A comprehensive look back at our homeschool year (2021-2022). What we’ve learned, the mistakes we’ve made, and an honest curriculum review of Math-U-See, Handwriting Without Tears, and All About Reading!
It’s almost summer!
We are rounding out the bulk of our school year. And though we are not quite yet finished, we are looking ahead to the next year.
Looking forward often means glancing back and determining what we loved about this year, what we didn’t care for, what worked, and what didn’t.
This is the end of first grade for our oldest! You can check out our upcoming plans for the next year here, but for now let’s discuss this past year, the curriculum we chose, and some frequently asked questions about homeschool in general!
Choosing a Curriculum for Your Homeschool
If you are making a pro and con list to decide whether or not to homeschool, go ahead and write “I get to choose the curriculum” in both columns. The upside here is we get to choose a curriculum that best fits our children’s needs, strengths, and learning style. The downside is curriculum is often pricey and you don’t get much of a test drive.
I researched our curriculum extensively, but it’s hard to know exactly what fits before you even get your hands on it.
As I have mentioned before, we are still babies in our homeschooling journey.
The best advice I can give in choosing a curriculum is this:
Get to know your family
I heard this advice the other day from Kirk Cameron. I think it may have been the single greatest piece of homeschooling advice I have ever heard. He encouraged families to lay aside school and spend six months just focusing on being a family.
Think about how important that truly is!
Learning one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Establishing roles, chores, and dynamics.
Building up relationships, self esteem, and confidence.
I don’t think there is a better place to start than right there!
And the curriculum you choose should reflect the family that you are.
Do you like hands on? Unit studies? Working together or apart?
Find a curriculum that serves your family well.
Get to know your children
If I had purchased curriculum our first year I would have messed up. I was determined not to be the busy work, workbook mom.
I wanted all hands on, practical learning.
Who would have ever imagined I would have a kid who desired something tangible to show what he had accomplished each day?!
I found myself constantly at the printer gathering coloring pages, worksheets, and craft ideas. But after a year of working with him and seeing what he liked- I was more set to choose a curriculum.
Your curriculum should serve you
Curriculum is not free.
Most of it isn’t cheap.
Curriculum should serve you.
It’s purpose is to serve you, your children, and your family well.
Think of education as a deep pool and curriculum as a diving board. Its job is to springboard you into the pool.
If it is too rigid, rigorous, lax, or boring for you- move on.
I know it is hard to admit when something isn’t working, especially after paying for it. But it isn’t worth the stress and the struggle if it isn’t serving your family well.
I will do my best to go over what we used this year. What we liked/disliked/etc.
But I want to caveat this by saying a lot of what we used for first grade is considered pre-k and kindergarten.
We do not go by public school attainments.
We simply take the next step.
I don’t like the idea of assigning a grade level, but I know someone will ask.
Start with where your child is and take the next step. You do not have to keep up with the neighbors or every other kid their age.
Click here for Charlotte Mason’s List of Attainments for a Child of Six. (This is more in line with what we use!)
We aim for mastery, and hang around until we achieve it.
That’s the beauty of homeschool, you set the pace.
Sometimes we fly through things I thought would be hard. Other times we need to camp out somewhere a little longer. That is all perfectly fine! The journey for each child may look a little different, but we will all get there!
Here is what we used in our homeschool this year:
We start everyday with Bible study, memorization, and prayer.
This year we used The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos. The chapters are a little longer than a lot of other children’s Bibles, but it is written as if you are sitting at someone’s feet listening to them retell the greatest story ever written.
We love this book!
The reading can be a little long, but my kids are always begging for more!
I truly can’t rave enough about this book.
However, if your child isn’t quite ready to sit and listen to long reading with very few pictures The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones may be a better option. My younger kids adore that book, and I do as well!
Math is not my strength.
The number one reason I wrestled with the idea of homeschooling is because I worried how on earth I could ever teach a child math!
When we first started homeschool I opted not to buy curriculum. Instead we worked on math concepts and math in real life. I am so glad we did that! I think it set us up to succeed in math in the long run.
But this year I needed a math curriculum!
The most important thing about choosing a math curriculum is finding one you want to stick with. Math builds on itself so jumping around could cause some gaps in a child’s understanding. Isaiah is a visual learner and he loves legos, so Math-u-see seemed to be a great fit.
Math-U-See comes with an integer block kit, a workbook, and access to teaching videos. Each lesson has seven workbook pages (Example: Lesson 12A-12G) Each page is the same math concept but the problems are asked in different ways and previous concepts are reintroduced.
The last day (lesson G) is always something fun and different. This allows students to work in a spiral pattern between reviewing what they know and applying what they are learning.
Some weeks you may use every single page allotted or even print more to stay on something longer; other weeks you may skip pages and move on to something new.
Let your curriculum serve you!
Overall I have been impressed with this and I definitely plan to reuse it with all my kids.
Handwriting Without Tears
Right now I am teaching a little boy, so while handwriting may not involve tears, it does involve complaining.
Iris joins us this year and she loves to write, so I may have better thoughts on this next year.
Little boy hands just aren’t made for writing just yet. I’m sure in time that will come but not yet. My main focus is muscle memory and trying to keep him from hating writing.
So on that note, Handwriting without Tears does have a lot to offer.
What we loved about Handwriting Without Tears
Wet, Dry, Give it a try
This is probably my favorite part of the entire curriculum. It is a very simple concept that could be easily recreated but is absolutely genius at the same time.
HWOT comes with a schoolroom slate, small sponges (they are literally just cut up kitchen sponges), and lots of small pieces of chalk. (Your little ones will love dumping the chalk and sponges all over the floor.)
The idea is to dip the sponge is a little water and write the letter on the slate. Then you use chalk. Back and forth until they have it down pat and are writing the letter in the correct order. (Example: “E” you make the long line to the left first followed by three little lines starting at the top and going down.)
Rock, Rap, Tap, and Learn
My kids are songbirds, so anytime we can sing about something, they are all in.
The CD that comes with HWOT is filled with catchy songs that remind kids how to write their letters.
(Back to the “E” example: “E” is a frog jump letter so they would sing, “I’m a frog jump letter, I start at the top, I’m a frog jump letter, make the big line drop. I’m a frog jump letter, jump up to the top.” as they write it.)
As I mentioned Isaiah does not like handwriting, so for us the actual workbook is perfect.
It is not some monotonous write the letter “E” 75 times.
Instead you write it about 4 times and then give your best attempt on the fifth one.
Short, simple, and on most days- without tears!
What we weren’t as wild about:
There’s just A LOT.
You can pick and choose what to purchase with this curriculum, but we went all in.
We bought everything they had to offer, and it is.. well it is A LOT.
Handwriting Without Tears comes with mat man hands, wooden pieces to assemble letters, letter pages, teacher book, journals, chalk, a slate, sponges, a teacher chalk board, CD, workbook, and I’m probably forgetting something.
Is it all fun? Yes.
Do I use it all every time? Not even close.
Even spending a couple of days per letter, it was just too much to do every little thing that you could do.
So on that note, I don’t know that I have gotten my money’s worth out of it. If I had it to do over I would skip mat man, purchase just the slate, cut up my own sponges, and chalk and make it much simpler!
The workbooks were short and simple.
Yes, I put that we also loved this because I think it is a pro and con to be honest.
I usually had to print off additional pages in order to feel that we were adequately practicing each letter actually on paper while holding a pencil.
It didn’t bother me to print off an extra page, but it did seem a little crazy with all the things it came with that I felt something additional was needed.
All About Reading
There are a million and a half reading curriculums out there, I think I looked through every one of them before landing on All About Reading.
Listen, I know reading is like the single most stressful thing about homeschooling. Most homeschooled kids read later than those who attend public school and that is a good thing. I encourage you to look into the advantages of later reading and formal education.
Reading is fundamental in education, homeschool, and in life! But you know what is more important than learning to read? Loving to read!!
I read to my kids everyday and all I hear is “Please mom just one more chapter! Just one more book! Please mama!”
If I want someone to volunteer to do dishes or clean the playroom- there is no better motivation than offering to read a chapter of The Magician’s Nephew or Charlotte’s Web when they finish.
The best way to teach reading is to read to your kids! Start at birth and read to them every single day!
Become a lover of books.
Learn to love children’s books- they are the absolute best. Check out our favorite book lists by age here!
But as far as reading curriculum goes: I don’t have a bad thing to say about All About Reading so far. I want to give an honest review here and truly tell you the down sides as well as the up, but truthfully- I have nothing negative to say.
Why we love All About Reading
The Pre-Reading curriculum,
which we used this year (and will use next year with iris), is designed to focus on the Big Five Skills: Print Awareness, Phonological Awareness, Letter Knowledge, Listening Comprehension, and Motivation to Read.
It is play based learning!
I don’t know who actually created this curriculum but whatever parent or teacher did, they know how kids learn best. It is filled with crafts, games, and fun rhymes. In all honesty, I think Isaiah was ready for the next level, but I bought this one in hopes of filling in any gaps we may have had. And I am so glad I did! If your goal is to making reading fun and enjoyable- this is a great place to start.
The Lizard Lou book is filled with great poems!
I can’t stand when books are dumbed down for children. There are easy to read books (which can be great) and then there are dumb books. (I’m sure you know the ones.) But All About Reading is filled with fun poems and rhymes from people like Rudyard Kipling and Emily Dickinson.
It’s easy for Mamas to navigate.
As I mentioned earlier, teaching a child to read is often the most intimidating part of homeschooling. Prior to our own children, most of us have never taught anyone to read. And let’s be real here- English, though a beautiful language, is ridiculous.
Cough, dough, ought, drought- I mean seriously?
How are you supposed to teach someone to read those words? All About Reading is designed with the homeschool mama in mind. (Or at least it seems that way.)
The Teacher’s Manual is straight-forward. It is set up to where you simply flip to where you need to be and take off. Everything is laid out for you!
Some parents will choose to start a history or science curriculum really early on.
I have not yet.
I will put up another blog in a couple weeks going over my plans for the upcoming year which is when I plan to start History and Science with my seven year old. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t done anything in the way of history all year.
So far our history has been Bible study, The Little House books, and holiday based learning. For example, let’s say next week is St. Patrick’s Day- we would simply read living books about St. Patrick, pray about mission work in Ireland, listen to some Irish hymns, and bake a loaf of Irish soda bread. (Documentaries are great for stuff like this too!)
We also love the Pioneers and Patriots unit study! (Link in the “shop this post” section below!)
Science is another area that we just travel freely into at this point.
The simple truth is we are surrounded by science.
Why do the leaves fall down? Why are the leaves green now and yellow in the fall? What happens to my food after I swallow it? What kinds of trees do pinecones come from?
Kids are full of wonder.
I don’t know of a textbook that can teach them more about a spider than laying on their backs watching one catch flies in its web.
Bird, flower, and tree identification books, some rope, some small clippers, and an afternoon outside is really all they need.
I’ve bought forest school and nature study books for them, but time after time I see them learn more from just being present in nature. Sometimes Mamas, we have to learn how to be more of a student and less of a teacher.
I will leave a link to some of our favorite science reads in the “shop this post” section down below!
Build a Library of Really Good Books
That heading is some of the best homeschool advice I have ever received, it is also the greatest curriculum available.
Frequent your local library.
Become familiar with great children’s authors, illustrators, and classics.
Visit a McKay’s or second hand book store and build a collection of books.
Decorate your home with books.
Read them for yourself.
Teach your children how priceless a good book can be.
This is one of the greatest investments you can make in your child’s future.
A child surrounded by books has entire worlds at their fingertips.
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”C.S. Lewis
Frequently Asked Homeschool Questions
I get asked a lot of questions about homeschooling (I think every homeschool parent does.) So I thought I would address a few of those here for anyone who is wondering.
How do you begin homeschooling?
Every state has different laws surrounding homeschool. Tennessee has relatively low regulations compared to some other states.
We have a private Christian school that we go through for our homeschooling.
Each year I enroll the kids just as you would enroll them in any other school. I do have to present my high school diploma and their birth certificate the first time I enroll each child.
Yes, there is a fee.
Unfortunately, home school can get costly. It’s not as bad as private school tuition, but it is certainly not free.
It is simply worth it to us.
From there, this school pretty well handles everything with the state. I submit grades to them at the end of each term and they send me back his transcript.
Once your child is enrolled, pick a start date, some really good books or Curriculum, and take off.
Homeschool is simply establishing what your child knows and taking the next step. (There are placement tests on some of the curriculum websites mentioned above so that you can be sure you are buying the right level for your child.)
Visit our last blog 3 Dos and Don’ts of Homeschool to learn how Homeschool works in our home!
(Note: I do keep a binder of everything we have done throughout the year just in case I were ever asked to prove we were homeschooling.)
Can homeschooled kids actually get a diploma? Or go to college?
Nope. Thirteen years of homeschool and nothing to show at the end of it, but at least we had fun right?
I’m just kidding.
Yes, homeschooled children can earn a diploma.
The school/institution/state should lay out the guidelines (especially around high school age) for obtaining a diploma. Obviously, we are not to this point yet, but each of our children will be expected to complete school and receive a diploma before they fly the nest.
Yes, your child can attend college after being homeschooled. In fact a lot of colleges seek out homeschooled kids.
What about socializing your child?
A lot of people roll their eyes at this question, but in all honesty every time I have been asked, I believe people are genuinely concerned.
Perhaps our former pediatrician said it best: kids learn social skills from their parents.
School is in no way the only place children are around other people. Churches, outings, grocery trips, and everything in between are experiences teaching children how to interact with others. They learn that skill from watching us.
They are also learning to interact with people of all ages rather than just children their own age.
Being around peers can be just as bad as it can be good.. Not every family upholds the same values in their homes and often times children act like what they see.
Peer dependency begins at a very early age and unfortunately the thoughts and values of other children can carry more weight than the thoughts and values of a parent.
What if I’m not equipped to homeschool?
I think this question can arise from anywhere: from self doubt to I can’t afford it. For self doubt and general encouragement I would again ask you to read our full blog: 3 Dos and 3 Don’ts of Homeschooling because I address that fear there! But in short, you are the Mama- God chose you to teach them!
Sometimes in homeschooling you may need outside resources: a family friend who excels in math, a tutor, or maybe even a mentor for your child. But if the struggle is money, the absolute best resource I can give you is: your local library.
Find out what all they have to offer: story time, craft time, free educational resources, and of course books!
Is homeschooling a better option than public or private school?
That is a choice only you can make.
I am a firm believer that every parent who truly desires to, can teach their own child at home. But the reality is not everyone wants to.
How your child is educated is one of the most important decisions we make as a parent. Homeschool is a great option, and for my family, it was the best option.
We have some great local private schools and as far as public school goes I think we live in one of the best counties in the nation. Our choice to homeschool came from our overall plan for our family. That is going to look different for everyone.
Make the choice that best fits your child! That’s what Mamas do best after all!
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