How I Homeschool

A sweet friend of mine, whom I've known since forever (Hi Emily!) asked me on Facebook yesterday what books I'd recommend for homeschooling, as she's going to be homeschooling her daughters next year.  I started a reply on Facebook, then (when it started getting ridiculously long) thought to myself, "I should just do a blog post about it, as I'm sure she's not the only one wondering."

So here I am, gathering all my homeschool arsenal, finding Amazon links to my favorite books, and feeling reenergized myself about this crazy adventure I'm on in home educating.  

When anyone asks about homeschooling, the first book that comes to mind, without fail, is Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  I used that book when I did kindergarten with the boys last year, and true to its title, by the end, they knew how to read.  

We used BOB books, too.  (Starting with the pre-reader set and going all the way up to Set 4)


When I first decided I would be homeschooling, I went online and ordered three books, all from vastly different schools of thought on homeschooling.  I needed to figure out what would work for us.

1) I read John Holt's book How Children Learn.  He is the father of unschooling, and while I found some things in the book to be true, I generally disagree with the notion that there's no place for structured learning in the classical sense.  Also, unschooling was just too unstructured for me.

2) I read The Well Trained Mind, a Guide to Classical Education at Home.  The Well Trained Mind was the complete opposite of How Children Learn, and made me feel that I was entirely unequipped and underqualified to teach our two five year olds.  If you want a really structured homeschool, this book is a fantastic guide. It even has all sources of workbooks & textbooks you could order, which is great if you're just starting out.  

From the book:
"In the classical curriculum, reading, writing, grammar and math are the center of the curriculum.  History and science become more and more important as the child matures.  Foreign languages are immensely valuable, but shouldn't crowd out these basic skill areas.  And music and art are wonderful when you can manage them."

As much as it originally overwhelmed me, I find myself sticking to its general practice, focusing most of our days on reading & writing, as well as math.  

3) I still have the Charlotte Mason Companion on my shelf.  I really need to crack it open!



For preschool I literally got my curriculum from Dollar Tree.  I got a handwriting book, an alphabet workbook, and a number workbook for each twin.  I also got two colored (kind of expensive) books for cutting from The Learning Palace. (Similar to this.) I knew it would be worth it if the twins were excited to use their scissors.  For Logan especially (my lefty) cutting has been a challenge.

I gathered ideas from Family Circle for arts & crafts, and taught shapes, colors, letters & numbers with flashcards.  Flashcards were a super simple and really effective way to work on all the curriculum daily.


For kindergarten, we got a large wall calendar for daily calendar time.  After doing calendar, we read three books each day.  We also learned months of the year and days of the week.

In addition to 100 Lessons (see above) I used a Scholastic Kindergarten book I got at Costco.  It was great cause each section reinforced different aspects of school: handwriting, colors, shapes, letters and numbers.  We also used this notebook for the boys to draw a picture and write a sentence about it each day.  


For first grade we learned to count to 100, (also by 2's, 5's, 10's); started keeping daily journals (by far my favorite part of homeschooling); used Saxon Phonics & Spelling gifted to me by the school when they switched curriculum year before last; and bought Singapore math curriculum. (Plus the Instructor's Guide.)  I adore the Saxon phonics and will be sad when I have to switch next year.  The Singapore math has been a little more challenging for me, but it's working.  It requires a lot of manipulatives, that luckily I have since I'm married to a teacher. :)

This year we also started chapter books (Junie B., Flat Stanley & The Magic Tree House) which we all love, and they do independent reading for 20 minutes a day.  That is what makes me miss the Fort Vancouver Regional Library.  Again, thankfully I'm married to a teacher so we can get our fair share of awesome priced Scholastic books.

In addition to calendar, math & reading, we have sight word flash cards that we do daily.  There are three sets total, and we're on the second set now.  I find that knowing the sight words has helped Jack with his reading fluency and he's much less frustrated while reading aloud to me.


For the last half of this year, I am wanting to bring in more science and history.  I ordered a history book based on my blog friend Ashley's recommendation.  I am anxiously awaiting the delivery from Amazon.  The boys constantly want more science experiments (Pinterest is invaluable when it comes to these!) and I am making an effort to make sure we do at least one each week.


I want to add sign language to our curriculum when we do second grade and Wyatt (with preschool curriculum) joins the mix.  


We love the Reading Rainbow app.  They can "check out" books and the app reads them to the boys.  We also use ABC Mouse.  Wyatt's favorite is having it read stories aloud to him.  But it is so much more than that.  Plus they can earn "tickets" and "shop" with them in a virtual store.  The twins love that part.

Also, we love Planet Earth and The Magic School Bus DVD's for those days when school at the table isn't feasible (ie kids or mommies get sick).


I recommend taking inventory of what your kids know at the start of each year so on your bad days you can remind yourself how far they've come.  When we got here the fall after the boys turned four (their birthday is in June) they knew literally nothing. No numbers, no letters.  By the start of kindergarten the next year they knew their shapes, colors, numbers and letters.  Looking at that scrap of paper (it's literally 3x4 inches and bright orange) and seeing that giant 0 next to ABC and 123 makes me feel competent and capable.  We went from zero to sixty, smiling all the while.

To display the boys' work I got two display rails at Target.  The boys love hanging their work everyday to show to Josh when he gets home.  Anything you can do to motivate them to work harder is worth it!  Those silly display rails symbolize the finish line for us. "We did it! We got through today's work. Now go hang up your work!!!"


What do you want to accomplish each year? Each month? Each week?  Setting goals helps you keep track of progress, and helps you eliminate things that aren't pushing you toward accomplishing that goal.  My goal for kindergarten was: teach them to read.  Most days, that's all I managed to work on. And that was okay.  For first grade, the goal expanded to include math.  These simple goals make the mountain I'm climbing seem surmountable.

Finding inspiration from other moms via blogs & pinterest also helps me stay motivated.  And on the really hard days? There's Ryan Gosling and his collection of homeschool quotes.  

#yourewelcome ;)


Calling in Sick

 It's come to my attention lately how lucky I am to be a stay-at-home mom.  It's what I've always wanted, for myself and my children, and I feel so unbelievably lucky to be able to do it.

Wyatt had a flu episode last weekend.  He threw up all over Josh's easy chair, his new favorite stuffed animal, his shirt & his baby blanket.  He was crying super hard and we agreed that throwing up is just the worst.

There was, thankfully, only the one puke episode.  But his fever continued for two more days and the last two nights, he's been awake in the night coughing his little heart out.  So the other night, from 3:30 to 5:00am, we hung out downstairs, watching reruns of Jake and the Neverland Pirates, curled up together under a blanket on the couch.

I felt nary a worry as the hours ticked by, knowing that if I needed a nap come tomorrow, I could take one; knowing that I needn't worry about calling in sick or rushing back to bed to preserve my energy for the day ahead.  My stay-at-home mom status allowed me to be in the moment, soaking up Wyatt's extra snuggles and just enjoy his chubby hand holding mine.

The next morning I had a big delicious cup of coffee during homeschool and set a low bar for my to-do list in the afternoon.  Getting through the day was no big deal.  And I think it's all because being home is all I have to do.

What a blessing.


Surprising February Awesomeness

You know how normally (in bush Alaska anyway) February drags on and on, somehow feeling more like 40 days than 28, making you wish the calendar skipped straight from January to March?

Well, this year's been different.  February wasn't all fireworks & sparkles, but darn it, it was a good month!  I worked out every single weekday in February.  Four straight weeks of working out, every morning, before my shower, without fail.  Added to the three weeks I did in January (I missed four days from being sick) and I've been working out for nearly two months.  I credit my emotional improvement to these daily workouts.  I have lost ten pounds since November (not a huge number, but pretty awesome considering I haven't changed my eating habits at all) and am feeling much stronger.  But the best part I discovered yesterday-- I had to run upstairs to get pajamas for the boys and when I reached the top I realized I wasn't out of breath. (Yes... sadly climbing the 16 stairs on our staircase used to leave me winded.)  It was the best feeling!

I also find that I am much less likely to nap in the afternoons or feel sleepy during school at the kitchen table with the boys.  This working out certainly has its perks!  

{For those wanting details, here's the lowdown on my workouts.  I bought a Leslie Sansone Walk At Home video that has 5 miles total.  Each mile has a different theme, like "Strength", "Core", and "Cardio".  I do one mile each morning while the boys eat cereal at the kitchen table.  It takes less than 15 minutes to do the entire workout.}


Also in February I rocked at making dinner for my family.  Every Sunday night I would meal plan for the week ahead, and Monday through Thursday I would make a sit-down family dinner for my beloveds.  Friday we do something simple for the boys (nuggets or corn dogs) as we have date night (with pizza!!!) once they are in bed.  Saturday the boys get their pizza for family movie night and Josh & I eat through any leftovers in the fridge.  Sunday Josh tends to make dinner, bless his heart.  So four days a week, I'm on, and this month, I nailed it.

I was thinking about this, about my following through on working out and following through on making dinner, and I realized that I am disciplined. I never really thought of myself as disciplined.  But when I made the connection that feeding my family a healthy meal, where we sit down together, brought me happiness and a sense of contentment every evening, I committed fully to making that happen, every.single.day.  

And when I realized that working out made me feel better (body, mind & soul) and would help me defeat my demons (anxiety & depression), I committed fully to making that happen, every.single.day.  It feels so good to be back in my groove, feeling excited to face the day and ready to tackle any challenge I come upon.

In March I hope to continue these two goals and add to it a little more time spent reading.



Thoughts & Playing Out

We've been housebound for weeks now, so when the opportunity presented itself to go outside, out we went!

It's amazing how even twenty minutes outside can make the day seem better, shorter.  And the kids more manageable.


I've been a bit quiet on here. It's hard for me to sit still and focus when I'm feeling anxious. And I've been quite anxious as of late.  Lots of thoughts.  Thoughts of those babies I lost, thoughts of the babies I'm raising, thoughts of homeschooling, thoughts of next year, and thoughts of the distant future...

For now I have reached acceptance with the miscarriages.  A touch of sadness still, at the loss, and the thought that I won't have a squishy new bundle to tote around this summer... but still, acceptance.  I trust God.  I trust that he wants what's best for me, and for some reason, that doesn't include another baby right now.

For the three I am still here raising, loving & hugging everyday, I am feeling content.  Our days are good.  We have a steady routine, a nice rhythm, and I am calm.  I haven't yelled or lost my temper in ages.  It feels so good to fall asleep each night knowing I have filled their love tanks completely.  We enjoy each other, and that makes me happy.

Homeschooling is going really well.  We're halfway through the year, and I feel good about the progress we've made.  They are reading and doing math confidently.  They have tested well and are excited to learn new things.  They love reading aloud, chapter books especially, together on the couch, or on the rug in the playroom after calendar time.  My heart sings to think of them loving books the way I do.  
Wyatt has improved his ability to self entertain, and most days he sets off for the playroom while we settle in for our lessons at the kitchen table, and we don't hear from him again until school is done.  The only trouble with homeschool is that I don't ever feel like I'm doing enough.  I recently ordered a history book, so I am excited to add that to our days, and I also know the boys would love more science, specifically experiments.  I have to remind myself that I can only do what I can do, and there is time for everything else that is to come.

My thoughts of next year flip violently from excited to scared.  Josh got his contract for the 2015-2016 school year, and we have committed to it.  We will be back in Marshall for a fifth year.  Part of me is excited-- financially it will be really good for us to come back, to pay down our debt as planned, and for Josh to gain even more experience.  But another part of me is scared.  The last two years have been challenging for me personally.  Depression and anxiety have colored my experience out here, and it's tempting to think that if I were somewhere else, I would feel differently.  But I know that's not true.  I have had panic attacks in Vancouver. In Anchorage.  It doesn't matter if I'm in the village or in the city.  My mental health is what it is.  
So I am working to believe that God will see me through, and that the sacrifices I make out here for the rest of this year and for next year, will be worth it.  I can do hard things.  

...And honestly, I think this year would have been really good (mentally) if it hadn't been for the two miscarriages.  That gives me hope for next year.

 Thoughts of the distant future are what keep me going.  I know that someday I will look back on our time in Marshall and miss it.  I will miss having family dinner every single night.  I will miss our religious Friday date nights, our family movie nights, and homeschooling in such a quiet environment.  We are working right now to make a better future for ourselves.  And the work is hard.  Josh works hard at the school, and I work hard here at home.  
I am constantly reminding myself that "The days are long, but the years are short."  In this way I can remember that though the days can be a challenge, the amount of time I have with six year old Logan or three year old Wyatt are limited.

With that in mind, I am working to let little things go, and focus on big picture.  It's more important that I have special one on one time with Jack than the bathroom mirror be clean.  It's more important that Logan understand the math concept, than that lunch start exactly on time.

I hope that as time passes, I continue to feel peace about our family and our plans.  I also hope to back on the blog a bit more consistently.  I miss it.


Made Of Love

There are three things in my life that are solely made of love.

& Wyatt.

Had things gone according to plan, there would have been another little Cunningham, also made of love, joining our crew this spring.  But alas, it was not meant to be.

But on this day when we celebrate love, those three little cherubs are proof that true love exists.  Proof that our love exists.

I love this man so much.  I love the way he knows me, cares for me, and supports me on this journey.  I am so grateful for the love that fills our home.  Love for mommy, love for daddy & love for brothers.

I love that our family is made of love.


End of Break!

Our Christmas break was three weeks long.  

I missed the middle of it, spending a week in Anchorage, but that last week we squeezed in a ton of fun.  They got these blow up balls from my grandma, huge hit!

We took lots of fun baths, complete with shaving cream & play razors.

But mostly we just played.

Slowly we started noticing more daylight.  Very much a happy change.

And last but not least, we had family movie night.  
Boys. Pizza. Nemo. Awesome.

I am so grateful that our last week was fun and that I was home and well enough to enjoy it.