nice to know that other homeschool mom's have moments of laziness as well. I would recommend reading "The Logic of English" by Denise Eide. It is a great book to use as a parent resource for teaching reading and spelling. She also has a phonics curriculum, but my children were already past that as they are all strong readers.

  2. Check out, In the beginning by Jay Wyle. He used to write for Apologia, but has started his own stuff. Lessons are short and easy experiments with each one. Short questions at the end listed for young, older, and oldest, students. We've like it. This one is based on the days of creation.

  3. Thank you for this. Sharing the good the bad and the ugly. I have heard great things about the all about reading program, but haven't bought it myself. We already have one that works. But I do use all about spelling and that is fantastic. I agree we love Singapore math as well. I have be using it for 13 years now. I never start formal science until third or fourth grade. I let them play and discover. Lots of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. Lots of nature walks and visits to Gardens. We also use story of the world. My children love to listen to the audio books over and over again. Sounds like you're doing awesome. Pat yourself on the back. I loved your line in the beginning that it helps us with our weaknesses. Homeschooling has definitely done that for me.

  4. This is awesome! I'm gearing up to start home schooling my oldest this next year. We're in a really awesome school district and have one of the best schools in the state, but he's already reading Roald Dahl books on his own, and at school they're learning their 25 sight word list. So I'm just thinking he's going to need a little more focused attention so he can learn things that are useful for him! We're planning on going through Alpine School District (our school district) and enrolling in their Online Arrows program, which means they'll provide us with curriculum from as well as give us access to some teachers and they'll plan field trips and things like that. I'm thinking it's going to be really good for my son! The funny thing is I'm pulling my almost 6 year old *out* of the elementary school before first grade, but next year I'll be *paying* the school to send my almost 4 year old to their pre-k program. Guess I didn't think that one through real well :P But I think that's what each kid needs, Danny needs the chance to go be with other kids and learn to listen to a teacher, sit in a chair, follow rules etc. Sam needs some one-on-one attention and more academic stuff than he was getting. If you're still looking for a curriculum for reading I've read some really good things about The Logic of English, and I really want to check it out but haven't yet been willing to fork out the money for it. Not that it's terribly expensive but since both of my boys have structured learning activities right now I'm not desperate for new material yet. I'm going to start putting up some lesson plans and resources up on my website when we get started in the fall too.

    1. Exciting! And you are so right, every child is so different. One of my homeschool heroes once told me that she and her husband pray every year to know what each child needs and then they follow those feelings.

      I'll have to look into the Logic of English. IT sounds good :)

  5. Oh my, I wrote a huge comment and it got lost as I hit publish.... trying again.

    We love Apologia's elementary science program. Currently we are using "swimming creature" (the book on oceans) and the kids love it. We have the workbooks, too, which I would also recommend. We have a bi-weekly co-op with another family when we do some of the experiments.

    Check out the Read Aloud Podcast ( It is fantastic! I love reading aloud to my kids. It has surprised me how much I enjoy it because I used to fall asleep reading to them. :) I want to start the Harry Potter series... I'm glad to hear that your kids like it. Mine are the same ages (2 boys/2 girls also) and I have wondered when we should introduce it to them.

    We just discovered Life of Fred, too. The kids and I love it! It is especially great for my oldest who gets really frustrated with math.

    One of the best things we have started this year is a simple devotional. I put on one of the scripture stories from and we watch a bible story. (Currently in the old testament). Then, the kids do a simple copywork with a picture. They are creating their own bibles! Starting the day focused on God has really blessed our school days. It puts our history curriculum (also using SOTW) into a new perspective.

    Thanks for the update and all your ideas!

    1. That is a great idea to do the copy work. I tried copy work earlier this year-- with poems-- and it lasted about a week before it was no fun. But that is a good idea to do it with a bible story.

  6. It was great to read your update! Isn't homeschooling an amazing thing? I agree, we've HAD to focus on parenting weaknesses and character traits because we're together all the time, we can't ignore things. I'm at this really weird but amazing stage where I have an almost high schooler clear down to the 1 year old so I feel stretched with the range of needs but I'm also seeing fruit in the older children that keep me being consistent with the younger ones. :)

    Homeschool moves along well, we got back into a groove this month after our Christmas break. Math has been better this week with my 3rd child (the daydreamer who gets distracted easily). We just finished up our study of Africa this week and it's on to Asia next week. After that all we have left is Antarctica! Focusing in on a geography year has been a lot of fun but I'm ready to dive back into a history centered year this fall.

    I love when Heavenly Father provides for our children's needs like you shared with the reading workbook! It always blows me away how involved He is and how willing He is to guide us when we ask. What a blessing!

  7. SO fun to see your update! I felt the same about homeschooling, and then I had a baby. I sent my first grader to school after Christmas break. I don't like it, but I'm not sure what we'll do next year. For read-alouds, after Little House there is a series about Rose Wilder by Roger McBride. It is a similar style and pretty fun to see the Wilder's journey to the Ozarks from Rose's point of view. Of course there is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Wizard of Oz, the BFG (Roald Dahl), Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe, Stone Fox (short, but kind of sad).
    For science, check out It is really cheap for a subscription and has lesson plans and the modules are super fun and as hands on as a computer lesson can get. :) My kids loved that, and learned a TON!
    How do your kids do with their desire for other kids to play with? Does your homeschool group give you enough interaction? Maybe it was because we were homebound with a baby and we live in the country, but my oldest was DYING to go to school just to hang out with lots of kids! She comes home every day from school and tells me what they did in an exasperated tone because we've already learned that, but she talks nonstop about all the kids. That is why I don't know if I will homeschool her next year. She likes being with lots of people. Sigh. :)
    I'm so glad it's going well for you!! Thanks for sharing what you've been doing, it gives me some ideas in case we can make it work next year!

    1. Oh, those are great book recommendations. I LOVED the Wizard of Oz ones, maybe we will do those next! As for interaction with other kids both Asher and Rose are SUPER social, espeically Asher. He loves being with people. I think he would really love the friend aspect of school, but I also know that he would probably end up being the goof off kid that always got in trouble too :) I try really hard to give him lots of interaction with other people. I try to arrange someone for him to play with at least once a week, we try to go to activities,and to go out places often. I think one thing that helped was that our home school group does a 6 week "enrichment" class where the kids go on Friday afternoons for a group class. I think after going to that (which he does like) he realized that at school he would have to sit a lot and not have as much freedom to do what he wanted to do, that he decided it wasn't all that worth it to go. I think it really helps alot to have Rose and him be so close in age because they play together (most of the time) so well that I think they are usually enough for eachother. But it can be hard when they feel like they are missing out on something. Maybe after the novelty of the friends wears off she will want to do homeschool again-- or not. Every child is so different and you just have to go with what is best for them!

    2. I did notice when we first started homeschooling how well my children played together. I really enjoyed seeing their friendship deepen. I miss that! But they also fought a lot. I hope I'll figure out what to do for next year. You're right that it does seem so easy to just be able to send your kids and have fewer kids to take care of during the day. But then there is getting up early, doing homework, etc and you really miss out on family time! School is really boring though. Alana comes home with stacks of busywork papers every day. And they are practicing for the upcoming standardized test. In first grade. AND here they only get 1 20-minute recess per day. :( Kids need to PLAY!!! :)

    3. I only have a note about the Little House books: there are a lot more than just Laura and her daughter Rose. There are also books about Laura's ancestors: her mother Caroline, grandmother Charlotte, and great-grandmother Martha (Scottish). They're all great and if I remember correctly, Laura wrote most of them.

  8. I love to home school! I use Latter-Day Learning curriculum and really, really love it ( I am able to teach all my children the lesson at the same time and we usually have a great gospel discussion with it. Thanks for sharing what works for you, it is nice to hear that other moms have good and bad days as well!

  9. so impressive! keep up your good work. I assume you know about some of the good online sites like

  10. My new favorite beginning reader books can be found here:
    These are the Sam, Sis, Sid books that many people would be familiar with- they came out in the 70's I think. There are 100 of them you can get from this site- for FREE! You can join the site for a free trial and during my free trial I downloaded and printed all the books. They go from SUPER simple at book 1 and gradually progress to book 100. They have phonics and sight words and the back of the book tells you what you'll be working on in each book.

  11. Love this update! I'll second Khan Academy from the comment above. As for read-alouds, Mary Poppins is awesome. We just finished it. Pippi Longstocking is hilarious. And if you want to bring in a little Social Studies, the Magic Tree House series is great!

  12. My kids love the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody. It's basically the boy version of Little House. It's based on the Authors childhood (just like Little House).

  13. Thank you for this post! I have a preschooler and wanted to add a little more structure and this has given me lots of ideas. I also love all the comments and more ideas. Science for me is like your history, so I find needing some help in the others subjects. My daughter is enjoying the phonics book you suggested and the art and math are on the way. I hope you'll do a post like this each year. We love read aloud, and are reading Charlie and the chocolate factory and Anne of green gables. We also read a short story from William Bennett's book of virtues each day.

  14. Thanks for sharing what you're doing and what worked or didn't work so well. It's helpful to hear about others' experiences.

    For reading, I had J go through all sets of the BOB books series, which was so perfect for him. Aside from that, I've just been reading chapter books, with him following along as much as he felt like it, moving my finger along the words. I think just that alone (once he had the basics down from the bob books) helped improve his reading a Ton. I think in one of John Holt's books about How Children Learn, he says something like kids naturally learn to read after being read to and following along for like 30k words. It definitely helps!

    J found the Adventurers Wanted series, which he has loved having me read to him. I think it's a great, clean introduction for kids to the world of wizards, trolls, elves, dwarves, etc, with some principles of friendship and honor mixed in. J can't wait for the 5th book to come out!!

    I'll also 2nd (or 3rd ;) ) Khan Academy for math specifically. It has more than just math, but it has been Amazing in helping J really *understand* math and flourish in it. He's in 1st grade but understanding basic multiplication and division. Now that he 'gets' k-3rd(ish) grade math, he does need more practice to speed up how quickly he gets his answers, but the main 'teaching' of it is done!

  15. That's so cool! Geography is my absolute favorite! (I actually finally decided to make it my major.)