I have written so many articles and resources to help other homeschool families, and I have gathered information and tips from many experienced Homeschoolers that followed a style that we recommend here. But I have never written a post on how our family puts our True Jedis advise and motto into practice.
4 to 8 years old – What learning we focused on
We understand that our daughter doesn’t know the same things and does not conceive learning the same way as kids that go to school. We have introduced some subjects earlier and others latter. It will probably continue to be this way.
We have made lots and lots adjustments and continue to do so as we go.
I understood that we had a big responsibility on our hands taking on our daughter’s education and I planned accordingly, but what we vastly underestimated was the need for PLAY. At Kindergarten age she just wanted to play. At first grade age she wanted to play more. And at second grade age she wants to play even more. Below you will see “what learning” we emphasize but what I can’t stress enough in this blog is the Social and Play factor. How Do You Homeschool an Only Child?
Siting still was an issue. When we sat down while intentional learning times for reading, writing, and arithmetic she would be wobbly, she would get up, she would ask if she could go do a cartwheel, she would come up with tons of reasons to get up, and she would ask for a snack. I thought I would implode, I would get mad at her and explain that if she could just stay still and read it would take 5 minutes instead of 45 minutes.
If she had been to school I probably would have been told to get her tested for hyperactivity. But of course I knew she could sit for hours on end working on a project, drawing, writing on her agenda, making songs, etc. It just doesn’t feel natural to sit down to learn something unless there is a desire to learn it at that moment.
For our daughter, we started off emphasizing intentional learning in these categories, because we wanted the learning to be quite significant, we focused on three types of learning:
Important and age appropriate
Cater to her interests
1. Foreign Languages
Speaking fluently in different languages is important because it opens doors. People who can speak foreign languages are able to communicate with more people and understand other cultures better.
It’s also important for kids because it creates those neurotransmitters in order to learn other languages easier when they are older. Speaking multiple languages is an advantage at so many levels.
For our daughter, we committed to starting out with Spanish from birth. And by the time she was three my husband switched to speaking English to her because she had way surpassed his level of Spanish. By the time she was 5 we started introducing German lightly and a few months before turning 8 she began regular German classes.
It is amazing how easy it is for her to pronounce any language perfectly. Her English enunciation is perfect, her Spanish is spotless, and her German pronunciation is supposedly excellent, I don’t know because anything I try to say in German sounds totally wrong.
Foreign languages before reading. Why?
The short answer is because we can! No state law says we have to start homeschooling with reading and introduce a foreign language latter. Schools want to convince parents that reading and math come first. That bilingualism delays speech and reading.
In fact, the most natural skills kids learn after walking is language. Their brains are predisposed to it. And as a result, their enunciation and vocabulary will be more fine-tuned when they grow up with two languages. Because the window to learn a language closes as we get older, while the time when reading becomes easy is around 8 or 9 years old. So instead of pouring all the energy into reading at an early age, we poured all our energy on enabling our daughter to speak multiple languages. She had no interest in learning to read early and I always heard about homeshoolers that if you have to push reading, you will only make it worse, I pushed it, and had to put off reading when she was old enough to take on the challenge.
Second most important discipline in our view is natural science. Young kids have an innate curiosity about the stars, the universe, why the sun sets, where the rain comes from and how it is formed, and just generally how the world around them works. So it seemed like a perfect age appropriate subject to tackle.
I used my own thoughtfully designed Natural Science Guide for 5 – 8 Year Olds.
Because we have an only-child we do all the Lessons by ourselves which is not as fun as having a co-op group or large family to share in the learning, but we do Lesson 6, Winter Solstice Party, every year with other friends. The rest of the lessons are very light and the concepts easy to explain. We revisited the hardest concepts over and over through the years and we are almost done with all the lessons.
We compliment with some really great resources like:
Star Gazing for Everyone. They organize free sky gazing gatherings with a presentation a few times per year. We started going to these when our daughter was 5 and really interested in the stars, the planets, the moon…Imagine the awe when they looked through supper potent telescopes and saw the seventeen moons around Jupiter and the storms that make Jupiter look like it has colorful rings around it; the amusement when finding out about Beetlejuice, how could she not remember all the facts she learned about that funny planet! She learned that Pluto is not a planet. She saw the craters on the face of the moon and was amazed by how different the moon really was from what she’d thought. This learning stayed with her and builds up as we keep going back to the Sky Gazing Presentations.
There was also a class at the Zoo called Wild Science which a lot of kids really liked, but our daughter said the teacher talked “too complicated” so we dropped it. However the content seemed really great.
We had a class together at the Botanical Garden which explained all kinds of interesting things about compost worms, and our unique local ecosystem.
Other programs at the local regional parks visitor centers had monthly and weekly natural science classes, and one of the Park rangers was really passionate about her field and it was great.
Another resource was the Homeschool Science class at the local Science Center, though when our daughter turned 7 the curriculum required reading and that was just something she didn’t do at the time.
There is more learning to be done once we nail down the last lesson on the guide. And then we’ll go on to weather fronts and forecasting, reading typographical maps, learning about tectonic plates. And we’ll go on to learn about different countries and cultures through their Music and Art.
3. Art and Project-Based Learning
Art has been a big part of how we spend the day since our daughter was very young. I did tons of crafts, we had glass crayons for the sliding doors when she was a toddler, she had playdough and all that stuff but when she was in preschool we did even more crafts, as well her preschool teacher loved art and created so many opportunities for learning through art.
As she got older she would engage in the same activities but with a lot more autonomy and confidence. She also was free to draw or color anytime she wanted to.
Today, she is pretty confident in her drawing skills although she recognizes there is room for improvement and continues to get better.
Please see our Homeschooling Through Art and Favorite Art Activities for Preschoolers and Beyond.
Project-based learning came easy from all the arts and crafts that we had been doing when she was younger. So it is natural at this point for her to tackle a project whether it is simple or complex. Today after Park Day she said she was in charge of organizing a treasure hunt for next week’s Park Day. She brainstormed in the car what she could hide for the kids. Two hours latter she had 16 little containers of slime for the kids from the homeschool group and was planning on where in the park they would be hidden.
4. Getting acquainted with Arithmetic and Reading
Although we didn’t expect her to start reading until latter, we did introduce letters and letter sounds between 5 and 6 years old. But for the most part, writing was more useful to our daughter than reading. While she had virtually zero use for reading when she was 5 or 6 years old, she found useful to make supermarket lists that went like this:
CHOCOLATE MILK, POPSICLES, LUNCHABLE, COTTON CANDY, EGGS.
Because Spanish is phonetic, she found that when she wrote in Spanish I could understand perfectly.
When I was sick, she would bring me notes that said: I love you mama. Get better mama.
Etc. The point is that writing came naturally before reading.
When she was 7.5 we asked that she learned to read. This was hard. But by the time she turned 8 she could read at a basic level in English and she could read Spanish fluently and write almost perfectly in Spanish.
I figure that if it took her four months to become a fluent English speaker when she was 3 years old, at this rate it will take her another 6 months to become a fluent English reader at 8. I realize that if we lived in a Spanish speaking country this whole reading thing would be a non-issue, I am foreseeing that by 9 she will read like most 9 year olds.
Also, I should note that German and reading don’t interfere since she’s not learning to read or write German only to speak it. Spanish does get in the way of reading but only because she languages. However, it seems to make sense like this: She practices to read phonetically when she reads Spanish while she reads English by memorizing words and certain letter combinations.
Arithmetic has been a lot easier…Incidentally arithmetic comes up more often than reading, and our daughter has had a greater need for it since she was 5 years old. At 5 years old she wanted to go buy a toy, but she didn’t have enough money, so…she decided that she would sell me her stuff, like her Barbies. I didn’t want to buy her Barbies again so I suggested a Yard Sale. This required several hours of math learning that she engaged in happily. From day that we practiced arithmetic whenever possible.
At 6 she discovered the fun in shopping, and at 7 she realized that she could use her money to buy stacks of her favorite little dolls, also she liked to shop in the Dollar store all by herself.
She loves to plan birthday parties and with planning there is a lot of multiplication and word problems that come up.
And since she sees the usefulness of money, she likes to start a business every once in a while. Which encompasses project management and lots and lots of logic and math.
Through real life experiences, real life needs, projects, and PLAY, she learned to add, subtract, memorize various additions, multiply, count by 10, count by twos, threes, and fives, and express and identify things in fractions, count into the hundreds, etc.
Once she had understood and practiced with money, quantities of stuff, etc. we went on to practice them on paper just to build fluidity, memorization, and practice writing the numbers. Best Homeschool Math and How to Help Your Child Learn It.
She also knows how to measure and divide by half, a third and quarters.
This is similar to Second grade math, which is where she would be right now. But most of the learning happened in 8 months, before then she did not know how to identify the numbers beyond 10.
At 8.5 we got a Second Grade Math Book to practice three or four times per week. We started with one page and now she does three pages. I highly recommend this book for this age. Daily Math Practice.
Not sure if I would continue to the 3rd Grade version of these books. I think we will move on to a British (Key Stage 2 Year 4) Workbook.
5. To Learn to Serve
Little kids love to be able to be helpful. Most parents of toddlers and preschoolers understand and know how to leverage their kids enthusiasm towards helping in order to keep them busy as well as learning things.
But as they get older there are some very important activities kids can engage in to develop empathy, kindness, to feel grateful and to have integrity. We are not religious so the church approach was not going to be an option, and even if I’d wanted to, she was not interested.
I have to say this was the hardest area of learning to get across to our child, mostly because kids are very self-centered, and she had a view of everything having something to do with her and feeling somewhat entitled. Even though it is common for kids to not develop traits such as empathy and gratefulness until latter, it depends on the child and I figured even if she didn’t get it, I still needed to reinforce these concepts, otherwise, How would she ever learn it? Also, we wanted her to know that it is important in our family.
So, in addition to reminding her to be Nice, grateful and gentle, we encourage her to:
Make things that could help others
Make Mother’s Day cards for the older neighbors
Listen to what others have to say
Explaining things to others
Taking care of the cats
Are among the Curriculum, so to speak.
6. Catering to Her Individual Interests
While catering to our daughter’s interests seemed very important, the more we focused on her interests the less interested she became in them. I guess the reason why I include it in here is for you to refer to this if your kids have a similar experience. Sometimes we bounce back to them and sometimes we move on.
We saw she had a natural gift for music and songs, so we got a private tutor to teach her her favorite instruments: Ukulele and Piano. She stopped playing both.
However she really enjoyed a class at the Musical Instrument Museum where they explored instruments from all over the world. Going to this class and the wonderful museum she stated that she “was now in love with guitar”. We got her a guitar and she plays it on a regular basis for a few months. Even plastering the wall with “sheet music” with “chords” she made up. Then, she didn’t play in months.
Golf – Another activity that she was very interested in but after a while of not wanting to have instruction and not being able to go out and play the course, she went off of it for a while. Only to get back to it a little older and we’ll see if she decides to take that to the next level.
Ceramics – This was a wonderful learning opportunity that she had been asking for, but since she was too young for the wheel she decided not to pursue it further, though she cherishes her ceramics collection she does not want to take a ceramics class stating that the teacher was “too bossy”.
I recommend a ceramics class to any child that likes to model or has an interest for clay because it is such a fun experience to create something that will last for a long time, and the glazing process is so satisfying.
Catering to her individual interests has its pros and its cons. I guess the challenge for us it to find the soft spot where we are not being more enthusiastic about the interests than she is.
I think Theater is great for homeschool kids because it’s one of the ways to get used to speaking in front of an audience, to lose stage fright and in the case of our daughter it was good to realize that she’s not as shy as she thought she was.
We have always done so much drawing, painting, and all kids of crafts and “activities” at home. But it was also valuable to be in an art class because kids learn from each other and the teacher has a fresh and new approach that is very different from mom. The class is 2 hours long and very close to our house, so I had some time to go to lunch with my husband or go home and relax for a couple of hours!
While our daughter was not interested in ballet or any formal dance it was really fun from time to time to take a Creative Dance class, Dance Around the World class, Hip Hop…
A lot of homeshool kids find it excessive to go to the same place and spend several hours doing the same thing several days on a row. This is exactly what we found out our daughter felt like when she took the Zoo Camp with one of her best friends.
Field trips, Travel, Performances, Etc.
These enrichment activities were mostly aimed at two issues:
1. I usually only registered her for classes that were 2 hours minimum in order to get something done, have some alone time, or run errands by myself.
2. It got her out of the house and meeting other kids and leaning something in a group setting, which for an only child is important.
Some of the special educational activities we would like to do in the next few years:
A Visit/tour of Biosphere 2
Visit Chaco Canyon
A visit to Cuzco, Machu Pichu, and Lake Titicaca
Spend time in Germany, Austria and Switzerland
I am intrigued as to what our daughter’s interests will take us when she is older. I hope she is willing to learn about Art History from me, books, museums, travel… I think she is very interested in our family history and finding out who everyone was even going way back in time. I get the sense that she can be captivated by stories, as long as they are interesting and not teacherie. So I will introduce some history here and there specially as we travel.
I don’t think we’ll spend much time learning Algebra unless she asks. We will get some geometry in, for sure but may not go deep until she’s older and has a reason to learn it.
I have been laying out a foundation to learn about grammar. There is a lot of terrain to cover but she understands some of the vocabulary in context, such as: “context”, what are verbs, what are adjectives, sentence, plural and singular, future and past…Once she’s acquainted with a little more vocabulary we can dig a little deeper into grammar rules and grammatical terms.
I think in the next couple of years there will be a lot of time for her to figure out where to take her learning. I think a key factor of homeschooling is learning to learn and being empowered to take responsibility for her learning.
I will let you know what happens in another year!