Alice’s homeschool day in the life (with a 1- and 4-year old)

I wanted to homeschool my kids long before I ever had any. Homeschooling was never a question of why for me. It was more of a question of how. How would I implement child-led learning? How would I unschool and still have my kids learn math? How would my kids learn to read?

I didn’t want curriculum or a schedule. I needed to find a lifestyle that worked for us – a way to live together that would give my kids what they needed to learn and grow.

I found some of my best inspiration for this lifestyle from other homeschooling moms.

My favorite place for inspiration has been the Homeschool Day In the Life series at Simple Homeschool. Every February, the website’s contributors share a typical day in the life of their family’s homeschool.

It’s from these posts that I’ve learned about gameschooling, nature journals, and the Brave Writer lifestyle, three elements I predict will be important to our homeschool going forward. I’ve also learned to relax, focus on the big picture, and realize that no day is ever perfect (nor does it need to be).

This year, I’m adding my own day in the life post to the Simple Homeschool link-up.

They’re tiny, but I call them homeschoolers.

Though neither of my kids are yet school-age, I’m going to lay claim to the title of Homeschool Mom because 1). We officially missed the deadline to register Gus for kindergarten in the fall (it feels like a big deal!) and 2). He’s beginning to read, write, and sum at a kindergarten level.

Here goes our first day in the life post. As it turns out, it was a fairly typical day – and a good example of how life works around here.

Early Morning

I wake up around 7:00 AM to a pair of tiny feet digging into the small of my back.

Gus, our 4-year-old, crept downstairs sometime in the early morning with a stuffed wolf under each arm and burrowed between Matt and I in bed.

“Mom,” Gus says, “what are we doing today?”

I blink at the sunlight streaming through the windows and strive for consciousness. Morning person I am not. “It’s a home day,” I finally answer.

Gus cheers.

A home day is what we call a day without any scheduled plans (though we rarely stay home). In general, we’re all happiest if we have three unplanned days a week, but I usually have to struggle to reign in our calendar that much.

There’s a common misconception that homeschooling creates isolated, unsocialized kids – but I’ve found the opposite to be true. We’re lucky to be part of a large, active community of eclectic homeschoolers and unschoolers. My kids could be involved in a class, field trip, or play date with our group every day of the week if we wanted to.

As it is, we participate Spanish class and go on weekly field trips with the group. Theater class begins when Spanish ends, and there will be a community service/activism group forming this summer. Gus also goes to a play-based nature preschool program two afternoons per week – and one of his best friends from homeschool group is in his class.

Today, however, we have nothing planned.

I love it.

Generously, Matt gets up with Gus and Henry (our 1-year-old) and lets me stay in bed a little while longer. He’s leaving for a business trip in a few hours and has more time at home this morning than usual. I hear the boys rustling through the entryway for their boots and snow pants, and before long they’re all outside throwing snowballs in the front yard.

Relishing the thought of being alone in a quiet house (for at least a few minutes), I quickly pull myself out of bed, make a cup of coffee, and start on breakfast. We eat an epic meal – eggs, French toast, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit – (everyone is always famished in the morning), say goodbye to Matt, and then get down to the business of the day.

The business is books.

We start every morning in the playroom, curled up on the couch with a stack of books. The boys would have me read to them all day to them if I could.

Gus tends to gravitate towards nonfiction, especially books about animal biology and environmentalism – so read aloud time often doubles as science.

He’s currently on a solar power kick. Today, we read Chandra’s Magic Light, a story about a Nepalese girl who earns enough money to buy her family a solar-powered lantern. I’m pleased that I was able to tie in one of Gus’s current interests with one of our homeschool’s overarching goals – to give our kids an education firmly grounded in social justice. One way I try to do this is try by choosing storybooks that feature protagonists from diverse backgrounds and cultures as much as possible.

After about an hour of reading, I turn on a Spanish music CD (Okee Dokee Brothers’ Excelente Fabuloso), and the kids play independently while I clean up the kitchen. I’ve been more intentional about speaking Spanish with the kids lately, and I try to turn on Spanish music or read a Spanish storybook with the kids every day.

From time to time I hear them singing along with the music. (Even Henry is saying “gato.”)

Mid-morning

After the kitchen is cleaned up, we start project time. If we’re anything, we’re project-based unschoolers, and project time is the core of all of our homeschooling. During project time, the kids do whatever they want – play, read, or create. I work alongside them as a helper or guide.

As they get older, project time will look more like research, creation, and presentation. Right now, project time is serious play.

Gus, who has been fascinated with wolves for the past 18 months and plans to become “a scientist who studies wolves in the wild,” chooses to spend project time focused on his favorite topic.

Usually he wants to play wolves or draw pictures of wolves, but today he decides to work on his messaging for Wolf Day at the Capitol. In a few weeks, we’ll be attending a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol to support federal protections for wolves. He’s taking the chance to speak up for wolves very seriously.

Meanwhile, Henry works at his favorite place on top of the playroom table.

The kids are both happy and engaged in their work. I hang out with them, help Gus spell the words he wants to write, answer his question about the difference between a lower-case h and a lower-case n, and try to scrub marker off of Henry’s face. He’ll remain pink-striped for the rest of the day.

Peace reigns until 11:30 AM, when the kids start pelting me with sock balls (so much for folding laundry). I decide it’s about time we get outside.

Afternoon

I was hoping to bike with the kids today, but the surprise snowfall last night will my plan back a few days. Instead, I load the kids up in the Burley for a walk to the library. We’re working on the #1000hoursoutside challenge, hoping to spend 1,000 hours ouside in 2017. Our walk to the library brings us to hour 51. We’ve got some work to do!

Within five minutes of being outside, Henry falls asleep. He sleeps throughout the walk and just long enough for me and Gus to grab our books off the reserve shelf and browse the non-fiction stacks. Then we head to the children’s section where we hang out for about an hour.

We take home books about wolves, a ninja baby, and a rabbit who won’t stop saying “poop-di-poop”, which is a decent summary of my boys’ current interests.

I add a few Spanish storybooks and books about environmentalism, including a picture book I’m really excited about called If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Once we’re back home, we have a snack and pull out some board games. A few months ago I rearranged the playroom, clearing out a bunch of toys and filling the shelves with puzzles and board games instead. Gus’s math skills have exploded since then. So much of kindergarten math can be learned by playing board games – numeral recognition, counting, addition, subtraction, and estimating quantities and distances, to name a few.

We play a few rounds of Count Your Chickens, and then Gus decides he wants to practice parkour. Lots of jumping off the couch, somersaulting, and cartwheeling ensues.

Note to self: More outdoor time needed tomorrow.

Evening 

Since Matt is out of town on business tonight, the boys and I have special plans to order take-out. Gus chooses curry and samosas from our favorite East African restaurant, and the server surprises the kids by giving them free fresh mango juice when we pick up our meals.

After dinner, it’s bath and pajama time. Gus and I recently finished reading the Winnie the Pooh anthology, and as a special treat tonight, he gets to stay up late and watch The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with me. This is the 1977 version, a movie I remember well from my own childhood, and I enjoy the nostalgia of watching as much as he enjoys seeing it for the first time.

By 8:30 PM, Henry is long asleep and Gus’s eyelids are heavy. I put him to bed, spend time catching up with Matt on the phone, and then dig out my current sci-fi novel (The Three Body problem by Cixin Liu) and read until I’m ready for sleep – which is much later than it should be, but the book is hard to put down.

And that’s it! A typical day in the life of our homeschool.

What I didn’t mention includes, but is not limited to: Epic negotiations required before any clothing change, tooth brushing, face washing, or other act of personal hygiene; more couch-jumping than you can possibly imagine; and potty talk. So much potty talk.

There’s no perfection here, but there is a lot of enjoyment. I am so grateful this how we spend our days together.

Why healthy eating cannot be forced (and what to do instead)

Why Healthy Eating Cannot Be Forced (and what to do instead). http://www.aliceinwonderment.com

Not long ago, we toured a grocery co-op with our homeschool group. The kids sat on stools around a high table, kicking their feet and squirming with excitement as the tour guide passed around a plate of brilliant red blood oranges. Homemade peanut butter was sent around next. And then snap peas. Everyone took at least one bite.

Everyone except my son.

Gus turned his nose up at the blood oranges. He shuddered at the texture of the peanut butter. When the snap peas came by, he looked up at me with mournful eyes and wailed at the top of his lungs, “Where’s the ketchup?”

I swear, we never put ketchup on snap peas before that day.

Healthy eating doesn’t happen easily in our home. I don’t have the kind of kids who chow down on asparagus or ask for seconds of kale chips. True, the boys aren’t eating cookies and Cheetos all day, but I do have the four-year-old who, when he thinks I’m not looking, scoops honey straight into his mouth with a spoon.

As Halloween approached this year, I wracked my brain for a way to get rid the candy before Gus devoured it all. Some of our friends have traditions that encourage their kids to ease up on all the sugar. Some ask their kids trade in their Halloween candy to the “Switch Witch” for a home-baked treat. Others exchange the candy for a new book.

When I suggested these options to Gus, he looked at me as if I had two heads.

Not gonna happen, Mom.

No one wants to be the mom wringing her hands, muttering “artificial coloring… red dye 40…” as the kids count out their candy. Unlike others, who have real and serious reactions to these chemicals, I haven’t seen any proof my kids are affected the handful of times a year they eat this stuff.

And so I laid off.

I knew that if I gave Gus information about healthy eating, like I have been all his life, and modeled good nutrition, he would eventually develop his own limits when it came to junk food.

I knew this.

I just hadn’t seen any proof yet.

This week, when Gus was sorting through his candy for what felt like the hundredth time, he asked, “Which one of my Halloween candy has the most sugar in it?”

One thing I love about project-based learning is that I can never predict where an inquiry will take us.

Here’s what we did:

We researched and charted the sugar content in Halloween candy.

why-healthy-eating-cannot-be-forced-2

Gus wanted to know which Halloween candy had the most sugar. A quick google search led us to this website with information about the sugar and calorie contents of popular Halloween treats.

I wrote the amount of sugar in grams (7 grams up to 15 grams) on notecards and read the values out loud. Gus found the numbers and matched each piece of candy to its correct place. This is numeracy, people!

Can you believe that the fruit snacks had the most sugar? Chocolate bars like Hershey’s and Kit-Kat had the least.

We experimented with candy.

Preschool science experiment with Halloween candy
Preschool science experiment with Halloween candy

After Gus finished charting his candy, we sat back and looked at the results. “Now what?” I asked him.

“I want to squish it up and pour things on it,” he said. “But just the really sugary candy. I want to eat the chocolate.”

You got it, kid.

Gus recently got a set of test tubes that he loves using. In project-based homeschooling, the kid is in charge of the project, so Gus chose his own materials. He asked for baking soda, vinegar, food coloring, play-dough, and lots of bowls.

There was lots of mixing, stirring, and pouring. He used a syringe to squirt liquid and scissors to cut open the wrappers.

We played candy shop and built and delivered lollipops. 

Building with Spielgaben

Oh, the Spielgaben. A hefty investment, and to be honest, I was starting to worry that it was a waste of money. Every time I took out a drawer, Gus would sift through the pieces for a few minutes, then bound away to jump on the couch for, you know, an hour or two.

But then he turned four.

Now, Gus plays with it every day. In the picture above, he’s building lollypops that also shoot magic powers.

STREWING

Strewing is a key element of project-based homeschooling. After observing and documenting Gus’s work, I set out relevant books, media, and other materials to help him expand on his learning. It’s as simple as spreading out a few books or art materials on the kitchen table. Gus, who is always in charge of his projects, chooses when, how, and if he will use what I’ve suggested.

This week, I strewed…

The History Channel’s History of Halloween Video: How Candy Corn Is Made 

We talk a lot about factory-made food versus homemade food. This 3-minute video was Gus’s first glimpse into mass food production. We both thought it was pretty interesting!

Watch it here on History.com.

Cookbooks for Kids

It’s been said that if kids help prepare nutritious food, they’re more apt to eat it. I know that’s true in our house. Gus loves these books. We’ve been making the recipes together since he was two.

Here are some of our favorites.

Preschool cookbook with pictorial recipes
Preschool cookbook with pictorial recipes
A follow-up to Pretend Soup using all vegetarian recipes.
A follow-up to Pretend Soup using all vegetarian recipes.
In-depth book explains the science behind healthy eating and includes several recipes.
This in-depth book explains the science behind healthy eating and includes several recipes.
Catchy, musical book gives the recipe for Bee-bim bop, or mix-mix rice, a traditional Korean dish. Gus and I started making this recipe together when he was just 2 years old!
Catchy, musical book gives the recipe for Bee-bim bop, or mix-mix rice, a traditional Korean dish. Gus and I started making this recipe together when he was just 2 years old!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in the end, Gus never did eat any of the sugary candy.

What did your family do with your Halloween candy? And does anyone have any sure-fire ways to get a 4-year-old to brush his teeth? I’d love to know them!

We did project-based homeschooling and talked about the Coast Guard for 10 months straight.

We started project-based unschooling with Gus was 3. That sounds so fancy, and it really wasn’t.

Let’s put it this way instead: When Gus was 3, he developed a passion for the Coast Guard, and I did my best to find books and activities that would answer the questions he was constantly throwing at me about rescue swimmers, winch lines, and shipping channels on the Great Lakes.

It’s called parenting, am I right?

There’s a plethora of information online about project-based homeschooling. Lori Pickert, who wrote the book and coined the term, runs a fantastic website and forum dedicated to educating and supporting PBH families. I highly recommend visiting her site and reading everything she’s ever written. Seriously, everything. (If that sounds overwhelming, start here).

My approach to project-based homeschooling is based on Pickert’s ideas. To use Gus’s Coast Guard project as an example, I:

A. Observed Gus at play, documenting his interests and activities. (I wrote in our learning record something like: Arranged wooden blocks on a tray to make ‘map for a deep water rescue.’ or Climbed on the couch and jumped off pretending he was ‘a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.’)

B. Organized Gus’s thoughts and displayed them in a prominent place. (We have an ongoing list of questions written on a large chalkboard in his bedroom. There is a bulletin board in the playroom where I hang Gus’s photos, drawings, and story dictations.)

C. Assisted Gus in his investigations and inquiries. This often takes the form of “strewing” certain items where Gus can find them (like library books on his current interests). It also could be a provocation, such as setting out open-ended materials based on an expressed interest or question (like real maps and a variety of drafting tools, for example). As Gus gets older, he’ll take on the investigative work himself (choosing his own projects, locating his own books, and so on).

D. Repeat A-C. Natural learning is non-linear. It’s messy. One question leads to another which leads to another.

The Coast Guard project started with one question, and it lasted for 10 months straight. Gus asked, “Are there tow-truck boats for stuck boats like there are tow trucks for stuck cars?”

“Yep,” I said. “I think the Coast Guard would help a stuck boat. Let’s see if we can find a youtube video…”

We read countless books about the Coast Guard. Gus learned everything about boats and helicopters; learned how to read maps; drew his own maps; learned how to tie sailor’s knots, including a Boline; learned left and right by first understanding port side and starboard side; practiced basic first aid; learned water safety; learned about the shipping industry of the Great Lakes; built and floated paper boats; built giant cardboard boats; met and interviewed a retired Coast Guard coxswain; toured a Coast Guard base and met a real rescue swimmer; watched documentaries about Coast Guard rescues; understood the mechanics behind a winch line; and so much more.

Want to learn more?

Project-Based Homeschooling.com