We survived the first year!

The kids and I covered more than I would have ever thought possible – and they remember a lot of it! I had 3 main goals when we started – get them both reading well, and writing well, and teach them math. I knew that if I could teach them to read phonetically and write legibly then things would get so much easier on me, and I wanted to encourage them to understand the language of math right from the start. (Yes I love math!) Once they were reading on their own, they could start to work more independently. There were days when I just had to remind myself of that. DH heard me on more than one occasion telling myself things like “Just get them reading.” or “Reading, writing, and math, that’s all.”

DS was starting to read phonetically when we started Kindergarten last fall. DD was still in preschool but wanted to do real school like her big brother. For a week or two, I tried some of the ideas that I read on various blogs for keeping younger ones occupied (special school time activities, etc.), but she insisted on doing more. So she just did what we did. I started teaching her basic phonics, and she was starting to read in about 3 months. (For more info, click here to see my post on teaching her to read.)

I actually feel like I can keep doing this. Yes, it is still overwhelming at times, but I feel like I can do it.

There were hard days, and I am sure that there will be plenty more in the future. What is working now, may not work in a week, a month, or tomorrow, but I am learning how to adjust. I am also learning that if it’s working now, keep doing it until it stops.

Let’s Talk About Schedules

I spent a lot of time this past year tweaking our schedule. I would read about this method or that routine and feel like a “Bad Mama” for not incorporating it. Finally, about 2 months ago, I realized that my family and our life are vastly different than anyone else’s, and I should just do what works for us. Living on a farm gives the kids so many learning opportunities, but it also means that we have a lot of work to do on top of everything else. I have had to figure out what will work for us in this season of our lives. Extra activities like morning time (which is a great idea and I would love to incorporate it) just are not an option when you have a farm full of animals to take care of, a large garden to tend, and 7 acres to keep mowed.

We have sort of worked our way into a year-round schedule. We work for about 4-5 week terms then take a week off. That “break” week helps me get caught up around the house, around the farm, plan for the next school term, batch cook, and rest a bit. I like this because the kids don’t have the backward slides of longer breaks. We do take off from Thanksgiving week through Christmas week and just enjoy the season of Christ’s birth without having to stress over getting school done too. I also plan on 2 weeks off and a lighter schedule in late April/early May so I can get the garden in and keep up with the rapidly growing spring grass (and weeds). This gives us about 38 weeks of scheduled school, so we have a couple of extra weeks just in case. (You know, someone gets sick, or we have a major fam or house project that just can’t wait, or we’re all just having an off week and need a change of pace.)

As far as the nitty-gritty getting thing done schedules, this is what I do. During our break week, I type up a list of what we need to get done for school each week during the coming term. At the end of the list several fun activities that we can do throughout the week if we are making decent progress. I only print off 1 week at a time, because life happens. Some weeks, the kids are really into history or science and we read 6, 8, or 10 extra pages or the entire book. One of them might have a sudden desire to research something, and we go down a rabbit hole. We might have an animal who needs extra care. The weather might suddenly decide to be really nice (or horrible), and we have to adjust a bit.

A sample list might look like this: (I don’t have Bible on here because we read a Bible Story and devotion in the morning at breakfast.)

  • DS
    • Math lessons 95, 96, 97, & 98
    • LA (Language Arts) – Week 10
    • Read daily
    • Practice Spelling x4
  • DD
    • Math lessons 101, 102, 103, 104
    • LA – Week 10
    • Read daily
  • Read Alouds
    • Science text pages 106, 108, 110. 110. & 112
    • History text pages – 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, & 30
    • Current Chapter Book x4
    • German book #1
    • German book #2
    • German book #3
    • Some form of poetry (Dr. Suess, Mother Goose, other kids poetry)
  • Fun Activities
    • Kiwi Crate
    • Cooking Class – lesson 5
    • Learning Games – Ticket to Ride Jr and Scrabble Jr
    • Add timeline figures to the timeline book
    • Do workbooks 4 times – yes my kids love workbooks!

Monday to Thursday, I try to do LA, Spelling, Math, Workbooks, and about 30-45 min of reading aloud. My kids like to start with LA and Spelling, then move into Math. They alternate on these 2 subjects and on who goes first each day. This works out well, because it gives them each a chance to have a couple of breaks throughout the morning. We usually get through these by lunch, then do the others in the afternoon. This usually takes us about 4-5 hours (including breaks for snacks, lunch, and moving around to get the wiggles out) depending on how focused we all are and how many interruptions happen. We usually get through most of the top 3 sections by Thursday afternoon along with 3 or 4 workbook sessions and have mostly fun activities left on Friday. If we are having a really good day (or sometimes a not so good day and need a change of pace), I might throw in a fun activity on a normal day too.


So these are the things that we used this past year. Although I am sure that this list will not include every book we read because we read a WHOLE lot this year.

For Science, we primarily used Sonlight‘s Science A program. We went down a few rabbit holes when my kids’ interests were peaked. (We studied volcanoes for a month.) I mainly got this because I wanted to get the feel of a Sonlight program without having to buy the entire curriculum. The more I used it, the more I loved it; and we will be gradually moving into using the entire program over the next few years.

For History, we read a lot of the DK Findout! History books. These are amazing, and we found that we could 4-6 pages during every read-aloud session without getting information overload. The books are about 60 pages long, so we usually got about a month of study out of each. We read about the Stone Age, Castles, Pirates, Vikings, Ancient Egypt, Rome, and the Maya, Inca, and Aztecs.

For math, we started using Saxon K. About 3 months in, DS was bored to tears, and I bumped him up to Saxon 1 while DD continued in K. I love Saxon math! I used it myself in high school. I love the way to presents new concepts in small bites and keeps repeating them, so the basics are mastered. My kids are math lovers like their Mama so we spend a lot of time making up math problems around the table and just as part of life. (See my post on Eggy Math.) DS still found Math 1 easy. There were some things he had not yet mastered, so I didn’t want to bump him up to 2. We ended up doing 2 lessons most days and powering through almost the entire text in about 6 months.

For phonics, I took my lead from Sonlight’s language arts program and started using the1st grade I Can Read It series with DS who was already reading fairly well phonetically. After about 6 lessons, he started to have some issues with consistency, so I stepped him back to the later kindergarten books called Fun Tales. He worked through those fairly quickly, proceeded to the other series, and was reading anything he could get his hands on by the end of March. DD is following in her brother’s footsteps.

For spelling, I just sat down and made a series of lists of simple words to practice spelling. For example, Week 1 was all the 2-3 letter “at” words that I could think of. I made about 45 lists of words with similar sounds in them. This also helped DS understand rhyming since he had a little trouble remembering that rhyming words have the same ending sound not the same beginning sound.

For workbooks, We started with the Brain Quest PreK and K workbooks but those lasted about a month before the kids finished them. After that, DS used the 180 Days Kindergarten series of books. Here is a link to the math book, but there are 10 different books including problem-solving, social studies, science, language, high-frequency words, spelling, writing, geography, and reading. I really liked that we could just do 1 page in each book every day and get through them. I already plan on using this series again in the coming school year. DD worked though at least 30 different PreK workbooks over the course of the year. My kids love workbooks, so I would catch them doing them during free time a lot too.

Sonlight had a big sale in March and I ordered a bunch of materials for the coming year. This included their LA 1, 2, and 3 programs, because I had no idea where to start my kids. I figured that whatever DS didn’t use, DD would. Well, let me tell you, these language arts programs are intense and impressive. I ended up ordering K for DD and starting DS in 1. We added LA to our weekly program in April, and they have already improved so much.

For handwriting, we started using Handwriting Without Tears about halfway through the year. I had gotten this program earlier but looked at the teacher’s manual and disliked it so much that I tossed it in the resale pile. DS started having a lot of issues with writing legibly and consistently, and I grabbed the student workbook out of desperation. He loved it and, like magic, his handwriting has gotten better in leaps and bounds. Sonlight’s LA program suggests using Handwriting Without Tears as a companion product and now both kiddos are using it.

For literature, we read a ton of books – poetry, Mother Goose, Dr. Suess, Richard Scarry, Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter, Curious George, and more picture books than I can count. We started out on some easy chapter books too. We read the first four Magic Tree House books, then the My Father’s Dragon trilogy (these 3 books are amazing and a great starter chapter book series for little ones), then we moved into the Little House on the Prairie series. I wasn’t sure how my kids would do with these, because they are longer and progress a bit slower than the other books we had read. At bedtime, we had enjoyed most of the Little House Picture Book series, which they loved. I figured that we would try one, and if it wasn’t holding their attention, I could always switch to something else and come back in a year or so. I was amazed at how they became enamored with the series. We finished Little House in the Big Woods, and they cried for the next “Laura and Mary” book. At the end of everyone, I have asked if they want to read something else and the answer is always the same, “we want more Laura and Mary!” We usually read about four chapters each week, unless the kids are in a really big “snuggle and listen” mood and ask for more. I usually let their attention spans dictate how long we read. Sometimes, if they are really bouncy, I will break read-aloud time up with snack or lunch, or even read while they are eating.

For geography, they have two huge interactive maps. One is the world and the other is the United States. These tell them about capitals, facts, climate, etc. They have really enjoyed these. I like that I can set a timer for 15 or 20 min while they learn, and I can get something else done.

Electives are sort of hard to account for. I was raised speaking both English and German, so I speak German to the kids a lot. We also read German storybooks quite a bit. We live on a farm and they help, so they get a lot of agricultural study time as well. For teaching them computer skills, we got the Osmo Genius and Coding Awbie sets for them for their tablets. These are well worth the investment They really help develop skills in coding, spatial reasoning, math, and spelling. We also have used Kiwi Crate subscriptions – Kiwi, Koala, and Atlas as hands-on activities for additional STEAM development. We do art in various little kid-friendly forms (paints, playdough, beading, coloring, etc.). Often when doing another activity together, we will listen to classical music and discuss the different instruments we hear and what the music makes us think of. We also worked through a cooking class this year that was amazing – Kids Cook Real Food.

That’s all that I can think of at the moment. But keep checking back. I may add more or another post about what we are doing in the 20-21 school year.