The Homeschooling Post (Volume 3)

by Stefani on 6-September-2009

Happy New Week to ya!

Alright, if you’ve been following along you know that we are
in the midst of a sort of “War and Peace”- like series of posts on
homeschooling. You can read the first installment here and part two here.

 And now we have come to the part where I tell you exactly
what it is that we are doing, the nuts and bolts of our homeschooling.  I’m going to say right here and now
that what you will read in a moment will make your head spin. It’s going to
seem overwhelming and maybe confusing. I know this because it was very hard for
me to see the big picture until we were really putting it into practice. It’s also probably going to make you think, “What??? What’s this big list of curriculum stuff?” At first glance this seems to really go against our sort of explore-the-world-and-follow-your-passions take on homeschooling. Bear with me, okay? 

Take a deep breath and imagine yourself here: 

Peace By The River

Now read on, but know that it will make a LOT more sense
tomorrow when I tell you how all this fits into our daily/weekly life. If you start feeling a little faint, just return to your seat by the river for a few minutes. Put your head between your knees if you need to and take a few cleansing breaths. 

Here we go: 

 First and foremost, we are, after a great deal of thought
and consideration, using Sonlight.

 In a nutshell, this is a curriculum in which the bulk of the
learning is achieved through real, honest to goodness, books (not textbooks).
When you purchase a “Core” package, you get a whole bunch of chapter books, a
36 week plan of study (complete with discussion questions, map and timeline
activities, etc, for each book. This is minimal and not “busy work” at all),
and related reference books.

 You can add to that, should you so choose, your choice of
math programs, throw in some handwriting, language arts, science, and even some
electives like art, music and foreign language studies. We didn’t add in all of
that stuff, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

 First, let me say that I was VERY cautious about buying into
Sonlight because, well, I don’t do real well with anyone telling me when to do
what, and I do even less well at following charts and lists (great at making
them, not so good at following them). Plus, considering the
price tag, I felt like it would be a very big deal to try this out and find
that we couldn’t stick with it. (Although, they do offer a new “time payment”
option, allowing you to stretch out the bill a bit and they also let you try
the goods for 18 weeks. If you don’t like it, you can send it back for a full
refund in that time.)

I was pretty convinced though that the key to meeting all of our needs was going to be adding in just the right amount of structure to our days. So, after a lot of repeated poking around their site, and
several months of hand-wringing I finally broke down and ordered it. I’m so,
SO glad that I did. It has been exactly what we hoped for and then some. After
4 weeks of sticking to the plan (with some minor modifications) I (and they)
could not be happier.

Sonlight has adhered to our list of “homeschooling needs and
” so well! I will explain more about exactly HOW it fits into that list
tomorrow when I show you how it all works when put into action. 

 If you are even
thinking about someday trying out Sonlight, I would really suggest you
read their 27 reasons to love Sonlight and (in my opinion even better) the 27
reasons NOT to choose Sonlight
. They’re pretty spot on.

 We ended up with the 4 Day Core 1+2, Condensed Introduction to
World History with Advanced Readers
. To that I added Singapore Math and A
Reason For Handwriting.

 I’m really happy with our choices save for a few things:

I chose the Advanced Readers because my guys enjoy
reading and are good at it. My oldest has read a few Beverly Cleary books that
I thought would be comparable to the ones on the reading list. As it turns out,
those “readers” (which are not readers at all, but chapter books meant for them
to read on their own) are a bit too advanced for my boys. They can read them,
but slowly and jerkily and hence not so enjoyably.

 So, we just have two read alouds. We read the one that they
are SUPPOSED to be using as a read aloud at lunch time, and the one that they
are supposed to be reading on their own at bedtime. It works just fine.

 So far the books that we have read are not ones that I would
have chosen or that they would have chosen on their own, but they’ve been very
good. (Red Sails to Capri, The Whipping Boy, More Stories From Grandma’s Attic and currently Shadrach and Ginger
) Some of those books have taken me (and them) a few chapters to really get
into, but by the time we are finished we were wishing there were more pages. So… good stuff.

 Since our readers were too advanced, I decided to go back to
the Christian Light Readers that we had been using before and for the first
time add in the “Light Units.” These are a set of 10 small workbooks that go
with each reader. They review the story, and work on some writing and language
arts skills. It takes about 4 weeks to finish one unit and then you get to
chalk that off as an accomplished bit of work and get a fresh new book to work
in. I like that sort of built in incremental achievement.

 The boys like these books. They are sweet and old fashioned
but also interesting. I wasn’t so sure they’d dig the Light Units, but I’ve yet
to hear a complaint. I think they offer just enough information and review
without being work for work’s sake. They introduce things like homophones,
synonymns, contractions and the like, and they also teach kids to use the sorts
of pronunciation symbols found in the dictionary, which is turning out to be
very helpful.

 I’ve also been less and less fond of Singapore Math lately.
I like the idea behind it… they teach to the “why” of math rather than rote
drills and memorization. But as the concepts have gotten more complex I felt
like the boys weren’t getting enough practice and that some of the things they learned a while back hadn’t stuck as well as we thought. There are extra practice books that you can buy, but I wasn’t really hoping for MORE work, just more comprehensive work.

 So, considering the success of the Christian Light Reading,
I thought we’d try out the math. It has a similar 10 workbooks per level
approach. It’s a spiral program, meaning each day’s work includes some of the
stuff you’ve already learned and mixes is a new concept too. Our books just came on Thursday, so I can’t yet speak too much to how well they work in practice.

 My two oldest boys are more or less on the same level
mathematically, so I just ordered the Grade 3 teacher’s guide and two 301 light
units so that we could try it out without investing too much.  After having a look I think it’s going
to go really well. It seems to be like the reading books – just enough work to
be useful, but not so much that it will burn them out.

 My youngest really is getting such a great big kick out of
being big like his brothers. He wanted SO badly to have “math books” too, so I
bought a 101 light unit for him.

 He’s done several pages over the weekend, just cuz he
likes it. I don’t know how long that will last or how the others will take too
to this math program, but I’ll keep you posted. Maybe we’ll end up back with Singapore, maybe with Math U See (I’ve heard so many great things about it), maybe we’ll stick with Christian Light. Maybe one thing will speak to one child and the others will be lit up by something else. I just can’t say right now. 

 The boys dig the handwriting because they are learning
cursive, otherwise known as “fancy writing.”  So that’s working out fine.

 The only other thing we added to the Sonlight Core was something we were already
doing… Spelling Power. We don’t do the suggested spelling stuff with the
Sonlight materials. It seemed a little arbitrary. We’ve been doing Spelling
Power off and on for a year now and really like it. My boys see it as a game. We have lots of spelling bees, so they see spelling time as practice for the big event. Basically, with this program you test FIRST, then just study the words you missed. That way
there’s no extra fluff work.

 As for science, art and music… we do lots of nature study
and experimenting so I didn’t really think this was necessary at this

The boys also each take music
lessons (Luke plays the fiddle, James the guitar and Ryder is beginning to
learn some things on the piano from Mama), so again, I didn’t think we needed to add to
that right now. 

We do own and sometimes use  Artistic Pursuits, Book 1,” as well as a number of drawing
books. I get lots of ideas from Art Projects for Kids too.  Mostly though we visit museums, check out
art books from the library, have various replicas of famous works around and
keep lots of art supplies on hand. So far that’s an art program that’s serving
us very well.

 So, is your head spinning now? Just writing it out it seems like
so much, but really it’s folding into our day so nicely – inspiring,
illuminating, edifying and also leaving lot’s of that precious UNPLANNED time.

 So please, come back tomorrow and I’ll show you how the
day/week plays out. It will make so much more sense, and sound like a heap more fun, then. Pinky swear.  

frantically heidi September 6, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Stephani, I am loving this series. As with so many things I read here, it is so inspiring!
I have been homeschooling my daughter for a little over a year now and it is going so well. But, like most homeschooling moms I know, it is a balancing act. I find our pendulum swings from too much structure to too little and back again. I think we may have settled at the right amount for now, but we’ll see.
About math, I’ve used Math U See, and have no complaints about the product. However, I’ve found that any lesson + worksheet format won’t inspire my child. In fact, it has caused her declare “I hate math!” more than once.
In an effort to find ways that might change her feelings, I stumbled upon “living math” principles. I think it is an approach you might enjoy. This lens on squidoo tells a bit about it:
Can’t wait to read tomorrow’s fitting it all in post!

Sarah @ Amongst Lovely Things September 6, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Oh, I *knew* it! 😉 I wondered, when you mentioned that you were using a curriculum, if you were using Sonlight. 🙂 This sounds great- I’m eager to hear how it’s working out logistically through your day. I can see a bit more structure working its way into our homeschool in coming years, so I’m reading intently. Best wishes with everything!

darlene September 6, 2009 at 10:56 pm

you definately give a good overview of your program…i would like to look at sonlight and see what they have to offer. my oldest doesn’t have a love affair with math, trying to find things that give her success!

mama-aya September 6, 2009 at 11:12 pm

It is a lot, but homeschooling is a BIG thing! I just finished summarizing our first week of 4th grade, and my head was swimming from all the things done (and not done!). It’s so nice to write it out, and SEE it all at once. And it’s really fun to get these peeks at your school, too!

briar September 7, 2009 at 3:06 am

Thanks for all your work putting this all down for us to see!! I am looking at homeschooling from next year our younger 3 children and this has been a great chat to spring form! blessing

Kristy September 7, 2009 at 4:33 am

I admire your ability to know your children so well and teach them so well. I am a public school kindergarten teacher. I am not sure I would be able to seperate home and school during the day. I think it takes a special person to be able to do that. Thanks for sharing.

Gina September 7, 2009 at 5:15 am

I am LOVING these posts. Thanks so much for taking the time to share. It is super-helpful and encouraging.

Mystik Momma September 7, 2009 at 7:13 am

So will post 4 on this topic include the typical week schedule??? How much time is devoted on each topic in a week? What specifically do you as a mom do for each child, one on one time, group time, or do they do their own thing?

This is the part that I struggle with. My eldest is using 2nd grade materials and my youngest is still doing the Preschool/Kindergarten track.

Stefani September 7, 2009 at 7:19 am

I’m going to include a little rundown of just how our day works, how that looks in terms of a week and even how we’re managing to keep a handle on things like making dinner and folding clothes while still leaving plenty of margin for unplanned exploring. I have had my share of trying to juggle the needs of three different learning levels, but ti’s working out really well now. I know what what we do won’t work for everyone, but maybe some of it will help you too!

Cristalle September 7, 2009 at 7:24 am

We are also a homeschooling (1st year) with 3 kiddos. We are using the Sonlight Curriculum Core 1 as well and absolutely love it!! We are also using Horizons Math and A Reason for Writing along with a few of my own choices for art, spelling, music appreciation and Bible. Glad to hear your review of Sonlight and hope you continue–it is always nice to hear what others think who “in the trenches” so to speak!

Kathy September 7, 2009 at 7:41 am

Great review! Definitely something we will look into if we decide to go the homeschooling route next year (which now my husband is pushing, which I never imagined…) For the time being, we LOVE the 5 in a row series I asked you about a while ago. Crazy how it makes the kids really dig into the books and start asking questions. I love how it works around our lives too–with my husband on his first year of his business opening, and with me on the groundwork of my new business, it’s comforting to be able to fit in leaning around our schedule.

Holly September 7, 2009 at 8:13 am

Thank you so much for being so honest about everything. I want to have it all figured out before I post something to others but the truth of the matter is–the “figuring out” is what it’s ALL about anyway. We can’t possibly go wrong when we love our kids so much and put so much time and effort and thought and sweat and worry (you get the idea!) into what’s best for them. And that’s the sweetest part, to me–we will always know them best.
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog. I feel like we’re kindred spirits and I appreciate all that you share with the rest of us. Keep us the good work!

jessica September 7, 2009 at 8:16 am

Stefani– it is so good to read these posts. I’ve been struggling with what kind of structure I need to introduce into our homeschool. I’ve felt at peace with just letting things flow for so long, but as my kids get older I’m really, really feeling a NEED to find some structure– but not a straight jacket. With 5 kids I just need some help– a little outline to jump from and be able to dive deep. I had been researching cirricula this morning and seriously considering Sonlight when I read your post. It’s definitely food for thought and just might push me over the edge to actually clicking the order button!

Photographing Mom September 7, 2009 at 8:35 am

Great choice! From a Sonlight user for years! 🙂

Deirdre September 7, 2009 at 9:09 am

Stefanie, thanks so much for sharing all this information and the spirit of your home. It’s brave, because we all wonder if what we’re doing is “best” at least for our kids.

I gave up blog reading for the summer, and have been enjoying catching up on yours. Dipping my toes back into Google Reader, I’d forgotten why I read blogs originally—now I remember—the inspiration here is amazing.

Looking forward to the next post, because my kids, like their mom, tend to start one thing and want to stick with it all day!

Amy J September 7, 2009 at 10:06 am

Great to hear you have found something that you really like and it works! I will look forward to seeing what your day is like. I’m using Heart of Dakota and really like it – it’s similar to Sonlight. We also tried Singapore and just last week have dumped it and have the CLE math on order too! What a funny coincidence!! Looking forward to hearing more!

Myrnie September 7, 2009 at 10:39 am

This information is great, thanks! (And you know…it doesn’t make my head spin. It looks totally doable!) 🙂

littleblackkitty September 7, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Soooo interesting!! Thanks for sharing! This is our 4th year homeschooling and, though we’ve seen good and (really) bad, we love it. I chose Sonlight for my first year and have used the LA, readers, and read-alounds since then, but I don’t go by their schedule. We just love the books! Every year I begin planning and get so overwhelmed at all they are “supposed” to learn not even mentioning the things I want them to learn! My mantra to myself when I get overwhelmed is just to focus on reading good books together. If we do nothing else, I truly believe that’s half the battle won. Thanks for sharing your journey with the rest of us–it is such an encouragement!

The Lazy Dazy September 7, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Whew! I’m so glad you said, “Sonlight”! Like you, I’ve been in the process of determining ‘where to go from here’. I decided on Sonlight and got two different levels (Sonlight 100 for my teens, and Year 2 for my littles ages 6 and 8)just before you announced your homeschool installments. I’ve been holding my breath, waiting to see what you decided. From reading your second installment about your desires in homeschooling, I knew that whatever you decided was going to be very appealling to me. To Sonlight in years past, had trouble keeping up with the schedule, dropped it, tried it again, let it go for a couple of years and now have gone back to it. You can see why your choice was reaffirming to me. We start after Labor Day…tomorrow…and I must admit to being leary of creating a routine. I am waiting eagerly to hear about yours.

Thank you, so much, for sharing.

The Lazy Dazy September 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Oops. It looks like I cut and forgot to paste in my above comment. Sorry, got in a hurry.
I was trying to say that, as eager as I was to learn what you decided on, I was equally anxious that I would begin to question my own decision.
And I really am looking forward to reading about how your days/weeks are taking shape.

sarah September 7, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Thanks for doing these posts; we are considering home schooling as school is just not working out. It’s really nice to see someone willing to share all their information and very helpful, thankyou

Robyn September 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Hi Stefani,
We use a lot of the same things in our homeschool – Sonlight, A reason and Singapore. Right now we are still loving Singapore Math but I have looked ahead and had some of the same concerns you have about the lack of concepts being repeated throughout the year. So I really appreciate the suggestions. I am also going to check out the Christian Light Readers. My experience has been that Sonlight’s reading program hasn’t fulfilled our children’s needs so we’ve used a combination of things but have really loved Explode the Code for phonics. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s post about your week as we are constantly tweaking ours and remaining very flexible! It’s always exciting to hear what other homeschool families are doing and gain ideas from their successes!

Hannah September 7, 2009 at 8:03 pm

I just had a feeling you were going to say Sonlight. We did it for a year and LOVED the books, and we’ll probably end up right back with Sonlight again (after doing something else for a year). Like you, I really agonized over the idea of buying something in a package with a schedule. But if it “works” — i.e. everyone’s learning and having fun, why not? Why reinvent the wheel? You do so many other things, too. (The Book of Days is proof of that!)

Forgot to comment on the last “Why” post. I really appreciate your list of reasons you homeschool. As many times as I’ve answered that question for inquiring mothers, I’ve never made myself sit down and write it out. I feel sure my list would look very similar to yours, but that’s no reason not to go through the exercise! Thanks for sharing.

Teri September 8, 2009 at 9:27 am

I just have to tell you that when you said you had gotten a curriculum, I knew it would be Sonlight. It seems, from what I know of you from your blog, to be the perfect fit.

I’ve used Singapore math with my oldest for several years, and for him it is a great fit- not so much with my other 2. I was just telling a friend who is new to homeschooling- just because something works for one child or for one year, doesn’t mean it will the next.

Dawn Suzette September 8, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Just read through all three… Thanks so much for sharing this journey! It was really good for me to see your list! Good stuff!

greta September 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm

I am loving these posts. I just blogged about our “first day ” of school. Mine are 5, 3 and 1. We aren’t really doing things too differently than we’ve been doing all along at this point, but we are now part of a group and we are all loving it.
Even though I was homeschooled myself, it is a real different thing to be the teacher rather than the student. i like seeing how your schooling is growing and changing as your kids grow and change. It gives me some things to think about for the years ahead. Thanks so much for sharing!

Lisa September 9, 2009 at 8:15 pm

I, too, just read all three! It is all a bit overwhelming at times! I am in my second year of homeschooling and still trying to find my way! Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more!!!
Have a good night!

Angela September 11, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Sonlight is so much fun! Btw, we use M-U-S for math and just finished our first week. They love it and beg for more. I hope that lasts! 🙂

Andrea September 12, 2009 at 11:07 am

thank you thank you thank you! I have been trying to find a balance here. We are new homeschoolers. I pulled my kids out last year for reasons I can’t fit here. The idea of unschooling really resonates with me but I do feel like I need to have some structure and a paper trail to track their progress. I have been searching for good creative curriculums that will spark the imagination. now off to do some research

Heidi @ Mt Hope September 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I’m loving your homeschool posts. Education in the context of family and home can have so many different faces and seasons. Your journey has been enjoyable to follow. Thanks for sharing. (P.S. If I ever purchased a curriculum package, it would be Sonlight. :))

Heidi @ Mt Hope September 12, 2009 at 12:15 pm

After I posted saying that Sonlight is the curriculum I’d go with if I purchased a package, I realized that I’ve purchased so many books and resources from them, it probably amounts to a package minus the teacher’s guide. 🙂 We love their book recommendations. Also, I couldn’t find where (or if) you’ve mentioned your boys’ ages. Mine are 7 1/2, 5, and 3, so I think we are a little behind you…

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