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Homeschooling kindergarten

We have started our oldest son's kindergarten year. I was a little nervous about starting kindergarten, not that I felt it would be hard, but that it is the first year that actually "counts." I put counts in quotations because there seems to be some debate in the South Carolina homeschool circles about whether or not you need to join an accountability group for kindergarten. I prefer to error on the side of caution, so I joined an accountability group for kindergarten. Thus, for us, this is the first year that counts. (Check out HSLDA for homeschooling laws: link to South Carolina homeschooling laws.)

I really like this post by Simple Homeschool called "The truth about preschool." The post is about homeschooling preschool and how most of preschool lessons are learned organically. I loved it and totally agree. I wrote a post awhile ago called "Homeschooling 5-year old preschool." I think it is really important at these ages for school to be fun. I view kindergarten as the beginning of a lifetime of schooling. My husband is in school right now with the Navy and, as he put it, training never ends for nukes. Why turn them off to school now? So we make it fun.

To make school fun, I really tried to focus on our son's style of learning and what he does well with. He loves structure, a regular routine (knowing what to expect), and a challenges in areas that he understands. He will avoid concepts that don't come naturally to him. He loves pleasing others and positive attention.

To make school easy for me, I wanted something flexible. I stay at home with our 4 children. My husband is going through the training pipeline and just started prototype, meaning long hours and rotating shiftwork. Since we plan on homeschooling for the next couple years (for now-- we are always open to what God planned for us), I want something that I can eventually use with our other children. I decided against a boxed curriculum and went with things that suited our oldest's learning style, my learning style, and would be flexible and inexpensive enough to use with our other children. I love this post by The Busy Mom on "Choosing Curriculum the Simple Way." In that post she has this picture:

Picture courtesy of The Busy Mom
I love that. It is a good reminder. As a side note, you really should be following The Busy Mom on Facebook. She is wonderful. :)

Last year for 5-year old preschool, I used Saxon Math K Home Study Teacher's Edition. My son and I really liked it. I really liked the lessons. I did not always follow the scripts, but felt the lessons gave us purpose and direction when sitting down together to work on math, even when I just used the book as a jumping off point. I also felt the lessons challenged him. I decided to continue with Saxon Math and bought Saxon Math 1 Home Study Teacher's Edition. I don't like to buy anything I don't need, so I didn't buy the work books or the meeting book when I bought the teacher's edition. Once I flipped through the book, I realized I would need the work books, so I bought them. When we actually sat down to do math I realized I needed the meeting book. I found all of them on Amazon after some searching. The work books were a little harder to find, but I did find them for a good price.

About a year ago I stumbled upon Sing, Spell, Write Level 1 for a great price at a homeschool consignment store. It was the entire kit so I bought it. I haven't used it yet for reading this year. I decided to wait on that until I had built up his confidence in reading. He enjoys the sense of accomplishment when he reads a book, but he really only looks forward to math! I bought the Bob Book Kindergarten series at Costco; I love them! They really help him build on words and sounds he knows. It may not be his favorite part of the day, but listening to him read is my favorite part of the day. I love sitting down with him and helping him through a Bob Book. The best part is that I don't really need to help him that much! He doesn't even realize how much knowledge he's drawing from as he's reading through them. We have the pre-readers that we used last year. I'm going to start doing some of those with our 3-year old toddlers. We are nearing the end of our kindergarten set so I'm going to order the Beginning Readers and 1st Grade sight words for him next. After he feels like he has a good handle on reading, I'm going to start Sing, Spell, Write. To help him with his phonics, we've been using the Star Wars Workbook Kindergarten Phonics and ABCs. When we were working through the Bob Books, he would get stuck on certain sounds-- like "ou" or "th." The Star Wars Phonics has helped him work on letter sounds even more in a way that he enjoys. Last year we took Ruth Beechick's approach to reading, which I liked; I just have been struggling with him and phonics. He didn't have much of an interest in reading until I combined it with Star Wars! ;)

For writing, we've been using a good old fashioned composition book. I've been combining social studies and writing a lot by having him write down his address, his full name, his parents' names and phone numbers, etc. Now we are working our way through the alphabet. We also do a lot of practical writing. He helps me write our shopping lists, notes to his dad, notes to our relatives, thank you cards, and the like. There is so much writing in day to day life. We write in his field trip notebook. He writes his name on top of his math worksheets. I've tried to make the writing in the composition notebook short. Each day he heads his paper with his name, the date, and the subject. Then we write our sentence. For the alphabet, we write the letter is for blank. I have him pick what each letter is for. "B is for basketball." "D is for dude." "G is for Gatorade." It gets him thinking about letter sounds as well. What starts with a "G" sound? G-g-g-Gatorade. G-g-g-good, girls, golf, Granny... He comes up with all sorts of words that start with the sound before he decides on the word he wants to write down.

Science and social studies are pretty easy for us right now. My husband is in the military so social studies is part of our every day life. When he started prototype we read about submarines for awhile and their job. We talk about what it means to be in the military all the time, about public servants and various types-- government workers, EMTs, firemen, police officers, etc. We recently visited a Fire Museum and worked on our fire plan at home. Our boys are very interested in these types of things right now so we have long conversations about them.  When we pull over on the side of the road to let an ambulance pass, they ask, "Why did we pull over for the ambulance, Momma?" Science also happens organically at our house. Bike riding, tractor driving, K'Nex roller coasters, Legos, Matchbox car tracks, water table, Slip'n'slide, Play Doh... on and on. "If I do this, this will happen... Why?" Their minds are naturally curious right now. We conduct experiments. I ask our kindergartner to help me solve a problem. "My cookbook won't stay open. Can you help me?" He figures out how to keep it propped open or builds me something with K'Nex to do the job or thinks of some other solution. Sometimes I present them with a problem. "I can't get the Play Doh out of the bottom of this tube. What should we do?" And they give me solutions. I love to have them help me cook. So many learning experiences happen in the kitchen. "This pot is hot. Do you know why?" "What does half of a cup mean?" "How do they make flour?"

Our entire homeschool day takes about 1.5 to 2 hours from start to finish. With 4 kids, we like to do things that are fun for everyone. Right now, our 2 month old just wants to eat and sleep. We start off our homeschooling by saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the little flag we've attached to the top of our fruit stand. All 3 of our older boys participate in this. We then sit on the couch and someone says a prayer for the day, usually our kindergartner. The toddlers love crossing their little hands and bowing their heads. I think they feel like big kids, so they are usually content with that job and don't mind their older brother saying the prayer. I usually nurse our baby during this time. We then read a story from our One-Year Children's Bible. We talk about what happened in the story, briefly. We then do our boys' favorite part of the day which is reading a poem from Where the Sidewalk Ends. If it is a short poem with lots of imagery, I have them close their eyes and imagine the action of the poem. If it is longer with a picture (Shel Silverstein has awesome pictures), I hold the book so they can see the picture or let them discuss the picture before I start the poem. After I read the poem, I ask them what happened. For instance, we read a poem yesterday called, "It's Dark In Here." Basically a little boy gets swallowed by a lion and writes a poem from inside the lion. All he says in the poem is that it is dark in here and he stood too close to the lion's cage. Asking what happened in the poem gets them thinking about the meaning of what they heard, re-telling me the story in their own words after they have digested it on their own. "When he stood too close to the lion's cage, the lion grabbed him and ate him for lunch!" I love hearing how they interpret the action. The best part is that I then have them act it out. They love acting it out. Some of the poems lead in to other discussions, like, "If you were in this poem, how would you do it differently?" They love it. They love all getting a turn and hearing each other talk. They laugh a lot. I laugh a lot. It is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling, sitting with all our kids and laughing as they tell me stories and run wild with their imaginations. After we finish all this on the couch (and I feed the baby), we move on to the calendar and memory verse. I try to ask our oldest throughout the day what our memory verse is. Right now we are working on Psalm 91:14 and 15. I add pieces to it each week until he eventually learns the whole thing. We did this last year and he still has most of those verses memorized! I'll ask him his memory verse as we transition activities. About mid-way through this year, I'm going to start giving our toddlers memory verses as well. Right now our oldest works very hard to teach them his memory verses. For our pocket calendar, I give them each a job-- the calendar helper, the days of the week helper, and the weatherman. The days of the week helper gets the calendar pieces out. Then we all go to the calendar and sing the days of the week song. Then the calendar helper puts the numbers in the calendar; the days of the week helper moves around the days of the week; the weatherman tells us what today looks like and puts in the appropriate weather tiles. After we are finished I use the Saxon Math script to discuss what today is. Then the calendar helper puts away the calendar pieces.

After all of that, I do school just with our kindergartner and set our toddlers up with something fun for them to do. Often they sit at the table and do "school" too. They get out their backpacks and crayons and paper and color while we work. Sometimes they do puzzles in the family room. Whatever they do, the rule is they do it quietly. Most of the time one of our toddlers works diligently at the table and the other builds with Legos in the playroom. This is when I either put our baby in the Tula or swing, depending on his disposition.

I start off kindergarten with writing in the composition book just how I previously described. He does that as I prep math and reading. After he writes, he does his Star Wars Phonics workbook and then we read the Bob Book. I try to do these first when he is freshest and most focused because he likes doing the other subjects more. After we finish that, we start on math. The lessons don't take very long at all. Then we do the worksheet front and back. If our day went slower than usual or his attention is elsewhere, I sometimes just have him do one side of the worksheet and have him finish the other side later or the next day. I check all his work, the composition book, the Star Wars book, and the math worksheets right after he fills them out. I let him make the mistakes as he goes and do not interfere. He often catches his own errors. When he gives me his work to check, I have him fix his errors and then give the satisfactory work a sticker. He likes to put the stickers on the top of the sheet. Then we move on to the next thing. After we have done all his work, we clean up our school supplies. If we did school in the morning, I have him practice his piano after school. He practices his lesson book and presentation piece and does his flash cards. If we did school in the afternoon, I have him go play for a bit before sitting down at the piano, let him clear his mind some. We usually do the theory book before I start cooking dinner or he works on it while I prep dinner. For science and social studies, I let those organically happen in our day. I look for opportunities to bring them into our play and conversation.

If we went on a field trip, we pull out the field trip notebook. Some field trips aren't an entire days worth of school, like our nature bike ride at the park. We just drew pictures of what we saw in the field trip book. That trip is helping build the ground work for a unit study I am going to do on habitats with the all the boys. We are going to conclude our unit study with a trip to the zoo, but we have been talking about habitats without ever using the word or officially studying it since we started school August 4th. When we went to the Fire Museum, that was our whole day of school. We discussed dates and passing time (math), "Is this fire truck newer or older than that fire truck? How do you know?" I had him read the signs to me, read the pamphlet to me, all while making school fun. We came home and worked on our fire escape plan (social studies) and then wrote in our field trip notebook, drawing a picture of our favorite fire truck (science-- "How does that fire truck work?"). I love having them talk about what they liked best and hearing how they internalize books we read, stories they hear, or outings we take because I feel it helps them develop a love of books-- really feeling and connecting with stories.

I keep track of everything we do in the Homeschooler's Journal. I really like how it is laid out. It works well for me and is compact, which I like. I liked it for lesson planning last year with our preschool. I did a lot of unit studies last year. This year I plan on doing some. I like how unit studies are easy to involve both the age groups of our kids while still emphasizing with each child the concepts they need to learn, often in a hands on, natural way.

I also rely heavily on Smart Play by Barbara Sher. I stumbled upon this book in a used bookstore and bought it because it was cheap. I don't know why anyone would get rid of this book! It has the best ideas for fun, impromptu learning games with lots of kids. The other day we did our math lesson and then went outside for "Math Kung Fu." Hilarious! The boys were cracking up and counting karate kicks in the backyard. We have a lot of fun in this book.

A lot of our day is transitioning and waiting your turn. They are learning to listen to each other and respect what each of them has to say. They are learning to verbalize their thoughts and to speak up. It has been a lot of fun working with them on these concepts. Of course we carry this over into the non-schooling hours of our day, like when they help with chores and cooking. We have been putting a huge emphasis on cleaning up after ourselves. We've been handing over responsibility to them and they have been rising to the occasion. I recently read Emma Jenner's book Keep Calm and Parent On. This book is an amazing read for parents and especially homeschooling parents with more than one child. Your kids can and should help you! :) We've been giving them responsibilities and expectations and are floored at how they have met each challenge. It makes our day-- my day-- so much happier and smoother when they are assisting me in real, practical ways, plus I think they are happier because they have more freedom (and less time outs). If I were to write a parenting book, it would read much like Emma Jenner's philosophies. I wholly agree with her.

I hear a lot from people, "I can't believe you homeschool!" Homeschooling has been a blessing for our family. We didn't have an overly structured day last year when we homeschooled preschool, but it gave our play purpose. This year is much of the same. It has provided structure to our day. I burst into tears when we sat down on our first day of kindergarten this year and saw how our 6-year old had remembered all the letter sounds we've been working on and read-- actually read-- a book. It was amazing. I love those moments where I feel, "I taught him that?" I love when I see him applying things he learned from his dad. He changed the batteries in the swing by himself the other day as I made dinner. While he did that, he soothed the baby and then got the baby back to sleep once the batteries were changed. It's amazing to see our children behave like little people, little citizens finding their place in the world. I love that homeschooling allows us to play to our children's strengths and to take things at our own pace. I know many of his 6-year old friends are entering kindergarten and first grade this year. Many already know how to read, but last year I could tell I was forcing reading on him and he was rejecting it so we switched gears and focused on letter sounds. This year he is ready for reading and is easily applying the phonics we learned last year. I love that we are teaching it to him in a way that makes complete sense to him and is enjoyable, not just for him, but for all of us.

The other nice thing is that there is a chance we will be moving this year. We started the year early so we could get as many days in as possible before my husband started rotating shiftwork. We also want to be able to take as much time off as we want for moving while still getting in our 180 days of school. When we move, we will be able to start school back up right where we left off, plus, when my hubby is on rotating shiftwork, our kids will be home to see their dad as often as possible. I feel like homeschooling really goes well with my husband's Navy career.

So that's our kindergarten plan! School has just started, but we are looking forward to the rest of the year! :) How are you homeschooling this year?


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