Curriculum for 2014 {2nd/3rd Grade, Kindergarten, PreK}

As I've written in previous posts, we're about to take a leap in our homeschooling journey.  It's a leap of faith from the security of a boxed curriculum to a more eclectic style in which I truly need to rely on the Lord and His leading.
Last week we finished our time in the curriculum we've used since Miss R's preschool days.  I'm thankful for the blessing of having used such a Christ centered curriculum.  It has prepared her well as a student and has given me confidence as a teacher.  Yet now, it is time to follow the plans that the Lord has laid on my heart for this upcoming year.
I modeled my Course of Study after the Home Centered Learning Model described in Clay and Sally Clarkson's Educating the Wholehearted Child - an outstanding resource that every homeschooler should have on their shelf!  The model is made up of 5 areas of study known as the 5 D's:
1. Discipleship Studies: to shape a child's heart to love and serve God and to study and know his Word
2. Disciplined studies: to develop foundational learning skills and competencies in language arts, math, and reasoning
3. Discussion studies: to feed a child's mind by giving them the best in living books and the fine arts
4. Discovery studies: to stimulate a love for learning by creating opportunities for curiosity, creativity, and discovery
5. Discretionary studies: to direct her in developing a range of skills and abilities for adult life according to her gifts and our family's circumstances and resources
The following Course of Study is our current "plan" for the new year.  Our plan is submitted to God and open to change upon His leading.  I pray that the Lord will bless our time learning at home as we use these resources.  Most of all, I pray that He will draw Miss R's heart to Himself and that her eyes would be opened to the truth of the gospel.
Miss A, my Kindergartner, began the following curriculum plan in September and will continue on with the following:

And Mr. T, who is 3, will continue going through Heart of Dakota's Little Hands to Heaven.

Plan to Be Flexible - Part 3 of 3

Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.

Chapter 3: What's Working and What's Not

This chapter had me thinking about how God created each of my children to be such unique individuals with different talents, interests, strengths, and weaknesses.  Taking their interests into consideration is one of the blessings of homeschooling.  I don't need to "teach from a box" because they don't fit into a box!

During an honest conversation with my oldest, I learned that she wants to do more art and science.  The activities she described sounded just like nature journaling.  She has a love for drawing, particularly for drawing horses.  Why not afford her more opportunities to learn about the things she loves?  I have determined to always be a student of my children.  I learned so much more about her simply by being open to listening.  I've begun looking into ways to add her interests into school time and I am so excited about the resources I've found!

Chapter 4: Determine This Year's Goals

It's important to set annual goals for each child.  Start with the core subjects you must cover and include your goals for Bible and character training.  Finally, add in any specialized subjects, sports, music, and other extracurriculars.  Remember that your annual goals are under the umbrella of your big picture goals.

Alicia recommends focusing on concepts learned rather than curriculum completion.  She writes,

"This way, the curriculum becomes the servant to the student's learning needs, rather than the other way around."

I wholeheartedly agree!

She also suggests streamlining whenever possible by teaching some of your topics to all of your children at the same time.  Each child will demonstrate what they've learned in an age appropriate way - little ones may do a coloring page while older ones write an essay.  Subjects like history, Bible, and character training work well across all levels.  Subjects like Language Arts and Math will always have to be taught individually to each child's level.  As a Mom of four children, I love this idea!

Alicia rounds out chapter 4 with encouragement for the journey.  Homeschooling is hard and the daily details can threaten to overwhelm.  But if we abide in Christ and remember that we can do this in His strength alone, we will be comforted.  Remember that, when planting a garden, toil comes before the harvest.  We till, plant, and water, and then we wait.  Don't get discouraged when it seems like the fruit of all your labor isn't appearing.  Be patient.  For under the soil, the work has begun.  You just can't see it yet.  And remember, it is God's work.  He softens hardened hearts.  Salvation belongs to Him.  So by all means, work hard, but trust God for the results in faith.  A harvest is coming!

Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Isaiah 40:11

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young.


There are more chapters in Plan to Be Flexible that walk you through creating a master school year calendar, building a curriculum core for each student, and drafting a weekly schedule.  There is a wealth of practical tips that I know I'll keep going back to.  I highly recommend this book to beginner and veteran homeschoolers alike!

Fear is...

Fear is...
watching your seven year old daughter fall off a horse for the first time.

Grace is...
she was completely fine, admirably brave, and 100% undeterred.

Me on the other hand?  Well, I held it together for her at the farm, all the way home, and through the evening.  But at night, as I lay down to bed, ugly, fear-filled thoughts flooded my mind.  The what-ifs gripped me.  The worst case scenarios that didn't happen, but could have, shook me up.  And the only think that laid them to rest was landing on truth.

God is sovereign...
God is sovereign...

Not a single thing happens that He doesn't ordain.  And He is good.  With that, my eyes fell heavy and sleep overtook me.  Peace and rest in Him alone.

Proverbs 16:33 teaches us that there is no such thing as an accident.

"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord."

The hand of God actively works and moves upon the Earth.  He upholds the universe with the power of His word.  He is over all.  Psalm 104:21-30 tells us:

The lions roar for their prey
    and seek their food from God. 

 The sun rises, and they steal away;
    they return and lie down in their dens.

Then people go out to their work,
    to their labor until evening.

How many are your works, Lord!

    In wisdom you made them all;

    the earth is full of your creatures.

There is the sea, vast and spacious,
    teeming with creatures beyond number—
    living things both large and small. 

There the ships go to and fro,
    and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

All creatures look to you
    to give them their food at the proper time.

When you give it to them,
    they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
    they are satisfied with good things.

When you hide your face,
    they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to the dust.

When you send your Spirit,
    they are created,
    and you renew the face of the ground.


 If all these things are true about God (and they are), there is nothing that I should fear.

Plan to be Flexible - Part 2 of 3

Read Part 1 here.

Chapter 2: What's Working... (and What's Not)

We can't be afraid to stop and evaluate what elements of our homeschool are working... or not.  My oldest child is bright and generally compliant, so I never needed to find a new curriculum for academic reasons.  But I never gave much thought to changing things in order to bring more joy and delight into our homeschool.  And truthfully?  I was intimidated by the work that change would bring.

I was too comfortable with our open-and-go, already laid out curriculum.  It was easy for me to implement, and I liked that.  But I valued what was easy for me over the joy that we could have in our homeschool.  I'm also a box-checker and a list maker, so it was very hard for me to stray from the curriculum "plan"!  If it was written in the box, we HAD to do it.  Well, I'm learning that this isn't the best approach.  If something isn't working, it's okay to deviate from the curriculum plan, to try something new, to add or {gasp} subtract something.

I'm finding that tailoring her education to her interests is the way into her heart.  She was stifled before, and now she's beginning to come alive with interest and excitement.  And so am I!  I'm discovering joy and freedom right along with her.  With that said, I'm careful to tell her that not everything we do or study will be exciting.  Some subjects will feel like work, but it is still her job to work diligently as unto the Lord. (Col 3:23)

In Chapter 2, Alicia recommends taking a summer break in order to plan, set goals, breathe some fresh air and grab a new focus.  I've never taken an extended break before, but I see the wisdom in doing so.  Right now we're on a 6 week on, 1 week off schedule.  I use the week off to plan the next 6 week chunk.  We also schedule doctor appointments, field trips, play dates, and the like on our week off.  I'm leaning toward a 4-6 week summer break as well in 2014.

The last half of Chapter 2 talks about Alicia's lowest point in her homeschool journey.  I identified well with the burnout she described.  Through the encouragement of other homeschooling moms, she decided to back way off with school and her routine.  She took a few weeks to seek the Lord and slowly began re-introducing learning through games, playing, and reading interesting books.  She began to value her relationships with her children over task completion.  She began to become a student of her students and to value their opinions and responses to how she was teaching.  It was the first step in a radical transformation of their homeschool!  She said,

"We need to be honest about where our students (or where we) are, and then be prepared to make whatever changes necessary to make school engaging, productive, and effective.  Regardless of when or how often, it's critical to weigh the current health of our school against our ultimate homeschool motivations and goals." (page 24)

I am ready to make whatever changes necessary.  And you know what?  It hasn't been the burden I expected it to be.  It has actually been so much fun to write down our homeschool goals, make a plan, research curriculum, and purchase resources to work toward the goals that God has laid on our hearts.  I can't wait to begin!

Read Part 3 here.

Plan to be Flexible: Part 1 of 3

I don't remember how the Lord led me to the book Plan to be Flexible: Designing a Homeschool Year and Daily Schedule that Works for Your Family by Alicia Kazsuk, but I'm so glad He did.  It has been such a helpful guide as I continue to discern the changes the Lord is pressing upon my heart for our homeschool.  It was exactly what I needed to read at exactly the right time.


I really connected with Alicia when she wrote,

"I'd been holding on so tight to my need for a specific schedule that I'd fallen into the habit of letting anger, frustration and a 'just get it done' attitude become a part of our days.  Those incredibly frustrating days had become more the rule than the exception and homeschooling had become a burden."


She goes on to say,

"I had to ask myself: Was school really fun... for me or the kids?  Where was the exploration, the joy of learning? ...and how could I make sure that what we were doing everyday was in line with our original intentions for homeschooling?"


Bingo!  I knew this was a book that I needed to read.  She echoed, almost exactly, the current state of our homeschool.  The Lord has been so kind to lead me to resources that will help me become a better homeschooling Mom.

Chapter 1: The Finish Line as a Daily Guide

Developing an effective homeschool schedule starts with the finish line in mind.  Why am I homeschooling and what do I hope to accomplish?  It was important for me to think through our big picture goals and our reasons for homeschooling.  Some of those reasons are below:

1. Matthew 16:26

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"

This is a "finish line" verse.  The most important thing in life is knowing God.  If our children gain all that the world has to offer - success, academic achievement, money, etc., - yet they don't know God, they have nothing.  Heaven and hell are real, and one day each of us will stand before the Lord to give an account.  No one will be able to exchange a fancy college degree, good works, or all the money in the world for his or her soul.  The only thing that will save us on that day is faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross.  This belief dramatically shapes the decisions we make for our homeschool.  Academics are not the ultimate driving force.  They are important, but the goal of acquiring knowledge is first to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and then to use their skills to serve Him.

2. Proverbs 1:7

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." 


Without reverence for God, our children cannot begin to understand the world rightly.  All spiritual knowledge and wisdom, as well as a correct view of life and truth, begin with a reverential awe of God and a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Knowledge of God is the most important thing we can pass along to our children.  It affects every other area of life including your views on marriage, children, finances, values, priorities, academics, and the list goes on and on.

3. Psalm 3:8

"Salvation belongs to the Lord." 


Oh how we need to be in prayer for the souls of our children.  Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit.  Knowing this keeps us humble as parents.  We cannot "homeschool" our children into the kingdom of God.  We are to be faithful and dutifully train up our children in the ways of the Lord, but only He can open their eyes and hearts to receive Him.  Every decision in our homeschool, no matter how large or small, should be covered in prayer.  Lord, teach us to pray.

Read Part 2 here.

It's Time for a Change

I've begun the process of making some big changes in our homeschool.  At times change feels exciting!  At other times, it seems overwhelming.  Am I making the right decisions?  Am I hearing the Lord correctly?

Somewhere along the way, we lost our joy.  We don't approach learning with delight, but with a box-checker mentality.  "Let's just get it done."  Some days there have been tears, certainly frustration, and overall there is a sense that something is missing.

There's so much more that this experience could be!  God is an amazing God and His creation is full of awe and wonder!  And yet, our days do not reflect this.  There are joyful moments, of course.  But I want our homeschool to be characterized by a love for God, people, and the amazing world we live in.

I'm going to need to let go.  To let go of the way I've always done things.  To let go of checking off every box of our curriculum.  To let go of the fear that I might miss something and be responsible for gaps in their education.  To let go of my time-stealing idols and do the work and prep necessary to do what God has called me to do... and to do it well.

I'm ready.
Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:4-5

Who Is Leading Your Homeschool?

Am I leading my homeschool in my own strength, or am I letting the Holy Spirit lead?  Am I seeking the Lord through the Word and prayer for every decision large and small?  These are the questions I've given much thought to lately.  I truly believe that we can plan the best activities and teach from the best Christian curricula, but if we're doing it in our strength alone, it may be in vain.

Listen to what Sally Clarkson says in Educating the Wholehearted Child:
"Christian activities and interests do not make a home Christian.  A Christian home is never defined by what the children are doing; it is defined by what the parents are doing.  Your child could study the Bible every day, listen only to Christian music; watch only Christian videos, read missionary biographies, know a zillion memory verses, and never miss Sunday School or Bible Club, yet still not live in a Christian home.  Simply deciding as a Christian parent to homeschool your children does not mean they will be raised in a Christian home.  You can bring your children home for the right reasons, but without the right biblical perspective you might be just adding another activity to their lives and to yours.  As good as homeschooling can be, it's only part of the picture.  A Christian home is one in which the parents purposefully keep Jesus Christ at the center of every area of family life."


I'm taking a step back and reevaluating the big picture.  Why are we homeschooling?  Is Jesus the center of our homeschool, and am I representing Him well?  Are our current activities drawing the childrens' hearts closer to the Lord?  What are our long term goals and are they biblical?  What skills and character qualities do we want our children to possess as adults, and how can we best prepare them to serve the Lord?  Do our daily activities line up with our long term goals?  The journey is so long that it can be easy to lose sight of the finish line.  We must guard against following rabbit trails, even good ones, that take us off the path that God has for our family and for each child.  We must homeschool each day with eternity in mind.

"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." (Heb 12:1)

In my next post, I'm going to type out some of our homeschooling goals and talk a little bit about why we homeschool.  Over the years, our reasons for homeschooling have become more solid.  They are better defined now and packed with more conviction since we've begun to base our reason for homeschooling on Scripture.

Big Homeschooling Changes Are Coming

 50mm 1.4 with extension tubes, f/9, 1/160, ISO 800

I'm very close to making some pretty big changes in our homeschool.  At times change feels exciting!  At other times, it seems overwhelming.  Am I making the right decisions?  Am I hearing the Lord correctly?

Somewhere along the way, we lost our joy.  We don't approach learning with delight, but with a box-checker mentality.  "Let's just get it done."  Some days there have been tears, certainly frustration, and overall there is a sense that something is missing.

There's so much more that this experience could be!  God is an amazing God and His creation is full of awe and wonder!  And yet, our days do not reflect this.  There are joyful moments, of course.  But I want our homeschool to be characterized by a love for God, people, and the amazing world we live in.

I'm going to need to let go.  To let go of the way I've always done things.  To let go of checking off every box of our curriculum.  To let go of the fear that I might miss something and be responsible for gaps in their education.  To let go of my time-stealing idols and do the work and prep necessary to do what God has called me to do... and to do it well.

I'm ready.
Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:4-5

Our Tweaked Workbox System

I've always been drawn to Sue Patrick's Workbox System because I knew it would help organize our homeschool materials, foster more independence for the kids, and most importantly it would force me to prepare everything in advance the night before.  I never want to spend my evenings preparing our homeschooling materials for the next day, but I have to do it.  It makes all the difference between a day that flows smoothly and a day full of constant stops and restarts.

There were a couple practical things that stood in the way of implementing the workbox system exactly as it is intended.  First, I didn't want to dedicate the necessary amount of floor space required for each of my four children to use the workbox system.  Also, it just didn't seem practical to use an entire box to hold only one subject.  A worksheet and a pencil should be stored more efficiently, right?  That's when I came up with our workbox tweak...

Each Workbox = 30 Minutes Worth of Work

I decided that it makes more sense for each workbox (I call them school boxes) to represent a chunk of time rather than a single subject.  Each school box represents approximately 30 minutes and I simply fill each box with enough work to last that length of time.  This saves a lot of space because I can double or triple up the amount of subjects in every box, but we still have an organized system where everything is prepared the night before and the children know which subjects to do in which order.

IKEA Trofast System

I am homeschooling three children and I only need 12 workboxes total.  That is so much better than 36!  I purchased two Trofast frames ($29.99 each) and 12 Trofast storage boxes ($3 each) from IKEA and they are working perfectly! You can see them in the picture at the top of this point on the left and right of the couch.

What's Inside Each Box?

Timmy, our 3 year old Pre-Ker, has two school boxes totaling one hour's worth of work/play each day.
Box #1 = Bible story, letter activity, and music.
Box #2 = Bible activity and rotating box (art, dramatic play, etc)

Abby, our 5 year old Kindergartner, has four school boxes which takes her about 2 hours total to complete. 
Box #1 = Bible study and phonics.
Box #2 = Math
Box #3 = Fine motor skills
Box #4 = Storytime

Rachel, our 7 year old 2nd grader, has six school boxes because her work takes her about 3-4 hours each day.
Box #1 = Cursive and Math
Box #2 = Reading and Music
Box #3 = Spelling, English, and Poetry
Box #4 = Storytime and Bible Study
Box #5 = History and rotating box (art, geography, timeline, etc)
Box #6 = Science

Plugging It Into Our Daily Flow

Because each school box represents half an hour, it was very easy to add homeschooling into our Daily Flow.  The kids know what work to do in what order, they can always see how much work is left, and they have clear, definable checkpoints throughout the day so they know if they're working too quickly or slowly.  For example, Rachel knows that she has to complete school boxes 1 & 2 before our 10 o'clock snack time.  She knows that after snack, she must complete boxes 3 & 4 before lunch.  After lunch, she has two more boxes to complete and she is finished for the day.  The system really runs itself.

Tip: Preventing Having to Teach All 3 Kids at Once

There is one other tip I have in making this system successful for multiple children.  I scheduled all of Rachel's independent work first.  She can complete boxes 1, 2, and part of 3 completely on her own.  While she is working on that, I have over an hour to teach Timmy and Abby.  By the time I am finished teaching them, Rachel is ready for her more teacher-directed subjects.

I really love how our tweaked workbox system is working for our family.  Before, I struggled to fit in Rachel's school work in an entire day.  Now, I'm able to homeschool three kids between the hours of 9am and 1pm.

How I Put Together Our Daily Flow

In my last post, I talked about how helpful having a Daily Flow has been in our homeschool and family life.  In this post, I'll talk about how I put it together.  You can scroll down to see our Daily Flow at the bottom of this post.

#1 Schedule Snacks and Lunch

Before I implemented our Daily Flow, I was trying to get so much done that we frequently found ourselves eating lunch at 2pm!  I scheduled our snack and lunch times first because these are concrete and predictable events that happen around the same time every day.  Easy.

#2 Schedule Naps and Rest Time

Another concrete thing that happens around the same time each day is Timmy's nap and the girls' rest time, so that was the next thing I scheduled.  (5 month old Baby Ben is not on our Daily Flow at all because his schedule is unpredictable and is constantly changing!)

#3 Schedule Homeschooling

After all of the non-negotiables were placed on our Daily Flow, I took the remaining chunks of time and scheduled in our homeschooling hours.  I know it should take Rachel 4 hours to finish her 2nd grade work, so that is how much time I scheduled in.  Abby's Kindergarten work should take no more than 2 hours, and Timmy's preschool takes about an hour.  I love that there are natural breaks in between chunks of schooling time.  The kids and I all need that and it works out very well.

In my next post, I'll explain what our School Boxes are and how we use them.  I'll also explain how I avoid having to teach all three children at the same time!

Our Daily Flow

I love looking back and seeing what our schedule looked like a year or two ago.  Our "daily flow", as I call it, is constantly evolving as the children's schedules change and as we add more precious children to the family.

A timed schedule could never work for us at this point in our lives.  It's too rigid and doesn't allow for the flexibility we all need as I raise young children.  A daily flow is a consistent order of events that are not bound to the clock.  I have times written on it for general reference, but it's the order of events that we follow.    It gives us a familiar routine each day which is important for children because there is a security in knowing what to expect.

I haven't always been consistent in keeping a familiar routine going, and I began to notice the consequences of that in our lives.  The kids didn't know what to expect when things were random.  Would they be doing chores after breakfast or would they get to play?  Were we going to homeschool in the morning or in the afternoon?  Was TV off limits on this particular day or not?  As a result, I found myself constantly telling the kids what to do and shifting the plan according to my whim.  It was time for a change.

It took a while to prayerfully consider a daily flow that would work for our family.  There were many factors and needs to consider.  My children are currently 7, 5, 3, and 5 months and I'm homeschooling the three oldest.  Talk about a scheduling challenge!  Eventually, after scratching out my ideas on many sheets of paper, I ended up with a workable plan.  We've been following our new daily flow for the past week and it's been a wonderful breath of fresh air.  We are getting so much more done than ever before.  The children are more settled because they know what to expect.  It's been a huge blessing.

In a future post, I will talk about how I put together our daily flow and I'll explain how our "school boxes" work.  It's a very modified workbox system.

Baby Ben...

I love the way you hold the collar of my shirt while you nurse... how you open your mouth so wide when you smile... how you reach to grab my face when I talk to you. I love your perfect little fingers and toes... your big blue eyes... and all your sweet smelling hair.  I love watching you discover new things and how you become wide-eyed when I show you a toy.  I love how you smile at your brother and sisters... I love watching them love you... and I love to listen to how Daddy speaks to you.  You're a JOY!  You have been fearfully and wonderfully made.  I love that I will have the privilege of telling you about the One you made you and His perfect love for you...

You'll be 5 months old in just a few days!  We are blessed to have you.