Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Homeschool Chronicles {Where We Started}

We interrupt our regular programing to bring you.... The Homeschool Chronicles!  Taaaa da daw, da daw da duh da....Taaaa da daw, da daw....

Homeschool  Chronicles Lately readers have been asking me how I manage both blogging and homeschooling.  Yeah, I wonder sometimes too! 

Actually, in all seriousness, I think about that a lot.  As much as I enjoy sewing and quilting, parenting (and by extension, homeschooling) matter more to me when push comes to shove.  Now I don't want to downplay the incredible privilege it is to be able to express myself creatively in my job.  It's amazing!  Still, my mama-heart whispers an insistent reminder that my blogging is to serve my homeschooling.  Stitched in Color makes staying home possible.  That's the simple truth.  The direction of my priorities.

Two months of the school year have already slipped on by.  In between August 1st and now I've changed tactics, books, schedules, discipline approaches - you name it.  I do love that homeschooling allows for instant flexibility, change and improvement, but sometimes it's easy to get lost.

So, here's what I'm thinking.  I want to try chronicling a bit of our schooling journey in monthly or perhaps quarterly check-in posts.  I'll admit it - these are more for me than for you.  Blogging about homeschooling could be good as a record, at time for reflection, and even a kind of accountability... I think.  I mean, it may not work for me at all.  But, my mama says it never hurts to try.  And for you?  Maybe interesting?  Or, it may bore you to tears.  If that's the case, you just pass on by those posts, ok?  No hard feelings.  We'll still be tight.

I've got to start with more of an introduction to our homeschool style for those of you who actually want to follow my train of thought.  Another day, I'll check-in with a post on how things are going this year so far.  Ok, here goes...

Where We Started

To begin, let's put out there that my first goal in homeschooling is to keep alive my child's natural love for learning.  My success is not how much they know, but how able they are to learn and do anything they set out to do.  In today's information-saturated world, I believe there's not as much need to fill their head with information as to help them become creative, kind, problem-solving people.


Liam, my kindergartener, began the year so full of excitement for "school."  I've been careful to meet his level of excitement, even though I tend to feel that our kind of kindergarten isn't really "school" at all.  I've subscribed to a "better late than early" view of academics for years now.  So, I won't be teaching Liam to read or write (much) or add or subtract this year.   Let's see, my goal notes from summer prep read:

*Recognize letters by sight and sound
*Handwriting introduction
*Morality (as in work on honesty, gratitude, self-control)
*Scripture memorization (for morality and brain exercise)

Not on my list are totally critical ingredients like art exploration, music, cooking and other practical house skills.  Since we embraced Waldorf-style parenting when Aria was little, these things have been part of our family lifestyle.  Amanda Blake Soule's The Creative Family set us down that path.

 Liam at work

Since Liam will naturally compare his "school" to his big sister's, I plan to meet my goals for him with more structure than I consider necessary.   For example, I didn't use a single workbook for Aria's kindergarten, but we've got them coming out the wazoo for Liam to keep him from feeling left out.  That said, all of Liam's workbooks are self-paced.  He can opt out any time.  I honestly believe his time is better spent in imaginative or artistic play than at any workbook! 

Whereas I taught Aria her letters and sounds through casual conversation, via picture books and the like, Liam has not been one bit interested in letters until now.  I'm glad he is now!  We're using the Explode the Code books A, B and C to introduce letter sounds at a gentle pace.  These workbooks have cute illustrations and require minimal teacher interaction.  Score.  (The links to resources are Amazon affiliate links.  Just, FYI!)

Liam's school books 

For handwriting, we have the Getty Dubay Italic Handwriting Series Book A.  Now I didn't formally teach Aria proper letter formation until first grade, a la Waldorf philosophy.  I regretted that because she formed some bad habits from years (really years!) of avid writing before that time.  (Bad habits like starting in the wrong place while forming many letters, which slows down writing.)  Muscle memory is hard to reverse.  So, even though Liam is not as "into" copying books or writing notes as Aria was, we're doing this intro to writing now to get his letters started right. 

The state of South Carolina requires homeschoolers to include "math, science and social studies" in the school year.  However, there are no grade-level mandates or testing required, leaving us free to pursue these studies as desired.  In our kindergarten, math involves learning to count to high numbers and understanding concepts like fractions and measurement through real life happenings.  Our science for Liam comes across in high quality nature stories (like those by Clara Dillingham Pierson) and our history through read alouds as well (often by Usborne).

Liam is an artist and I love it.  I want to encourage him in his art by making habits to color, watercolor paint and set up art/process projects.  We do that some through playgroup, where I plan a bi-weekly art project.  This year I've scheduled 2 months with art as a focus, rather than trying to work it in weekly.  Our first month for art is December!


Aria enjoyed a relaxed kindergarten with even less academics than Liam.  Last year in 1st grade she made great leaps once we applied ourselves to "the books".  She now reads chapters books and is speeding ahead in math.  She's always been a storyteller, a leader and chock full of big ideas.

Aria's resources

Here are my goals from summer prep, along with my plans for meeting them:

*Continue Enjoying Math.  I expect her to complete Math-U-See Beta, the 2nd grade book in a hands-on math program.  We did the 1st grade book in this program in one spurt at the end of 1st grade.  I like that Math-U-See includes video instruction by a super-fabulous math teacher that Aria and I both really like.

*Introduce Grammar. It seems like time to teach capitalization, punctuation and all that jazz so that this storyteller can move towards putting her thoughts on page!  I purchased Easy Grammar, a straightforward, minimalistic grammar workbook.  I loved grammar as a kid, so I'm totally looking forward to going there.

*Creative Writing.   We don't want to get too bogged down in the details that she misses the creative part of writing.  Somehow, I want her to start putting stories on page.  I'm hoping Games for Writing by Peggy Kaye will be of some help.  The months that we focus on art, Aria will also focus on creative writing.

*Learn to Summarize.  In the past Aria was asked to retell a story in her own words to demonstrate comprehension.  Now I'll want her to learn to pull out key details in a concise summary.  When we study ancient history this year through a collection of "living" books and readers, I'll ask her to create a summary for each civilization we cover.

*Reading/Phonics.  We did not start a traditional phonics program until midway through first grade.  Now that she knows how to read, phonics will improve her spelling and reading unfamiliar words.  We're continuing with Explode the Code 3.

*Scripture & poem memorization.  More of the same for her faith and for brain exercise.  We have lots of children's poetry at home from which she or I will choose.

*Improve Handwriting.  Aria has not used a handwriting workbook yet and I feel she needs one to make improvements in her writing.  She'll start with the Getty Dubay Book B this year.  She's really eager to do cursive, but I want to see improvement on her printing first.

::Our Schedule::

This year, for the first time, Aria is going to a homeschool co-op called Arrows Academy that meets Tuesday and Wednesday.  Liam has a sports program on Wednesday too.  Those 2 days will be my "work" days, when grandparent's will watch the children so I can do Stitched in Color at home.

That leaves Monday, Thursday and Friday for homeschool. We'll start the day with Bible time at the couch, when I tell a weekly made-up story about a key virtue (like honesty), we discuss, sing and pray together.  Then it's to the table for either Handwriting, Grammar or Phonics (each happens once per week).  After that workbook time, we do our "main lesson".  This whole process takes about 2 hours each morning.

One thing I loved about Waldorf education is the block system.  Our main lesson will alternate on a monthly schedule between math, history/science and art/creative writing.  We have 4 months of math on the calender, 2 of history/science and 2 of art/creative writing.

Aria's also learning to play the penny whistle with Brandon one night per week.  During that time I'll read to Liam some stories particularly geared to his age.

playing "school" after we're done

But that's just the schedule.  Real learning happens all the time, every day.  It's unstoppable!

I'll pick up this train of thought in a week or 2 to share with you how things are going this year so far.  Which plans have changed.  What's worked and what hasn't.  If you have any questions about our homeschooling, don't be shy!  While I'll not be posting frequently about homeschooling, I may be able to address your question in the comments or in a future check-in post.  We'll see how this goes!


  1. Thanks Rachel,

    I teach kindergarten and of course some ideas popped into my head. I know you said before you do not have an iPad... Do you have an iPhone? Because there is a great Zaner Bloser ap for proper formation of letters. It is fun and tells the child when they are doing the letter incorrectly.
    Sounds like you are doing great with the curriculum too. The only thing I did not hear for Liam that I believe is almost more important than phonics is Phonemic awareness. Playing with words and their sound without stress on which letter "code" it is, is very help in becoming a great reader.
    Proper letter formation is so important. Good job for setting good habits.
    Thanks for the start of the Chronicles.

    1. Thanks for all your help, Shawn. Unfortunately (perhaps?) I don't have an iPhone. It sounds like phonemic awareness would be cultivated some by rhyming books, silly poems and the like? He certainly enjoys those =)

    2. Yes... just things like... what do you hear at the beginning of...making up silly rhymes... distinguishing if it is a hard sound like a d or a soft sound like a t. Does your voice box vibrate? etc.

    3. Oh another great website that i use with my son is "Starfall" and "More starfall" Starfall is free the more starfall cost $35. I have a subscription and I have to say Sage loves it. It has everything from math to reading to well check it out if you are interested.

  2. I enjoy reading your blog, whether you are creating something or telling us about your homeschooling. It's nice to read other creative Mom's days/structures/etc. It helps to reinforce why *I* homeschool too. You and I see much the same way in our homeschooling adventure :) Have you seen this site


    I can't WAIT to order some books from them. Especially the ones under the Nature catagory, which is just up my two middles kids' alley. lol

  3. Thank you very much for this, Rachel. I look forward to this series, as I'm sure you know why. It's always a juggling act, isn't? Even after 5 years of home schooling (my eldest is in 5th grade), I'm still trying new things to see what works and what doesn't.

    And thank you for your response. It truly was helpful!

  4. I'm going to share this with my sister (www.moserphotos.com)! She has three children and is home schooling her 9 year old girls for the third year.

  5. Rachel, I loved this post. I'm not a homeschooler, but I love reading about other families' homeschooling journeys. I do send my daughter to parochial school so I understand the importance of religious education. I'm not sure what your faith background is, but I'd be interested in reading more about the details of your religious education plans – especially for your older ones. :) Thanks for sharing!!

  6. i'm looking forward to more in this series! i'm a homeschooling mama. i have 4 children. 2 of them are school age and my 4 yr old really really want to do 'school' so we're doing some phonics and basic math with him. some montessori-esque, some a bit more classical. i love reading about how other moms do it and make it work!

    1. Hurray! It's amazing how many homeschooling mamas there are about this place =)

  7. I don't have kids (yet)and I'm glad you're doing these posts! I've always considered homeschooling in the future and I'm enjoying reading about your experience. Thanks for sharing!

  8. This was a really informative, interesting post, Rachel. My son is only two. I'm not sure if homeschool will be right for us when the time comes, but I'm glad I have the opportunity to learn about it from someone I respect so I can make informed decisions when it does. I look forward to your future posts on this subject.

  9. Hi Rachel,

    It is lovely to read about your homeschool journey. We are in our seventh year with our daughter. My son is attending public school and is in the first grade. I can't imagine my daughter in public school, but my son is thriving. Each child is so unique. I'm so thankful that we have the ability to chose what is best for each of them. We are currently using Sonlight, along with a mix of other things. My son and daughter absolutely loved using Reading Eggs. It was amazing how much my kids learned from using this program.

  10. I'm so glad you posted about homeschooling! My oldest is 16 and we've homeschooled from the beginning. Our goal in homeschooling is similar to yours: for our kids to have a love of learning and to really know who they are. We are more relaxed with academics than you are, but it's worked very well for us. Their learning is driven by their interests.

    I make dolls and they were actually inspired by the Waldorf dolls. I loved that they were made with all natural materials. I wanted to make dolls like that but with a bit more pizazz!

    Anyway, it's good to hear about your journey! And, I just put "The Creative Family" on hold at my library.

  11. Your schooling ideas sound very much like mine :-) I found you not long ago (googling alabama chanin ;-) and was tickled when I realized you also homeschool.
    Have you found it tricky using the explode the code books since you do italics handwriting? I was surprised to see that most of EtC (books A-C especially) IS handwriting & since I don't care for their style of handwriting, I've been hesitant to use it with my 5 yr old. I thought it might be too confusing to always be telling her to form her letters differently than they write them....

    1. Actually, that's one of those things I've recently realized I could easily do better. I am practicing/learning italic handwriting myself through the adult workbook, since I've often thought I'd like to have prettier handwriting. So, I should go through and rewrite the letters in the Explode the Code A, B,C books so that they are italicized. Then, Liam and I both get helpful practice!

      Since Liam is learning his letter sounds now, the EtC books are definitely helping with that. I feel that there is plenty of letter sound work to make the books helpful, apart from any handwriting.

  12. While I don't have kids, I am continually inspired by what others do and feel like I learn a thing or two as well.

    Thanks for sharing more of your family's well-rounded life :-)

  13. I love to hear about your home schooling techniques. It is great that you can best flexible and really cater to each child's interests. I am a trained teacher and I love to watch students learn and grow. Have you ever heard of or used a learning tool called brain pop (brainpop.com)? There are two, a regular and a jr. There are videos, games, activities, and little quizzes on almost every topic you can imagine. You can pay for the full site, but there is a lot of free stuff too.

  14. rachel, thank you so much for posting this. i can't wait to come back and read it when i have more time. my husband and i have been contemplating homeschooling more and more lately. his work schedule is crazy and the school schedule makes it such a grind. our kids leave at 7:10 and get home at 3:30. then they have homework(!). they are the same ages as your kids. there is so much pressure to get them down at night so they will be well rested the next day, but my husband gets home late. it's just tough. but i wonder how i'd do homeschooling with four kids and i also feel like it's so much pressure. i am solely responsible for their learning, academic achievement, socialization, etc. i feel like any weaknesses they experience later in life could be blamed on "homeschooling". i am seeing that with my cousins who are college aged and were homeschooled. so that really intimidates me. anyway, thanks for writing this. can't wait to soak it in when i have more time.

    1. Hey, but if you send your kids to school, any problems could be blamed on that choice, LOL! All parents are responsible for their kids and their education. While I understand there's more responsibility when you homeschool, there's always room for blame no matter what.

      One of the few homeschool blogs I follow is Simple Homeschooling. She just released a free, simple, short e-book that's a nice intro to homeschooling. I read it in 20 minutes. Check out her blog to see how to get it =)

  15. I am so happy you include creative writing as an art form. As a child I was also a storyteller. I constantly made picture books and my parents always encouraged me. Unfortunately, mainstream schooling taught this out of me. Creativity was no longer encouraged and only content was looked at. Is wasn't until I got older that I began seeing that I could still write creatively when I started experimenting with poetry. Although I haven't written anything in forever, I am glad that my parent supported creativity even when my schooling didn't.

    What exactly is Waldorf learning? I'm going to school to be a middle school science teacher, but I fully support homeschooling. I'm curious if I could apply some Waldorf techniques to my classroom.

    1. What is Waldorf learning is a BIG question. But, for the casually interested educator, I would recommend the book School as a Journey by Finser (http://www.amazon.com/School-As-Journey-Eight-Year-Odyssey/dp/0880103892/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350417978&sr=8-1&keywords=school+as+a+journey). It is easy to read (it's a true story), incredibly inspiring and gives a real full flavor for Waldorf education.

  16. Rachel, thank you for doing this! my daughter is 2.5 and my son is only 7 months, but I am considering home schooling and truly looking into all the options for their education - this is giving me one more viewpoint and I will look forward to hearing more. Caroline

  17. How funny that you should post about homeschooling today- I just looked on your site yesterday to see if you gave any details about your homeschooling! I knew that you homeschooled, but I was curious as to how you did it! I just turned in the papers to homeschool my 12-year-old son. I always thought about homeschooling, but my health did not allow for it. Now that I am feeling better, we are starting with our 7th grader. Hopefully next year I will all of my kids at home with me (11, 7 and a 2-year-old).
    Your blog has a calm and a simple, warm feeling to it. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I really appreciate it!

  18. Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for all that information and for putting yourself out there! Homeschooling and parenting can open up all sorts of emotions in people! We come across some very negative attitudes to Waldorf education mainly from people with a limited understanding of what it is about. I have 2 children in a public Waldorf school and I have been very happy with the outcomes. My youngest starts kinder next year at 5 and school at 6 with formal class 1 work at the age of 7 and we have found this perfect. My eldest is about to finish class 7 and I am amazed at how much knowledge she has coupled with a strong sense of herself and connection to her world. She is more than ready to take on the larger world! Congratulations can't wait to read and learn more!

  19. thank you so much for sharing this important part of your life! i've always been curious about homeschooling and it's so nice to see just what that life is like for someone.

  20. Very good adding in some pretty fabric!
    I've written down your 'to begin'. I've long thought the same but you've expressed it wonderfully.
    Thank you! xx

  21. This was awesome. Thank you so much for sharing the details, as well as what you have learned along the way. My son attended a kinder that was all learning through play/no worksheets and now in second grade he still struggles with handwriting. Maybe he would have even if he had attended a traditional kinder, but it was interesting to read your perspective. Thanks so much for sharing. Loved this.

  22. Our homeschooling days are behind us, but I still love to hear about other families homeschooling journeys. We remember those days with so much joy and it was truly a blessing. We homeschooled all the way through high school. Your post brings back so many memories. I loved the fact that the kids have both grown into life time learners and although I did not teach them everything they need to know, they did learn how to think and learn for themselves. One is now a Marine taking college classes and the other is in college working towards Vet School. Enjoy this time and I look forward to hearing more!

  23. Awesome! I love reading about other's homeschooling ventures. People are always asking me how I do it "all". haha. School takes less than two hours for us to do, and when I think of all the time that is spent driving, packing lunches, homework, etc...I think about the same amount of time is being spent for parents who send their kids to "real" school.

  24. I'm going to love these posts. Blogging is an excellent record for you too. I homeschooled our eight children and am still homeschooling our 11 year old. He is only just getting into reading now. Some of mine have been late and others early, but that was all about them and what they were up to. Four of mine have attended university (some are still there) and three have done TAFE courses. (Technical and Further Education). (They have studied custom made footware, design, textile design, retail studies, visual arts, creative writing, biomedical science and international studies.) My 15 year old is at regular high school (her choice). As far as the time it takes etc, homeschooling is so different from regular schooling that you just can't compare.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Kris! I love how you said, "hat was all about them and what they were up to." People always fear that this kind of thinking will lead to lazy kids. With the right environment, I feel confident that it will lead to just the opposite!

  25. I love reading about other homeschooling journeys. I'd like to subscribe to the "better late than early" thinking, but my 4-year-old is super into everything. She learned to read from ReadingEggs.com and reads EVERYTHING. Both her and my 2-year-old (who is speech delayed, so I didn't expect this) learned their letters and sounds from Leap Frog's "Letter Factory". I love that video. So, we do school, but I let her lead the way. If she doesn't want to do something, we don't. She also goes in cycles. A month of lots of reading, then a month of lots of math, etc. I will be looking into the Waldorf system now. Thanks.

    Also, we are going to teach Lynne cursive first. I've read a couple articles online, and we decided that's the way we wanted to go. I thought I'd mention it since you said Aria wants to learn cursive so bad. It's not a bad thing to teach cursive before print. :-)

  26. I'm not a homeschooler. I've seen it done horribly so many times. I used to teach at a home school co-op and some of those children were at home but not being taught anything. It was so awful to see. It made me kinda super against homeschooling. Of course I realize that was just those families; it's just always so nice to see real homeschooling! I totally support these posts, homeschooling takes reflection and assessment. Good for you for putting it out there.

  27. Thanks for your post. I just started homeschooling my 11, 9 & 4 yr old children this year as it was becoming painfully obvious that the local public school environment was inadequate for them and really quite a drag on our whole family. We use Sonlight curriculum because it has all the lesson plans ready for you (desperately needed that since I had no idea what I was doing!). It hasn't been easy all the time , but I really enjoy the individual attention I can give to each child.

  28. No travelling pic stitch post? :)

  29. Thank you so much for sharing. I homeschool my kids also and my two eldest kids are about the same age as your kids so its helpful to read what works for you. Looking forward to reading more. :)

  30. You are a homeschooler after my own hart, when yo mentioned keeping learning fun and the book "Better Late Than Never." Loved what you had to say.


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