Music: Violin Practice

Miss 4 loves music, and she’d been begging us since forever for a “pretty little violin.” I did a lot of research, and last year, she started taking violin lessons. While I know that she enjoys her violin, sometimes lessons are a struggle (as anything at 4 could be expected to be).

Do your children take music lessons?

What do you do to get them to practice?

(I’ll write more about the Suzuki method of learning music soon. For now, happy Friday!)

Throwback Thursday: The Cat in the Castle

In 2012, my oldest built this castle from a kit as we studied the Middle Ages. Our family cat (well one of our cats) decided that it was the perfect spot for her to lounge, so lounge she did. This castle found a home in my husband’s work office for a long while.

One of the awesome things about homeschooling is how fun the projects are for the whole family. This is still one of Mr. College’s favorite projects he put together.

What projects have you done that have been a lot of fun? 

How to Start Homeschooling

I’ve had a number of friends ask, “If I wanted to homeschool my child, how do I get started?”

I’ve also had a number of friends say, “There’s so much information, where do I start? What do I need to know? What do I need to teach in my homeschool?”

I’ve answered these questions so many times, in fact, that I thought I’d put together a quick and dirty guide on how to start homeschooling your children.

1. Learn your state’s homeschooling laws

Some states are really lax in what they require for homeschooling. Other states require things like testing, portfolios, and careful record-keeping. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a good resource for finding information about homeschooling including whether you need to notify officials or not, whether you need to keep records and what records you need to keep, whether an outside evaluation is necessary, etc.

It’s important to understand the laws for homeschooling in your state so that you can maintain compliance and so that you can avoid truancy and educational neglect cases stemming from not following the steps that are necessary to legally homeschool in your state.

2. Are you able to commit to homeschooling?

While homeschooling a child is really exciting at first, and there are a lot of positives to it, I won’t lie! It can be rough-going sometimes. Kids won’t want to work, you won’t want to make them work. After the honeymoon period wears off, can you ensure that you will be responsible for your child’s education even on the days when you don’t want to be?

When I started homeschooling, I was a single parent and a graduate student in a demanding program. As I’d mentioned in my introductory post, I was a reluctant homeschooling parent. I had really wanted to make public school work for my boy, but it just didn’t. When I pulled him out, I was very committed to ensuring he received the education he deserved. That meant that I had to become a master at scheduling when I’d teach him and when I’d work on my own educational and career projects. Ultimately, I left graduate school (for a myriad of reasons) and started my own home-based business so that I could dedicate the time needed to ensure that he had the best education possible.

3. Do some research on homeschooling styles

There are as many homeschooling styles as there are homeschoolers! Over the years, I’ve become more of an eclectic homeschooler, still focused on using the classical model as an outline for what to teach and when, but when I started out, I was very much a rigid classical homeschooler. Here’s a basic (very basic) rundown of the different styles of homeschooling. Remember that just because you start out one way doesn’t mean you have to stay that way for the entire homeschool journey. Once you’re actually homeschooling, you’ll find what works best for your children and youself.

  • School-at-home: This approach generally involves the purchase of boxed curriculum and a parent trying to replicate the school experience at home. There’s usually a schedule involved, and schooling happens during traditional hours, most, if not all, days of the school/work week. Many umbrella charter and private schools and online schools provide this sort of education. This can be convenient for those who are unsure what to teach and/or like to feel confident that they are covering everything a traditional school would cover. It lends itself fairly well to secular homeschoolers, as many using this method will be working through a K-12 online program.
  • Unschooling: Student-led learning based on a child’s interests happening wherever the child happens to be. While unschooling is contrasted to school-at-home as an absolute opposite, children may still have some structure to their day. A lot of unschooling is done based on experiential and service learning. It lends itself well to secular homeschoolers. It also has developed a bit of a “reputation” both in homeschooling communities and communities at large for being too loose with education.
  • Classical: Based on the five tools of learning – reason, record, research, relate, rhetoric – schooling years are divided into the grammar stage, logic stage, and rhetoric stage, where children get a foundation of knowledge, learn how to organize knowledge, and then learn how to relate and analyze what they have learned. Think of this as your “traditional private Catholic school” method. The classical method can work well for secular homeschoolers.
  • Charlotte Mason: Charlotte Mason homeschooling methods are based on the principal idea that children are not receptacles for knowledge, but rather that childhood ought to be play-based and learning happens through play, creating, and real-life situations. There’s a lot of emphasis on nature studies in Charlotte Mason. This is also one of the harder methods to find secular curriculum for.
  • Waldorf: This is another educational style that is based on nature. Waldorf homeschoolers focus on educating the whole child – body, mind, spirit. Creativity, music, nature, movement, are all emphasized. Screens are discouraged in this method (so educational videos are out). Rather than using textbooks children learning in this style create their own books.
  • Montessori: Montessori education focuses on child-led exploration within a framework of experiences provided by adults. Practical life, cultural, and sensorial skills are emphasized along with language, math, art, and music. Montessori methods are best-suited for early childhood education and also discourage screen use. Children are encouraged to learn at their own pace. This method lends itself well to secular homeschooling.
  • Unit Studies: All studies are built around a particular theme – for instance, weather. Students will learn about the theme, and engage in language arts and mathematics activities based on the theme. Again, this is a method that works well for early childhood education and is easily used by those wanting to use secular curriculum.
  • Eclectic: Eclectic homeschoolers use a combination of the various methods and educational philosophies. They may use workbooks for some subjects while taking an unschooling approach for others.

4. Determine what you will teach

At a minimum, you’ll want to teach:

  • Language Arts
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Spelling
    • Grammar
    • Handwriting/penmanship
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • History

It’s also a good idea to teach the arts – both art and music history and art techniques and some music theory. Doing so helps children with many other skills.

You’ll want to incorporate some sort of physical activity – either organized or informal into your routine.

You may want to teach a foreign language.

You may also want to do nature studies, practical life/life skills exercises, logic, rhetoric, or any number of electives based upon your child’s interest.

To get an idea of what to teach, you may find benefit in looking at your state’s standards or the Core Knowledge Sequence. Here are a few book resources that also list suggestions for what to teach (these are Amazon associate links, so should you purchase one of these books, I will receive a small percentage of that sale at no extra cost to you.)

5. Find a good support system

Even if you don’t have a homeschooling group in your city that is secular, you can find other secular homeschoolers online. There are many great Facebook groups for secular homeschooling families. You’ll want a support system for when things get tough, and so you can ask questions about curriculum choices before making purchases. Other families can be great resources when it comes to homeschooling.

6. Plan time for socializing

We’re lucky that here in Wichita most of the museums have homeschooling classes. There’s a rec department with lots of different classes and sports. There’s even a group of secular homeschoolers that gets together. It’s important to account for opportunities for your child to be around other children on a regular basis.

7. Choose your resources

Whether you’re using a curriculum or pulling together a variety of resources, you’ll want to get that together so that you’re ready to go.

8. Determine what method you’ll use for record-keeping

Even if your state doesn’t require record-keeping, you’ll want to keep a record of some sort of what your child(ren) has/have read. You can keep records in a binder, you can use a planner of some sort or other. You can use online planners like Homeschool Tracker, or you could use a program like SeeSaw or Evernote. It may take you some time to figure out what works best for you.

9. Get started!

Once you’ve done all of the foundation-building, it’s time to do the fun stuff. If you’re pulling your child out of a public, charter, or private school, you might want to allow for a period of “deschooling,” especially if your child did not have a good experience with learning. This time could be a week, or it could be a month or two – especially if the child is dealing with burnout. This will help ensure a healthy and welcome transition to learning at home.

Veteran homeschoolers, do you have anything to add? Comment or tweet me at @justasechs!



TinkerSketch May Art Challenge Courtesy of TinkerLab

I’ve been a fan of TinkerLab’s art, science and STEM projects for some time, but for some reason, I didn’t realize they had this monthly challenge. I think it will be a lot of fun to undertake this challenge with the kids! Head on over to TinkerLab to learn more about the May TinkerSketch art challenge – and follow me on Instagram to see what we come up with over the course of the month. 

It’s going to be fun to dig out the sketchbook and create art with the kids. Will you be participating in the challenge?

Not a Secular Curriculum: Bookshark

“Bookshark literature-based homeschool curriculum provides parents with engaging full-grade learning programs that offer unrivaled educational outcomes”

Source: Bookshark is Literature-Based Homeschool Curriculum | BookShark

I was a bit bummed this past weekend. I happened upon Bookshark, and thought, “Wow! This looks great – it’s Sonlight without the religion.” Then, I took a closer look.

Unfortunately, Bookshark’s history and science curriculum choices still present a problem. The science curriculum is “neutral” meaning they don’t touch upon evolution, climate change, the big bang theory, and other important scientific concepts that should be part of a comprehensive science curriculum.

The history choices contain strong Christian biases.

This means I’m still intent on creating my own history and science curricula for my kids, and I’m still toying with the idea of making this available to others, considering I’m putting it together anyway.

The difficulty in finding truly secular science and history resources – with ready-made lesson plans – is one I’m sure many secular homeschoolers face. Sure, I can put my own plan together, and that is pretty fun, but it’s also a lot of work.

So let me pose this question to you: If there were a secular equivalent of Bookshark/Sonlight/Timberdoodle, would you use it and prefer it to what’s already out there?


End of the Week Traditions in Homeschooling

Another week is done. What do you do to make it special? Do you think it’s important to mark the end of the week?

Most of our Fridays end with Princess Boogie’s violin lesson. A few others end with a class at our local zoo. We’ve started to add in a special treat each week: Taking the kids out for ice cream. Not only does it make a nice incentive for Miss 4 to be on task during her lesson, but it also marks a nice transition into our weekend time.

During the weekend, we don’t do lessons.

We still read books, head out for various enrichment activities, violin practice, and play to learn.

I’ve tried to be good about not working on the weekend. That’s easier said than done.

Instead, I try to save the weekends for family time. My husband does the same.

Ideas for making end of the weeks special

Wellness Mama, in her post “Reasons to Create Family Time Traditions (+Ideas)” points out that building a strong family culture is important. She gives a great list of ideas for family time – having a family game night, reading together, and art time are all great ideas for marking the end of the week.

A special dinner that focuses on kid-favorites might also be a nice marker for the end of the week.  In “Make the Most of Your Weekend” by Charlotte Latvala, she even suggests involving kids in meal preparation efforts on the weekend.

We also take advantage of free and low-cost family activities around town on the weekends. In fact, we’re lucky enough to have lots of family-friendly events going on in our city every weekend. I follow the local “On The Cheap” blog and check Facebook’s events for things we might be interested in.

Sunday mornings are for pancakes and sausage and sometimes bacon in our home. When my husband and I were first dating, this was something he did for himself, and I liked the tradition. I remember thinking “I want to have pancakes on Sunday!” So, he’s continued to make that breakfast for our Sunday mornings. Christie at Raising Whasians has some more fun tips for making family weekend breakfasts special.

The weekend doesn’t have to be the weekend

One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that it affords families the ability to be more flexible than they otherwise would be. Don’t be afraid to shift your family’s weekend to other days. It’s not so important the days we take off (in fact, many of your city’s local attractions will be less busy and possibly offer special deals during weekdays), as it is important that we take some time off each week.

How do you mark the weekend?

What sorts of things does your family do to make the weekend special? Do you have a special breakfast or dinner you like to have together? Do you have a diy or special art project you work on during the weekend? Do you break out the movies and junk food? Share your family’s traditions in the comments!

Penmanship Practice

How strict are you when it comes to sitting properly for penmanship practice? Princess Boogie, 4, is just learning how to write, so I haven’t been a stickler about having to be 100% about her posture (In fact, I’m not sure I was strict about it with College Boy, 19, either). Right now, it’s student-initiated. She wants to learn to write, but she’s also a wiggle worm. (The book is Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Level K – I’ll write more of a review of their products soon). So: Sit down feet firmly on the floor or kneel at the coffee table/wherever else she happens to be when working on her letters?