If you’re anything like me, you love to check out what other homeschool moms are doing. This is partly because I still have so much to learn about homeschooling, but it’s also because I find it genuinely interesting to see what others are doing. I especially love to see what other moms are doing who are just one grade or two ahead of Claire, because then I can get ideas for the future.
So, despite the fact I am nowhere near an expert, I thought I would share what we did for kindergarten – the curriculum we used, the routines that worked, and things we learned along the way. Hopefully this will be of some help or interest to someone, but if not, it is still fun documentation for me. Buckle up, friends. This is going to be a long post!
Routine Vs Schedule
This was a huge sticking point for us. I carried over from preschool the notion that we had to start school at a certain time, spend a certain block of time on each subject and have it scheduled out. While there’s validity in scheduling and learning the discipline to stick to that, it just wasn’t functional in that particular season of life.
I think part of the reason for that was Claire’s age. She turned 5 just a week before we started kindergarten, so a rigid schedule wasn’t something that worked well for her. There was a lot of trial and error surrounding this. I know that strict schedules work wonderfully for some families (especially larger families). But scheduling everything out to the minute just didn’t work for us. Ultimately, it left me feeling frazzled if we were off by a few minutes. A stressed mama easily translates to a cranky kiddo, which leads to an unproductive day where no one learns anything.
I think another issue for myself personally with schedules was that I was trying to start school in the morning. I didn’t know any homeschool moms who didn’t do school in the morning. I still don’t. So I assumed that’s what I absolutely had to do.
While we’re not Charlotte Mason purists, I have read her books and love most of the ideas she implements (read more about that here). She talks about doing lessons in the morning, spending short amounts of time on each subject and then letting young children play and explore their surroundings in the afternoons. Obviously, that sounds ideal. But, truthfully, Claire and I aren’t really morning people. I’ve started getting up earlier more recently, but during most of her kindergarten year, I was grappling with depression and a lot of stress, so getting out of bed at a certain time wasn’t high on my priority list. By trying to push our homeschool into a mold, not only was I stressing myself out, but I was missing one of the most beautiful things about homeschooling – flexibility!
What ended up working best for us was following a routine rather than a schedule. We would wake up in the morning, eat breakfast and I would do any cleaning that needed to be done and take a shower while Claire played. We would have lunch and then start school after lunch. Lunch didn’t always happen at the exact same time every day, but it was part of our routine to do school afterwards.
The one thing we tried to accomplish in the morning was practicing piano. I found it ended up being too much to try to do school AND piano. Claire would end up cranky and piano would be miserable (which was the exact opposite of what I wanted it to be).
Now that I’m getting up earlier and in a better routine, we may try to do school in the morning again when fall comes, but I’m not that worried about it.
Have I mentioned I’m a planner? Because, holy cow, I’m a planner. I love taking the time to plan out and organize every detail. I don’t always have the best follow through, but I love the process of planning the homeschool year. After taking the time to select our curriculum (I essentially built my own, rather than going with a boxed one), I went through every subject and planned out what need to be done each week and each day, right down to the page numbers we need to read in each book.
My thought was that it would make it easier for myself. I mapped out the entire year. All of you seasoned homeschool moms are probably laughing at me right now. The reason I struggled with the second half of our preschool year was not having lesson plans written out. I wrote all of my own lesson plans for preschool. It was very Pinterest-y. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it took a LOT of time to put it all together and write it out. When it came time to do the second half of the year, I was too burned out (and dealing with a severe fibromyalgia flare up), so I just couldn’t write lesson plans. I felt like such a failure. So the following year, I thought I would help myself out by writing out the entire year. In July.
Guess what? We inevitably fell behind, because life happens. Because I had written out the whole year, it was difficult to readjust and rewrite everything and I perpetually felt as if we were playing catch up. Rather than making everything stress free, not being able to check off boxes actually stressed me out.
Since I had mapped out what books we were using for the whole year, I took a deep breath and just started writing down what we were getting done each day. And it worked beautifully. We were staying on track (and even ahead in many things). Once I wrote down what we were doing each day, I realized we were doing quite a bit.
I think planning everything out had initial value, as it helped us get into a routine of what each day looked like. It just wasn’t sustainable for me. For a lot of people, checking off a box is helpful and the way to go. If that’s you, awesome! But if you get stressed out and feel “behind,” try just writing down what you’re doing in each subject each day.
And remember, checking all the boxes isn’t a necessity when your child is in kindergarten. It’s not the same as high school in terms of academia. So, give yourself some grace, mama!
I also planned to take a day each month to reassess. This helped to ensure that we were staying on track with our goals, keeping up with subjects and seeing if the curriculum we were using was actually a good fit (instead of just powering through something that made us both miserable). I encourage you to take a monthly reassessment day, especially if you are writing down what you’re doing rather than following a specific checklist. It helps keep you accountable to your big picture goals, instead of getting lost in the day to day and make a new game plan if what you’re doing isn’t working.
Ah, my favorite! Am I the only homeschool mom that carefully researches every single option (complete with notes, pros/cons, etc)? Maybe. But I love curriculum! One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is planning everything out. I’m a planner and, although I’m not the most organized person in the world, I am meticulous when it comes to planning everything out. So here’s what we decided to do this year.
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We started off with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It was a little strange for me at first. They started with some long vowels and the format just seemed strange. I think that my unfamiliarity with it partially influenced Claire’s difficulty with it. She seemed unengaged, so I assumed it must be too easy for her. For these reasons, I decided to switch to The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. We skipped the beginning part of the book (letters and their sounds – we had cemented those in preschool) and started with short vowels and CVC words. After a few lessons, Claire began to just guess every single word, rather than trying to sound them out. She was wrong almost every time. Every lesson resulted in tears.
Claire is such a bookworm that I assumed reading would come naturally to her. It didn’t help that all of my close homeschool friends had kids that were reading (and were a year younger than Claire). I began to question what I was doing wrong. It got to the point that everything regarding reading caused Claire to immediately shut down. So we stopped. To anyone who isn’t a homeschooler, that probably sounds insane. But I didn’t want Claire to hate reading and after praying, I realized that I was pushing her before she was ready. So we continued doing school, but didn’t do any reading lessons for a while.
After praying about it, I decided to return to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, despite my misgivings about it. I’ll admit that the tears surrounding the other book (it had gotten to the point where a tantrum would start at just the sight of the book) also the contributed to this decision. And everything clicked. She started sounding out words. She stopped guessing based on the first letter. She started reading. If you’re unfamiliar with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, it has little balls underneath each letter and when your finger touches the ball, you say the sound of that letter and drag it out until your finger touches the next ball. It teaches children how to blend sounds together naturally and easily. It also makes it much harder to guess words, because it forces children to slow down and say each sound slowly. It was the perfect fit.
But the biggest factor was that Claire was finally ready. So, if your child just can’t seem to get the hang of reading and it’s a constant struggle, give it time and stop pushing so hard. I talked to some homeschool moms in my co-op about it and found out they had children who didn’t read until they were 7 or 8. And that’s okay! Once they were ready, they took off and were above the reading level for their age very quickly. But when you push your child before they’re ready, they struggle and learn to hate reading. Your child may be ready in kindergarten (or earlier), but if they’re not, that’s okay. Don’t blame yourself. You’re not a horrible teacher. They’re just not ready yet.
We are still working through the last few lessons in the book. I was going to switch, because the stories get incredibly long toward the end. Claire was beginning to struggle with the length. But we took a few months off for the move and she wanted to continue with the book we were using, so I decided to see how she was doing. After taking that time off, she is flying through the super long stories. During the time we weren’t schooling, she was still reading beginner readers to me, which helped build her confidence, so she’s enjoying reading the super long stories, rather than them feeling long and tedious.
Ah, the dreaded math. Maybe this wasn’t you, but I was certainly the child that dreaded and hated math. I was bound and determined not to pass on math hating to my child. My biggest goal in kindergarten was to keep math fun.
I ended up going with two separate curricula. The first is called Miquon math and it uses cuisenaire rods for manipulatives. I had initially wanted to go with RightStart Math, but the costs deterred me. I know it’s an amazing program, but we just didn’t have the money to invest in it. So I began researching other math courses that worked with manipulatives and stumbled across Miquon. It’s very cost efficient ($60 for all the books, which cover grades 1-3), which was a huge bonus. I figured if it didn’t work out, I hadn’t lost a lot of money, but if it did, I was only paying $20/grade! Miquon has been amazing for us. Each cuisenaire rod represents a number and makes counting, adding, subtracting, multiplication, division and fractions concrete and easy to see. I ended up tearing out all the pages and putting them in page protectors, so we could do the workbooks more than once if we wanted.
One of our biggest resources to make the rods more fun was Education Unboxed. If you have cuisenaire rods, her free videos help you learn how to teach concepts through play. Some of our favorite math moments have been with games from her videos. And she starts with preschool, so if you’re not quite ready for formal math, it is still awesome.
However, I was drawn to another curriculum called Math For A Living Education from Master Books. We gather a lot of inspiration from Charlotte Mason’s methods (if you’re unsure what that entails, check out my run down of homeschool styles here). We aren’t by Charlotte Mason purists by any means, but we absolutely love a lot of her ideas (more on what we love here). So, when I saw this curriculum that teaches math through stories, I was very interested. We had done a little Life of Fred (another literary based math curriculum) over the summer to test it out (thanks to the library). Claire had really enjoyed it, so I thought Math For A Living Education might be a good fit.
Long story short, it was an absolutely horrible fit for her. It involved so much tracing and writing of numbers. While I can understand how this could cement numerals, it was just too much for Claire. She’s not a huge fan of writing anyway and is very much a perfectionist. If the number didn’t look perfect, she would get so upset. Every day resulted in frustration and tears, especially since she was doing regular copywork in addition to math copywork. If your child enjoys writing, they may very well love this curriculum. They have simple manipulatives that you make yourself and the book itself is very inexpensive. I believe I paid $27, so it wasn’t a huge financial risk to try it.
A lot of homeschool parents will jump right into a history course in kindergarten, but, as we were still finding our footing, I didn’t want to commit to anything big. I decided that I would follow Charlotte Mason’s style in history and simply use living books to make a period of history come alive. We began reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The plan was originally to read Little House in the Big Woods during the first semester and go on to Little House on the Prairie in the second semester. However, Claire was so enthralled with Laura and Mary’s adventures, that we couldn’t stop at one chapter a week like I had scheduled. We often found ourselves reading 2-3 chapters a time. As we did history twice a week, we easily flew through the first two books and dove into On the Banks of Plum Creek.
Through the Little House books, we learned much about pioneer times. We made our own butter, which was super fun (though this dairy free mama couldn’t have any). We also did some side studies on Native American culture (and discussed racism, which is certainly present in Little House on the Prairie). With the beautiful description of the plants and animals in the books, we also studied some different flowers and animals.
Although I have not enforced any sort of narration from Claire at this age, she would tell back so much of what we had read to Peter when he would come home. Though there was occasionally confusion, because she thought Pa’s name was Paul for quite some time. She’d rattle off something (with no introduction or context as to what she was talking about) and Peter would stop her and say, “Wait … who’s Paul?”
Here is where we floundered, big time. My plan was to read some of Thorton Burgess’ books and dig a little deeper into the animals discussed in them. I had heard of lots of Charlotte Mason homeschoolers using Burgess’ Bird Book, Seashore Book or Animal Book. I didn’t have those books specifically, but I did have all of his Mother West Wind books. Peter’s grandmother loves Thorton Burgess and gave me dozens of his books for Claire. The books were not very engaging for Claire. They probably would be now, but at the beginning of the school year, sitting through a chapter or two with no pictures was a struggle. There were some illustrations, but they’d come every few chapters. Claire just wasn’t there yet.
Ultimately, we fell off the science bandwagon for most of the school year. I wanted to have consistent nature walks, but that didn’t happen. I could blame that on having only one car, but I think that the struggle was more my fault than anything else. We would read through some of our Usborne science books (particularly the human body – Claire’s favorite science subject!) and take occasional nature walks, but science was more casual learning than anything specific.
Towards the end of the year, we tried a few lessons from a book we borrowed from our friends called Science in the Beginning. It was amazing! Claire was engaged and loving every moment. Since we didn’t start that until April, we didn’t get very far in the book, but it’s for 1-5 grades, so we are saving it for this fall. I will write more about it when I share our first grade curriculum choices.
Literature was probably Claire’s favorite subject of the entire year. She has always been a bookworm. She could snuggle and listen read alouds all day, every day. In fact, we do spend time every day doing that. While we flew through quite a few classics outside of school time, our primary books during school were EB White’s The Trumpet of the Swan (first semester), Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by Milne (second semester). Though a lot of the dialog was above a kindergarten level in Trumpet of the Swan, it was still so enjoyable. I think she preferred Milne’s books. Pooh’s antics and songs kept her laughing. Oftentimes, she would want me to repeat a chapter and then read it to Peter when he got home, because it delighted her so much.
Outside of our specific literature books, we read Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (the little known sequel – highly recommend!), James and the Giant Peach, Heidi, The Tale of Despereaux (one of Claire’s favorites, despite the intensity), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Mr Popper’s Penguins (another favorite!), Runaway Ralph (sequel to The Mouse and the Motorcycle, which we enjoyed the audio version of last summer), Ralph S Mouse (third in the series), The Boxcar Children and Mrs Piggle Wiggle. We also read a lot of American Girl books, Magic Treehouse, Nancy Clancy and a lot of picture books. Basically, we read constantly in this house. I’ll have to post a children’s book review on the blog at some point.
Claire started piano lessons last fall. She really enjoyed it, though recitals were a struggle. She is so timid and hated getting up in front of everyone. We’ve yet to find a new piano teacher for her in our new town, but hopefully we will.
We initially planned on reading a poem every day, but that didn’t happen. Claire loves poetry, though. We read many of Milne’s poems in When We Were Very Young. We also enjoyed A Child’s Garden of Verses (Stevenson).
I had originally planned on art and music appreciation. I had purchased several of the Come Look with Me books to learn how to examine art and narrate it back. That was something we didn’t really get around to much. I’m hoping to utilize those books more this fall. They’re lovely books and worth every penny. They even have amazing discussion questions to go with them. Art appreciation is something that wasn’t really present in my homeschooling experience, so I want to introduce that to Claire. Here are the books we own:
With music appreciation, I made playlists of certain classical composers for different semesters and would play them in the background. I have such fond memories of enjoying classical music as a child. We would listen to it often in the car and make up stories on what might be happening based on the music. It was so much fun! Claire already absolutely loves classical music.
We haven’t done any studies on any of the composers, but that will come with time. We have an amazing book from Usborne called The Usborne Famous Composers Picture Book. It is informative and even has QR codes on some of the pages that play the music of the composers. The only composer we read about in the book was Beethoven. Claire was amazed how he could write such beautiful music without being able to hear it.
I mentioned in the math section that Claire struggled with writing. I still tried to work on some semblance of copywork with her. This started with workbooks where she would write the letters, but that got old very quickly. She was assigned a sheet of tracing copywork at co-op and she loved that. So, I found a few printables and we did that for a time. Initially it was a word or two or at a time, but then we progressed to whole lines. After that, I used some copywork printables from Simply Charlotte Mason that included Scripture and hymns. We worked our way through Holy Holy Holy over the course of the school year. And while it still wasn’t her favorite, her writing (and tolerance for copywork) improved. She also learned the hymn, because we sang it most days we started a new sheet of copywork. You can find this free resource here.
Well, that pretty much covers everything. If you made it to the end, I’m impressed. Hopefully it was interesting or you at least enjoyed the pictures of a cute kindergartener learning. I’m excited to start first grade in a few weeks. I’ll be posting our curriculum choices for first grade soon.
How did your last year of homeschooling go? Any takeaways or tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment down below. I’d love to hear from you! As always, please keep comments kind and respectful.