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One Year In

One year ago this month Josh and I made the official decision to bring our kids home from public school for good. I had texted him the week before and said, "I'm not ready to have a real conversation about this yet, but I feel like we should homeschool our kids." and Josh replied with, "Let's do it." I was stunned (imagine the wide-eyed emoji about ten times), "What? Talk about it or do it?"

"Talk about it, do it. Let's do it."

We had been feeling like God was pressing us in this direction since the kids were sent home from school due to the state of the world in March 2020, and I'd spent a few weeks researching nervously and pestering homeschooling friends with questions.

April 2nd, we decided.

What have I learned in a year of homeschooling?

I've learned a lot about myself and my children and our family. Josh and I have seen a shift in our overall family goals. There's a lot different there, and I've talked about it quite a bit, so I'll focus more on the practical homeschool-related lessons for the purpose of keeping this succinct.

I got sucked into the curriculum hunt.

I felt very rushed to decide on and purchase curriculum at first, and while I don't regret choosing what we ended up with and doing that for our first year, I wish I had just committed to math and language arts and let history and science come a bit more naturally. We purchased textbook style curriculum for both and ditched the science completely after two lessons...I could have saved about $100 in science alone by just doing a bit more looking and talking with my kids to see what they wanted to do. And for history, we continued using the textbook as a spine but stopped using the workbook pages. Basically, I got sucked in by the shiny curriculum sales and Facebook group reviews. I should have sampled more and leaned into what I knew our family loved: reading great, living books and talking about them.

I am thankful I decided to keep it simple with only the core subjects last year, and I'm looking forward to adding geography, natural history, foreign language, co-op, typing, and other subjects this coming year. And more field trips and visits with friends!

I didn't go with my gut on organization.

I was trying to keep things inexpensive and use what we had for organizing our homeschool situation, which is normally a good quality to have and something I'm not going to completely give up. But from the very beginning, I wanted three-tiered carts for each child, magazine holders for their books, and individual pencil caddies. I tried using a random shelf that wasn't large enough, file crates, their backpacks, and a larger random shelf. Nothing fit. The kids lost their things. They didn't have their own space and their own things, so there were constant fights over colored pencils and where that notebook went. I did spend a total of $300 to get completely set up for organizing our homeschool the way I wanted, but this will last for years, if not for their complete homeschool career.

I should do a whole post on organizing your homeschool situation, but here are affiliate links to the items we love. Carts, magazine holders, caddies, timers, binders, dividers.

I have and use several three-tiered carts in my home and know the system works well for me. I really should have just trusted my gut and found that within the homeschool budget to begin with. As our family changes, the carts can adjust with us.

I learned to trust our family values as a guide for our curriculum.

Our family loves great books, we love talking to each other, and we love spending time together. Those values transfer really well to an eclectic Charlotte Mason-style education with maybe a little bit of an unschooly bent, and it took me at least six months but once we settled there we were much happier. We dabbled with Master Books, which calls itself Charlotte Mason-inspired, but I found it very textbooky and stiff. We have thoroughly enjoyed the Pond and Stream Companion by Simply Charlotte Mason for science and nature study this year, but their curriculum guides didn't fit because I wanted a four year history stream rather than six. We dabbled in Ambleside and Alveary, but found ourselves enamored with A Gentle Feast. I knew I wanted a well-thought out guide for next year, so I looked at samples and ultimately decided to start out with A Gentle Feast's Morning Time to use before we committed to it for everything. Finding A Gentle Feast just felt right. It has a timeless feel with a mixture of classic and modern books, and the guides themselves are just beautiful.

Does this mean we're die hard Charlotte Mason homeschoolers? Nope. I do think the basis of my kids' educations will come from her methodology, but my kids love a good unit study! And I teach Language Arts more effectively with a concrete, clear scope and sequence. And A Reason For spelling and handwriting books are cute and fun, and the kids always beg to do them first. But having the framework of a Charlotte Mason homeschool can translate well to other methods...that's why I like that word eclectic!

This fits our lifestyle really well.

I always thought I couldn't homeschool because I was a working mom. Granted, I'm not a 9-5 working mom outside the house, but I absolutely work full time at our business, squeezing hours in here and there between teaching one kid to read and another kid fractions and after bedtime. It took us almost a year to arrange our business so that I could be home more while things were still getting done, but it's pretty dang glorious now that things have smoothed out.

As entrepreneurs, our kids are able to be invited into our work a lot. They see what is providing for us and are able to pitch in. Lily gets to spend a whole day at the shop with her Daddy and our sweet baristas...what other 11 year old gets to homeschool in a cool coffee shop? We have a nanny come once a week so that I can go up to the roastery and get a lot of my focused work done and the kids can hang out with a cool local college girl who actually plays with them (as opposed to their mother, who is busy doing 16 things at a time).

Also, they've learned a lot at the roastery. When Coy was working on counting higher numbers, Josh gave him a big piece of kraft paper and drew out circles, then would put a random number in the circle and give Coy a handful of coffee beans. Coy would count out the number of coffee beans that belonged in each circle, and it would keep him occupied for a good little while. Lily gets to feed all of her organizational desires as she puts coffee bags into rows for easy fulfillment. It's really fun to see them in our business.

Looking ahead.

We started school in July last year with the plan to school year round with two longer breaks in December and June, and as of now, early April, we're on track to finish in late May. We're switching gears to a trimester-based curriculum next year that will keep us a bit tighter on our schedule (or force more intentionality, maybe), but I think we will still start in July and plan on doing a Sabbath schedule (school for six weeks, take one week off) with that longer break in December.

We're excited to use A Gentle Feast Cycle 3 as the guide for most of the kids' subjects, including science, literature, history, geography, nature study, as well as for morning time and language arts. Lily and Adair will be using Teaching Textbooks for math, and Oakley and Coy will be using Math Lessons for a Living Education (they're both almost done with level one) until they hit Teaching Textbooks grade 3. We're also adding Brave Writer Jot It Down, Partnership Writing, and Faltering Ownership for writing and A Reason For for spelling and handwriting. We've also just discovered the Nebraska 4H curriculum choices and will be using those on break weeks or when we need a change of scenery. There's no way I could have compiled this last year, so I'm thankful we did what we did to start out and give me time to craft something that we will really be able to settle into.

One by one.

The last year has been weird for all of them, but I feel like Lily got the brunt of it. She had a tight-knit class at public school and was a friendly, outgoing kid, so the sudden isolation was hardest for her. I realized pretty early on in the year that the more I included her in deciding on her curriculum, the better. She hated the language arts she was doing, so we switched to a more relaxed, literature-based program. She took a real interest in the poetry we were reading during Morning Time, so I made sure to include poetry whenever possible. She's made some new friends and enjoys her days at the roastery with dad, the baristas, and customers. Now, she's all in and loves homeschooling, especially since she knows we get to read more books next year.

We had actually talked about homeschooling Adair for two years before we decided to pull the trigger, and I wish I'd followed my gut. She's absolutely blossomed at home and is making huge strides. Her personality is big and her will is strong and she likes to move, and public school was a tiny round hole fighting against her square peg. The girl now reads willingly on her own, writes without whining, and blazes through math lessons cheerfully. And she's not only improved in her school work but is also more agreeable in general life, which is a really good thing.

Sweet Oakley skipped her way through kindergarten last year and was ready for more reading and math and lots of playing. She and Coy are best buddies, and loved getting to spend their days with a bit of school and a lot of play. She was patient with me as we found the right reading curriculum for her (A Gentle Feast's 100 Gentle Lessons in Sight and Sound) and then just took off because she loved the sweet poems.

One of the things that made me most excited about homeschooling was that I wouldn't miss out on one minute of Coy Boy. The kid is a hoot and very loving, and I'm thankful I got more kindergarten boy snuggles this year than I would have if he'd gone to public school. At the beginning of the year we focused a bit on playing with letters and letter sounds, but his love language is math, so we did a LOT of playing with numbers. He blew through Math Lessons for a Living Education K book in about two months, and is now cruising right through his level one book and is fully caught up with Oakley.

And the four of them together...I always wanted my children to be friends, actual real-life friends, and I actually see that happening. Coy and Oakley are closer than ever, and I see them all interacting differently. I still find myself shocked that we're doing this, but the next thought is always gratitude. I've learned so much alongside the kids this last year and I'm SO excited to keep learning with them.

What about you? It's been a year for all of us. Did you make a big school change? How are you feeling about it?

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