Reader Email (abridged): I have five kids from 8 years old down to a 1-year old. I would like homeschool, but I don’t know where to begin. Do you have any advice for me?
This post is for a dear reader who has a very full house with five kids – from an 8-year-old she’s considering homeschooling, down to a 1-year-old! This amazing Mom deserves a medal!!
She was wondering if I had any ideas/mentoring for her on just how to begin. So, I offer this very, very long post to her (and to anyone else who might get something from this!). And just as a reminder, my kids are now in 3rd, 6th and 8th, so this email is my thoughts about what I would do if I were starting all over again in her shoes…. a “what would I do” type answer [with all the knowledge I currently have] doing it all over again. Here we go!
You have a very full house! I know life must be extremely full and busy for you!
I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s experience at public school. My son’s best friend is in a public middle school and dreads going to school and “hates” school. That makes my heart break because learning and education can be (and should be!!) *so* wonderful! That’s not to say that we don’t have our challenging moments/days, but in general my kids really love learning and enjoy doing (home) school.
I think a lot of homeschoolers worry about the cost financially of homeschooling their kids. While I probably spend more than I should on books, I heavily rely on my library! I always have at least 60 books out of the library!! And, the homeschool curriculum we use is really reasonable (and that’s even using several math books per-child! I’m probably not “normal” in that way, but we use different math curriculums because they each cover math a bit differently.) I have never purchased an all-in-one homeschool curriculum which can be much more expensive. It doesn’t suit my/our style.
I think the essence of your email was that you were worried about how to schedule/run your homeschool. Of course, every family has different dynamics and everyone eventually settles into their own routine. I can offer some suggestions of how it worked when I had little ones… it may or may not be helpful. And, I will offer some thoughts about what I would do “first” if I had to jump in feet-first. Again, it might not have any appeal, so I offer it for what it’s worth!!
We saw ourselves as a homeschool family, which meant that even when ED was tiny, she was there in the midst of our schooling. I think that’s why we’ve always done so many hands-on activities. It appeals to everyone (even me!!). There were times when my youngest was climbing on my back or was sitting literally on my head while we were trying to do our activities. That was just reality!
Workboxes: When the kids were little we used workboxes (plastic drawer set, one for each child) … and I kept them filled with activities that were appropriate for their age. So, from the age of eighteen month or so, ED had her own activities planned out! I did a ton of Montessori activities with her and her older sister. So she might have a hammering activity, punching holes, threading dry noodles on a shoe lace, puzzles, spooning, tonging, pouring, lacing activities, stamps/do-a-dots, and things like that. (Check out these activities for ages 2-4 that build fine motor skills, these learning letter activities, and this huge list of preschool activities.) I switched those out regularly. I often added in some printable worksheets from Making Learning Fun or Activity Village. Both these websites have tons of free printables! The older kids also had their own workboxes with the materials I needed for them. Here was our Homeschool Room Set Up when ED was about 3.)
Theme-Time Table: For a while, I set up a preschool theme table each week to help me remember to rotate out their books, puzzles, worksheets, stuffed animals, kids-toys, letter activities, crafts, felt board activities (I made my own felt board (here’s how) which you can see in the photo below) and stuff. We did themes like firemen, bears, princesses, frogs, space, doctors… etc. etc. The kids *loved* Monday mornings when I had their preschool table covered with a blanket. I revealed the activities after breakfast on Mondays. They spent a couple of hours with it on Monday. And I would straighten it back up (and maybe add something else in) for Tuesday. They had lost interest by the end of the week and I would try to start putting puzzles and stuff away so that the next weekend I could plan for a new theme.
Here was a theme-time table I set up about oceans:
Here is another theme-time table about bears. You can see I had the little figures out so we could re-enact/retell Goldilocks and the 3 Bears (top left picture). Here’s another post when we did Jack and the Beanstalk as a theme!Scheduling in Time for the Oldest: When ED was quite young and still napping, we did the majority of our “serious” schoolwork in the afternoon during nap-time/quiet time. That was just what worked at that stage of life. Homeschooling looks completely different for us now without preschoolers/toddlers in the mix!!!
I often did our hands-on activities together (in the morning) and worked separately with the kids in the afternoon.
If I were to start from scratch homeschooling an 8-year-old down to 1 as your family is here are some of the things I might do… (Feel free to completely ignore anything I share here!!) My first unit would probably be on world geography and animals. (It would appeal to everyone in the family!!).
I’ve included lots of links to posts that will explain things in much more detail. We have a lot of free Montessori cards and other printables that I’ve linked to as well.
- I would laminate and create a Montessori world pin-map (free printable here). I would teach the kids to sing the 7 continents song (this post has the kids actually singing it.). We did this daily together each morning first thing. My kids also did a calendar page each morning (at the beginning of the school year) when they were 4-8 years old or so. We’d all troop outside to look at the thermometer together to color that in on our page as well as writing the day/month, weather etc.
- I would then add in the world animals and let my preschoolers/toddlers join in… matching plastic animals like these: – South America Toob (affiliate link) or this Australia Down Under Toob (affiliate link) and placing the cards (and then eventually the plastic animals) on the correct continent. We have world animal cards here.
- And once my kids had those down (after a few weeks), I would probably then add in some of the World Landmarks (and World Landmark Toob) (affiliate link) We have free world landmark cards here. I would print out coloring sheets for them. I’d have them “recreate” their own landmarks from modeling clay.
- I would let my oldest choose an animal (or two) and do a bit of research about it… creating animal cards. (My kids loved doing that). Or I might have my daughter do an Animal Portfolio Project (with various writing/craft activities).
- I would print out the living-non living cards (free) (and talk about how scientists group things into categories)… and then take them outside to collect 4 examples of each.
- I would print out the vertebrate-invertebrate cards (free) and have the kids start sorting those. I would bring them all to a (natural history) museum that had a full skeleton of various animals so they *really* understood what a backbone is.
- Once they understood the difference between animals with backbones and those without… I would use those same cards and have the kids start learning about the five animal groups.
- I would have my oldest learn about the animal characteristics in each of those groups and would have her learn about the classification of invertebrates (which I covered with my daughter in our animal packet).
- I might have my preschooler/s do a lapbook about insects vs. spiders. And, I would probably do some hands-on invertebrate study — like when we studied earthworms, planaria, or mealworms/darkling beetles.
- And, I might do a unit on a specific animal (We did a unit on whales one time and learned a TON!!)
Science (cont.): That might take a months or so. After that, I would probably start an Earth Science unit. That one was SO interactive and fun for preschoolers and older kids alike. We’ve now down this unit twice (and probably need to cover it again when ED is in 5th grade or so). All of those activities are fun for any age…
- I would start with a bit about the solar system. I would definitely do the solar system kit again (though if it were out of my budget, I would probably try to come up with some alternative).
- Then I would talk about the Earth and moon and do the activity about the layers of the Earth with playdough.
- I would probably talk about the phases of the moon as well and do the oreo activity… going into more detail with my oldest (but letting my younger kids listen in. We’ve done this a couple different times. This particular time we made homemade oreos:
Meals: I would always have books out on the dining room table to read whenever we got a chance. Since I would probably be wrapped up with helping the younger ones with their meals, I might have my 8-year-old read two or three fun children’s books to the others while I was madly trying to get everyone fed!
I would make sure to have a novel going with my oldest (or older two)… reading for twenty minutes during the day and spending time snuggling and reading at bedtime.
- I would probably get the science unit going first, but eventually I would try to do some history too.
- I would probably start with the ancients… Ancient Egypt is really fun and exciting/intriguing to kids and I know the library had dozens of books for any age! I would definitely get or borrow the hands-on books and do some of those activities. They have awesome suggestions: I know we own this one Pyramids!: 50 Hands-On Activities to Experience Ancient Egypt (affiliate link) I would add in various geography activities (like this ancient Nile flooding activity and other hand-on geography projects)
- I might see if Story of the World (affiliate link) appealed to me/my oldest kids. Many, many homeschool families have read that together and have loved it!!
- But alternatively, if it appealed to my oldest I might choose a country to study (to fit that in with the 7-Continents and the World Landmark cards/figures). Perhaps we would study ancient China (free packet here) or ancient India or Australia (Australia children’s books) if that really appealed to my kids. I would probably have my preschoolers make a lapbook to go along with that unit.
- I would do Montessori math activities with my preschoolers (here’s a post with math ideas for ages 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 or math ideas for ages 4 to 6) and would play a ton of math games. I would have those set up in workboxes (with small manipulatives stored on a high shelf to keep out of my baby’s curious hands!)
- 8-year-old math: I would use a Spectrum Math workbook with my oldest, having her do one row of practice from several pages around the book (addition, subtraction). I would work on multiplication facts and skip counting (if she didn’t know her multiplication tables already). Again, I would play math games so the math facts were fun. I would probably also buy the Speed! Game again (if I had time to sit down and play games). And I would work through her multiplication facts with our worksheets sets because they worked so well for us.
- I would probably also add in Mathematical Reasoning (I just got my daughter, age 8, Mathematical Reasoning Level E. (affiliate link) She’s generally doing 4th grade math.) and have my daughter do a page or two from that. It just covers math from a wide variety of angles. We’d kind of skip around that book (just as we do for Spectrum). Now that said – there are TONS of homeschool math curriculums that my friends use and love… Singapore Math, Saxon Math, Math Mammoth and more. I’ve dabbled with all of those but always returned to the simple Spectrum math workbook (supplemented with Math Reasoning).
- For the 8-year-old, I would probably do the same things I’ve done. I’ll just link to the post here: Language Arts Update
but ultimately I would by the Write Source Skillsbook (affiliate link) for grammar practice I’ve linked to the one my 8 year old uses this year and All About Spelling (affiliate link) (because it is useful for my preschoolers too) along with the table-top magnetic board which I got from Amazon (I bought a nicer looking Doublesided Tabletop Easel (affiliate link) by Learning Resources and it now comes with a felt board on the other side.).
- I would let my 8-year-old do a lot of independent reading (with a minimum of 30 minutes). (Plus, lots of read alouds as I mentioned above).
I hope this gives you some ideas to consider. Feel free to ask any questions you might have!!
By the way, you might enjoy taking a look at some of our “Day in the Life of a Homeschooler” type posts. Here are some of ours, this one in particular might be of interest since the kids were so young when I wrote this: Typical Day with Tots & PreKs (When the kids were 18months, 3 and 5 years old) We were still living in central Australia when I wrote this post years ago!!
- What We’re Up to in Our Homeschool (Gr. 2, 5, 7)
- What We’ve Been Up to In Our Homeschool Lately (Grades 1, 4, 6)
- Homeschool Week in Review (Grades 1, 4, 6)
- A Day in the Life of a Homeschooler: From 3 years ago when the kids were 9, 7, almost 5
- Our Homeschool Week (Grades 3 and 5)
- What is a “Typical” Homeschool Day Like This Year? (Grades K, 3, 5)
- What Does a Typical Homeschool Day Look Like? (K, 3rd, 5th)
- What About the Social Aspects of Homeschooling?
Don’t miss this post: 50+ Homeschool Freebies. We have lots of free resources on the blog.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.