We began our homeschool journey with a classical approach. I had read The Well-Trained Mind and loved the idea of memory work, copy work, narration, and dictation.
I soon discovered My Father’s World: Exploring God’s Creation (kindergarten), which had classical components, and fell instantly in love. It was everything I ever dreamed of when I thought about a kindergarten curriculum. The deluxe package included For the Children’s Sake, which began the shift in my thoughts on education. We read plenty of wonderful books, engaged in many fun hands-on crafts and activities, explored the great outdoors, and learned Biblical truths in memorable ways. It was delightful. (Read my review here.)
We began My Father’s World: Learning God’s Story (1st grade) shortly thereafter, and after a strong start, we fizzled out by fall. It wasn’t the curriculum that fizzled. Or the kids. It was me.
You see, I’m a curriculum junkie. I live and breathe curricula and actually enjoy researching curricula. Yes, I sometimes do that for fun. Okay, I do it a lot. Being a former educational consultant has made me the worst possible candidate for homeschooling mom.
Every time I hear about a new curriculum, I chase after it, scouring the reviews and samples and the “What’s Included” tab that lists each individual component. I mentally make lists of all the resources then track them down to check out their reviews. It’s mind boggling at times, and I have found after a couple of years of doing this that the perfect curriculum is always one purchase away.
That wonderful science kit? One click away. The homeschool bundle that includes everything you absolutely have to have in order to achieve homeschool bliss? Yup. Just one click away, too. And who cares that it’s a few hundred dollars. It’s for their education after all.
And then to make matters worse, I get bored easily, as in I have a hard time doing 9 months of anything straight. No matter how wonderful the curriculum, there are always other things I want to do like sing the presidents song in the month of February for Presidents’ Day or throw a Valentine’s Tea Party centered on love. Trying to figure out how I’m going to get it all in within the already-full curriculum schedule then becomes stressful and overwhelming. It is usually about that point that I jump ship.
Sometimes we hit roadblocks; others we just need a break in order to have a baby . . . or move . . . again. After dipping in and out of different curricula, I have found that it’s not the curricula that’s the issue. They all have their perks and drawbacks. It’s how I use them.
It took half a year of stepping back to finally let go of my unrealistic expectations and work through the process of defining our homeschool. I read Educating the Wholehearted Child and fell in love with the principles (not curricula) that defined homeschooling and what I truly wanted it to be. It was a bit overwhelming at times, but it really helped me wrap my mind around the objectives that were most important to our homeschool, something I had been wrestling with personally for a while now.
I didn’t like focusing on “subjects” at this age because of the natural overlap that comes with reading rich literature. I also knew that learning took place in far greater capacity through real-life experiences, daily interactions and conversations, and personal interests. I wanted those things to count as well and wasn’t sure how to put it all together. The book, however, described a model with five key objectives that really resonated with me as attainable goals that could be a part of our curriculum: Discipleship, Discipline, Discussion, Discovery, and Discretionary studies. Through this model, I could pick and choose resources and topics that addressed each of these important areas in a variety of ways.
Under Discipleship studies, I found Biblical character studies, Bible stories, scripture memory, and apologetics in future grade levels. Disciplined studies included the basics, such as math, reading, writing, language arts, and logic or thinking. Discussion studies included daily read alouds of great literary works along with the reading and discussion of poetry, history, art, and music. Charlotte Mason’s oral narration was also prized as a tool for developing comprehension and future writing abilities. Discovery studies included nature walks, creation science, scientific principles, and the creation of art and music while Discretionary studies focused on the art of living. Discretionary studies included cooking, baking, gardening, decorating, budgeting, etc. along with individual pursuits, such as dance, sports and Lego club. According to this model, the everyday stuff did count, and I liked giving it a place of worth in our curriculum.
It made perfect sense to me as I read through each of the methods, and I soon began to dive deeper into what it meant to truly embrace a wholehearted approach. I picked up Read for the Heart and Honey for a Child’s Heart and got back to enjoying couch time with the kids, reading through books full of goodness, truth, and beauty. I held my little ones as they cried after reading The Velveteen Rabbit and have had thoughtful discussions as we’ve read through the poetry, folktales, and stories found in The Children’s Book of Virtues.
The wholehearted approach is very much centered on the philosophies of Charlotte Mason who saw children as people, not as mere recipients of knowledge imparted by a teacher. Inspired by her ideologies, I got back to nature walks with our children and was blown away by the connections they made as they explored God’s beautiful world and recorded their ideas in their science journals.
I read through A Charlotte Mason Companion and very much enjoyed the simplicity of oral narration as a means for helping my children with reading comprehension and ultimately developing writing skills in future grades. I found her writings inspirational and in many ways thought-provoking as I challenged the paradigms I once held dear.
I then read Teaching From Rest and found solace in our new approaches, the simpler schedule that allowed me to enjoy our children and not see homeschooling as a giant “to-do” list that needed to get done by a certain time but rather as a means to build relationships with our children. They didn’t need to get “done”; they needed to be inspired. I loved the encouragement to pray about the purposes of our homeschool and the idea of looping that has made it possible to engage in a greater variety of activities and topics (no more boredom!) in a more relaxed and simplistic way.
And then after all that, I peered back into My Father’s World: Learning God’s Story (1st grade) and realized that it was all in there! I knew My Father’s World was eclectic in nature, including classical approaches, and unit studies along with Charlotte Mason’s philosophies. What I didn’t realize was how much it fell in line with the wholehearted approach I fell in love with.
For Discipleship studies, it included a study of the books of the Bible, scripture memory work, along with character development through proverbs and child-friendly animal stories. For Disciplined studies, it included The Complete Book of Math and other gentle, yet engaging hands-on math activities that the kids have loved, such as playing store or restaurant or putting together animal tangram puzzles. It also included handwriting practice, phonics lessons, and reading practice, including an easy-reader collection of Bible stories that my son loves reading on his own! (Although we have used supplementary materials for math and reading because of my son’s age, we have very much enjoyed many of these activities as additional practices.)
For Discussion studies, we have met the recommendation of engaging in daily read alouds by selecting rich texts from Read for the Heart, Honey for a Child’s Heart, and Five in a Row. We will also soon explore the included Bible history stories where the children will engage in oral and written narrations in their keepsake Bible Notebooks. Additionally, we have just begun our discussions on beautiful pieces of art and music with their deluxe package resources Enjoying Art Together and Peter and the Wolf. It has been enriching!
For Discovery studies, we have found the included Usbourne science texts and teacher’s manual activities to be great resources for areas that spark interest for our children. The manual also includes topical booklists to support the study of science with living books. My mother-in-law has also used the deluxe package resource Drawing with Children to develop their art skills in a child-friendly way.
Discretionary studies is where we have explored opportunities to minister to others, send cards, decorate our home, practice hospitality, work on family crafts, prepare for our garden, fold clothes, bake cookies, prepare snacks, clean house, attend Lego club and dance classes, play sports, take field trips, attend co-op, and all of the other beautiful parts of life that don’t fit in a boxed curriculum. It is the part of our homeschool that lends itself to each individual child and allows them to grow into all that God called them to be.
Yes, thankfully, all of the “wholehearted” pieces are there, and, if I so chose, I could follow each of the daily lessons that make up the course of our first grade curriculum. I, however, prefer to use the wholehearted model along with the Teaching from Rest approach, the one where I pray for direction in every area of our homeschool, including the topics we study and the direction we take. I like the idea of planning for 4-6 weeks at a time, then taking a week off to evaluate what is working and what I would like to accomplish in the next 4-6 weeks. I like looping through activities, sometimes using 2-3 resources for handwriting and typing, and other times, just focusing on one area of study, such as winter and snowflakes. I like the flexibility that comes from Teaching from Rest, and I like that I don’t have to get it all done each and every single day. I like that I can use our curriculum as a resource and not be driven by it.
These books have come to teach me that homeschooling is more than grade levels, lesson plans, and daily to-do lists. It is ultimately about relationships, learning, memories, discipleship, and discovery; ultimately, it is sharing life together. I have come full circle in this journey, but this time with more conviction and a better idea of what our homeschool goals are. We use a variety of resources for a season, then move along, knowing that if we address each of our key objectives, we are addressing what is truly significant. . . for us. These books have helped me define the perfect curriculum for our homeschool, and I couldn’t be more excited to dive in with my children.
The List of Books that Shaped our Homeschool
Which books have helped shaped your homeschool? Are you a wholehearted homeschooler? Tell me more!
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