Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Our School Day

I had an e-mail from a new friend the other day* asking a few questions. Among them, she wanted to know what curriculum we use and what our school day looks like. She and her family are moving to our area of the world this spring, and she will begin homeschooling at that point. Although she has been a classroom teacher in the past, she has this wild idea that homeschooling will be somewhat different. Hm, probably because it will be. Anyway, I'm shamelessly cutting and pasting from my e-mail reply to share with you here.

The short answer is that we use Sonlight. We are, by definition, a "Sonlight Family." The literature-rich educational track very much fits who ML and I are (basically, bibliovores :-). It also fits with the educational philosophy I was taught under at Baylor, which I really resonated with. In my earliest days of planning to homeschool (before we had kids, even, when I knew I would be raising kids overseas), what I thought out is exactly what Sonlight has done for me. Bottom line, I have come to realize just in the last year that my personal educational philosophy is to surround my kids with books and then supplement with workbooks, as needed.

Now, when I say we use Sonlight, that's going to look very different from someone who orders the deluxe, all-in-one package and teaches straight from the Instructor's Guide. There's absolutely nothing wrong with doing just that, and it will get your kids a great education. Curriculum planning, though, was my favorite part of teacher training and of teaching public school (6th grade Language Arts, Reading and History for two years), so while I am infinitely grateful to Sonlight for all of the planning they do for me, I just can't leave it alone. :-P

For example, we're finishing up Core 4 right now, having done Cores K-3 the previous years (and bits and pieces of Core Pre-K 4/5 here and there for whomever it was age-appropriate), but for K, I added lots of sequels, and for Cores 1-4, I have rearranged them to flow with the Story of the World series, books 1-4, which we've read as our history "spine" each year (Sonlight uses two different spines over those four years). If you want to see how I laid all that out, I'd be happy to show it to you, but I share that more to say: you can make whatever you pick work for you.

CM, for example, when she homeschooled her kids, used a workbook curriculum that some would consider very dry. She, though, supplemented with so many fun projects and tie-ins that many, if not most, of her homeschool days looked a heck of a lot more fun than ours. :-)

As for our homeschool days, I'll lay out a basic one for you. Of course, it doesn't always go like this, actually, but this is the general flow (keep in mind, this is with a 4th and 2nd grader and a K'er, so it's much more intense than when they were younger).

We start schoolwork after breakfast, between 8 & 9, ideally closer to 8, but we sometimes have late nights, so occasionally it's even 10 (devotionals and Bible reading happen before breakfast, so I don't include that as part of the school day). We start with "independent work," which includes their Math (currently, we do Singapore and Miquon and the boys have drill books from Rod & Staff with a 1/2 page of basic problems to quickly work) and Language Arts (sometimes more independent than others) every day and art, music, map work, timeline, science and/or history projects, depending on the day.

I lay out each book at the beginning of the year and input them into a software program called Homeschool Tracker. Each six weeks, I then lay that out into daily assignments, so they know to check my computer for their list when they need to know what to do. I'm sitting with them during this time (unless I'm off changing a diaper), but I'm not always available to give the next assignment, if I'm helping someone else. They come to me when they have questions, and I'm just generally interacting with them as they do their work, so although we call it independent work, it's still pretty hands-on for me (I often knit or crochet to keep me sitting still; I find if I'm on the computer, I'm not as tuned in as I need to be, even if I'm still sitting right there).

When they've finished with their independent work (which is usually youngest to oldest, since my K'er has just a few things she works on), they listen to their memorization songs on their computer (in another room). In their assignments, I list which songs they're supposed to memorize each week, and MS sets those up in playlists at the beginning of the week with each song repeated three times, so they just listen through their playlists each day. This year, this includes two Wee Sing America songs, a Bible memory song (we've finished the GodRocks! series and just started Seeds Family Worship), and a Schoolhouse Rock multiplication song for all of them (the multiplication song was just supposed to be for JW, but MA and MS wanted them, too, because they are actually videos, and they enjoy them). MS also has a geography song to listen to about every other week. This year, his are US geography. When we start back through our four-year cycle of history, JW and MA will also have geography songs.

At this point, I don't quiz them on their songs. They just listen to them, and in the process, usually memorize them. I plan to be more purposeful about making sure they're memorizing the second time we use these same songs when they're older (although probably not with the Wee Sing America songs, since it's mainly things like Yankee Doodle Dandy :-). Many people have the kids listen to songs at the same time and sing them together. For us, it's more difficult/disruptive to try to find a time that everyone's at a good stopping point or just stop everyone in the middle of something to do this. Up until now, we've still done this weekly to watch our science DVD (since I'm not the best about getting around to the science experiments, I'm super-grateful that Sonlight provides a DVD demonstrating them), and once a week is hard enough. Next year, I think I'm going to rip the DVD and import the experiments into iTunes to include in their memorization songs time, too.

After memorization songs, they each do a lesson of Rosetta Stone Arabic and then have "learning game" time. This rotates between computer, LeapPad, Leapster and Wii. They pick what they play, but it has to be educational (and I make the call on that). Some days, MSi and JW do not get to this point, since they have a decent amount of work to do and/or they dawdle. It's a nice incentive, though, for them to work quickly.

During this time, as long as they've been putting effort into their work, they can get a snack (most often fruit) once breakfast starts to wear off. We break for lunch later or they eat as they finish their independent work, either before or after doing computer schoolwork.

Usually, we then have rest time, which is reading (Sonlight or history-related readers, unless they're way ahead of the game in these). After a little while, I will allow MA (my K'er) to move on to listening to audio books or songs on the iPod once she's read for long enough (she was an early reader, but she still has an age-average attention span).

After rest time, we do read-alouds, which is literature every day, history 1-2 days/week and science 1 day/week. MS has outlining to do for each history chapter and a test to take afterwards (another thing which MA and JW will join in on next time through history).

And that's our school day.

Oh, and what's my 3-year-old doing this whole time? Unfortunately, spending way too much time on the computer, but also often playing independently or sitting to be read a book or stopping in for a snuggle in my lap. Next year, he will be more incorporated into our routine. He's very introverted, though, so it suits him well to kind of keep out of the thick of things at this point, and I make sure he gets some one-on-one attention later in the day, in addition to what he gets during school time.

*(read: over a month ago. I'm very bad about putting off things that I think will take a while to do. Like e-mails that require more than one-sentence replies. I'm working on that. I promised I would reply to her follow-up questions with less than a month turn-around. I'm sure that encouraged her.)


TexasHeather said...

you left out one very important bit of info -- what time do you wrap up? or what time does reading/rest time happen? I'm laying out our school year for the coming year, and I'm shocked to see we've jumped from a 2.5 hr day to what looks like it will be a 4.5 hr day. Yikes! Adding a core sure adds a ton of time! I guess it's still not so bad....and I hope it works out. So, how long is your day???

Grateful for Grace said...

Hey, I haven't read this post yet, but I had to find a place to say...
Congrats on the next male!! I am so glad to see all is well. I have to admit, I was pulling for a girl for *M*, but in my heart I just want a healthy baby for your family, so... God has answered that thus far. The update was great.

much love,

Luke said...

Great post! I'm glad to hear you like the Discover & Do DVDs as those are near and dear to my heart [smile].


Ps. Congratulations!

Grateful for Grace said...

Could you tell me more about the Sonlight Science DVDs??? I'm intrigued.


Grateful for Grace said...

Ok, I looked a bit... I sure would like to do more with science, but... looks pricey. What say you?
What benefits have you seen?
What Science program do you use (which level/s)?

Seems I could do Level 3 for my middle 3 kiddos. BUT $200 for science....?

mideastmom said...

Heather, you really don't want to know when we wrap up. I get very frustrated at my oldest son for waiting until the last minute to do something he needs to do just because he knows he has time, rather than doing it to start with and then having time to spare, but dh and I have had to face the fact that there's a reason he's that way. :-/

Basically, we end just in time for MS to go to TKD and/or me to exercise, shower and get dinner on the table by the time ML gets home from work about 7:30. Usually, 5:30ish. But that's with lots of rabbit trails off into resting/doing chores/playing for a while in the afternoon.

What really happens is that we have a break between independent work and read-alouds, and we do the read-alouds last thing before dinner prep, etc. Yeah, that makes it sound better.

mideastmom said...

GfG, is it okay to admit that SL science is one of the only parts of our curriculum that I'm burying my head in the sand about and refusing to look around? It's working for us, so I just fork over the $$ and plunge ahead.

Okay, that's not totally true. What made me choose SL science in the first place still stands. A) It uses Living Books, many of which are Usborne, which we love. B) It covers a scope and sequence, making it less likely that there are going to be gaps in our science learning.

The added bonus of the experiment DVD has become C). It demos all of the experiments assigned during the year. (And I think, even without purchasing the program, your kids would enjoy and benefit from any of the DVD's.)

I've heard great things about other programs, specifically Noeo and Apologia, but since it ain't broke, I'm not going there. :-)