“How do you teach both of your children at the same time?”

Right after I get the socialization question, this is ALWAYS people’s next question.  Usually they ask with a kind of horrified look on their face as they silently motion to my three year old.  My short answer is, Ummm…easily.  That’s never enough though.  Here’s a closer look at what learning looks like in our home with two kids of different ages (5 and 3.5) 

I think before you can begin to picture this you first have to acknowledge and accept that homeschooling looks NOTHING like school.  As a former teacher, this was difficult for me!  I don’t think many homeschoolers are sitting down at the table for 6 hours a day breaking only for lunch and recess.  Also, what took me say, a month, to teach a room full of 1st graders often takes about 5 minutes to teach my one son.

Almost everything happening at home counts as “school.”  We don’t have to wait for math time to “do” math.  We measure and count while making breakfast, lunch or dinner.  We can leave a note on the fridge for dad and learn a new phonogram while we do so.  We can read a new recipe.  We can write a shopping list.  We can count the dirty socks as we throw them in the laundry.  I could go on and on.  But in short, learning is all around us, happening all the time.

Most things we do in our homeschool we do together.  I’ve posted before about our morning basket.  My kids go to forest school and our Wild + Free playgroup together.  Any “field trips” we take, we take together.  I read aloud to them together, except for bedtime.  

I do present lessons to my kids individually.  We use a Montessori approach in our “school work” so I present new materials or teach new concepts to each of my kids.  I do this when the other child is either engaged in independent work or play.  These lessons and presentations are very short but we have also talked a lot about not interrupting and respecting each others work.  They often will watch each other have a lesson but know not to interrupt.  Since the lessons are short, this is not hard even for a very young child. Lillian has surprised me many times by showing me that she has already learned something that I previously presented to Ethan.

Maria Montessori also refers to the prepared environment as the third teacher.  Our home is carefully prepared to support our kid’s states of development.  Our kitchen is completely accessible for the kids to prepare their own snack or cook a meal independently (I obviously supervise them when using a stove, oven, etc).  

Their clothing storage and toy storage is also set up for them to access and take care of independently.  Their learning materials are carefully organized, rotated and presented on shelves in our playroom.  Learning is really seamless this way. They can work independently and uninterrupted by me; free to try, struggle and succeed.

Also, it’s important to note that since Ethan is older, he is a natural teacher for Lillian.  She learns so much just from watching him.  And she is always, always watching.  Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn who has studied the value of mixed age learning and play wrote:

“If we want to capitalize on children’s and adolescents’ natural, playful ways of learning, we must find ways to break down the barriers we have erected to keep young people of different ages apart. Age segregation deprives them not only of fun, but also of the opportunity to use fully their most powerful natural tools for learning.”

Lillian just naturally knows that Ethan is older and that he is a valuable source of information for her.  She knows it’s important for her to pay attention to what he’s doing without me ever having told her to do so.  This is a natural borne drive.  

In short, teaching kids at home of different ages is not only possible, it’s awesome!  They learn independently through their own work and play and also from individual direct lessons from me.

They learn from each other by playing together, watching each other play or work, listening to the same books read aloud by me or Audible or working on a shared project together.

We all learn together when we take field trips together or choose to learn about the same topic (something that happens often).  They are both currently loving learning about rocks and soil.

To the shock and surprise of this former teacher, teaching different aged kids is very natural and organic.

 

 

Morning Basket

In a previous post, I discussed how we have incorporated the Charlotte Mason concept of a “morning basket” into our homeschool.  In this post, I thought I would explain how we use our morning basket.  

My kids really love to eat breakfast!  This meal can go on for a really long time in our house.  Before reading about Charlotte Mason, I began reading to my kids at the breakfast table simply because we were sitting there for so long each day!  We came to love this time spent together, when everyone was well rested and well fed.  We now have a structure to our morning time and we keep all of the components we need in a basket right next to our table.  Hence the name, Morning Basket. 

Morning Basket Schedule

Here are the components to our Morning Basket, in the order we work through them:

Calendar – Oh, calendar work.  This work has taken so many forms over the last few years because I have changed it up so many times.  We started with a traditional “school” calendar with velcro numbers. But honestly, it was too big for our apartment and a pain to keep up with.  Why?  Because, for my daughters first two years of life, it was her personal mission to rip off every number as many times as she could get at it.  She loved to hear that very satisfying velcro sound .

 Currently, it’s quite simple:  a printed out calendar for each child where they write in the date (handwriting practice, counting practice) and mark off the days as we go.  We also use our Montessori bead bars to “make” the date which again affords counting practice as well as number sense work.  These bead bar cards are from the blog Every Star is Different.

Books – I keep some high quality, timeless picture books in the basket that we enjoy reading over and over.  We usually read 2 – 3 books each morning.  The kids choose from the basket or can choose a book from the bookshelf in our playroom where we keep a seasonally rotated selection of books.  

Morning Basket Books.png

Poem – We have a few poetry books for children.  I’ve included a list of the books we use in the Booklist section of the blog.  The kids often request to hear a certain poem or I will read one that is seasonally appropriate or pertinent to something we are learning about.  

Here is a list of poetry books we own and love:  (Amazon affiliate links)

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (My grandmother read this book to my mom, she read it to me and now I am reading it to my kids.  It is so special to us.)

A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa.

A Stick is an Excellent Thing:  Poems about Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer

Honey I Love and Other Poems by Eloise Greenfield

Slickety Quick:  Poems about Sharks by Skila Brown

Hailstones and Halibut Bones:  Adventures in Poetry and Color by Mary O’Neill

Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian

Over the River and Through the Wood:  A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Marie Child

Thanksgiving Day at Our House by Nancy White Carlstrom

Reading Practice – My daughter is currently learning her letter sounds, so I keep a few letters in the basket for her to identify, trace or try writing.  Sometimes I will keep a few miniature “language objects” for her to identify the first sound or try to spell phonetically.  We do only one of these things each day and it is a super quick activity, taking 1-2 minutes.  I will also introduce new phonograms at this time or introduce my son to a new high frequency word.  Sometimes he will read a list of words from the same word family, or read out a sentence strip.  Sometimes I bring over a few letters from the moveable alphabet and they will spell one word each.  This is always very quick and I just plan something to compliment what they are working on at the moment.  Again, very simple.

Math Practice – This, like reading, can take many forms.  Sometimes we use a random number generator on my phone and will count to the number it suggests for us.  Other times we will practice counting backwards from 20 or make a pattern with loose parts.  I might give my son a simple addition problem to solve or the kids might play one of their favorite games, Roll and Record.  I follow the kids and their interests and always keep it very simple.  

Song – We always end with a song.  I keep a seasonal playlist on my phone using Spotify and we enjoy learning new songs and singing together.  

For where we are in our homeschooling journey and the ages of my kids, this is how Morning Basket works for us.  We all look forward to this time of day and really enjoy spending this time together.  

If you’d like to hear how another family practices this morning time, take a listen to Wild + Free podcast Episode 33 to hear Elsie Ludicello describe her morning time.  It starts around the 8 minute mark.  I might have cried listening to how beautiful it is.  🙂

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wild-free/id1209794530?mt=2

Do you have a Morning Basket or do Morning Time?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

 

What We are Reading this Wednesday

Ethan reading a bird book

Since my son was 2, we have spent the month of April studying birds.  Now that he is 5, we still enjoy when we see and hear the birds come back to our neighborhood in the spring.  

Below you’ll find a list of bird books we have enjoyed reading together.  I thought about separating the list for the 0-2 year old set and the 3-6 year old set but I decided to list them all together.  My daughter has enjoyed listening to and looking at all of these books from a very young age even though I may have purchased some of them with my older son in mind.  And both children still enjoy looking at the bird board books we own that are intended for younger children.

I’ve also included this booklist in the Booklist section of the blog if anyone would like to print it to bring to the library or bookstore.  I hope you find this feature helpful.  

the links below are Amazon Affiliate Links

Busy Birdies by John Schindel

Birds by National Geographic Kids Look & Learn

Backyard Birds (Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Jonathan P. Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting

National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America

Birds, Nests and Eggs by Mel Boring

About Birds A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill

Urban Roosts by Barbara Bash   ** our favorite! **

Falcons in the City by Chris Earley ** on a great sale right now! **

Peregrine Falcons: Birds of Prey by Melissa Hill

National Geographic Kids Penguins! By Anne Shreiber

Mama Built a Little Nest by Beach Lane Books

We do not own this book but if my kids were younger I would definitely purchase it…

Baby’s First Book of Birds & Colors by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes

Have you read about birds with your children?  I’d love to hear any book recommendations you have in the comments!  

 

Choosing a Homeschool Philosophy

Classical, Waldorf, Montessori, Unschooling, how does a family choose?  Today I want to share about how we chose a homeschooling philosophy.  Or better yet, how we blended several together to design our own.  

My very first glimpse into the homeschool world was a blog I stumbled across while teaching called, Chasing Cheerios.  Does anyone else remember that one?  I remember being enamored with the sweet toddler activities she did with her daughters and followed along as that blossomed into full-blown homeschooling.  Even then I had a thought I still wrestle with now, “Isn’t that great for them?  It looks so lovely.  I’d like to do that too but instead I’ll just read this blog.”  This is a thought that often plagues me!  I’m tackling that kind of thinking head on by starting this blog!  

Anyway, back to choosing a homeschool philosophy… 

Once I jumped the hurdle to decide we were actually going to homeschool, it was time to decide how.  With our homeschool mission in mind, I began doing my philosophy research.  

Our homeschool mission is to raise children capable of and comfortable with independent thinking, who develop a deep appreciation for and a love of life and who eagerly celebrate their successes and failures as they chase their dreams.

My first reading centered on Maria Montessori and her pedagogy.  I pretty much instantly fell in love.  Check the booklist section of the blog for a list of some Montessori books I read that were inspirational.  In short, the Montessori philosophy is about following the child. Montessori herself did not believe that she created the “Montessori Method” but instead that she closely observed children and merely gave back to them what they showed her they needed.  

Montessori valued the whole child and viewed him or her as an independent person, deserving of the utmost respect. Parents or teachers (called guides) closely observe their children to see when they are ready for certain lessons or activities.  Children move through predictable “planes of development” and lessons are introduced accordingly.  Children are free to chose their own “work” within limits and are engaged in, what is called, a three hour work cycle.  Work is self-selected from the curriculum areas of practical life, sensorial, language, math and culture.  

Children receive lessons on how to use new materials, are expected to use them appropriately and when ready, clean up after themselves.  The materials are very hands-on and the learning concepts are very concrete. By observing the child at work, and without breaking their concentration, the homeschooling mom or teacher can decide if that child has mastered a concept, needs a new lesson or may in fact not be ready for that type of work.  

Often, when people see #montessori, they see what looks like children doing chores.  Maria Montessori believed that children were very much interested in learning about their environment and fully participating within it.  In the Montessori home or classroom, children happily work on practical life skills, like cooking, cleaning and sewing, using tools specifically made for people their size.  This not only helps the child feel they are a valuable, participating member of their family or classroom, but lays the foundation for fine motor, gross motor and even future reading, writing and math skills.  

As we’ve continued on our journey I’ve learned about other methods which I knew I wanted to incorporate in some way into our homeschool.  

From the Waldorf method we have adapted the concept of rhythms in the home.  Rather than a strict schedule, Waldorf families have rhythm or a gentle flow to the day making plenty of time for family connection and time spent outdoors.  

I previously mentioned our commitment to Forest School in my last post.  Please check it out for more information as I believe it’s one of the most important parts of our homeschool at the moment.

Forest School - Ethan

From my very limited reading about Charlotte Mason, we have adopted the concept of a morning basket or morning time.  This is one of our most cherished parts of the day.  Very simply, I keep a basket of high quality poems, children’s books, phonics and math activities next to our table.  I also keep a playlist of songs we are learning or enjoying listening to on my phone, using Spotify.  We work our way through the morning basket while we eat breakfast.   

Additionally, we have taken the concept of nature journaling from the Charlotte Mason method.  Keeping a nature journal is another cherished part of our week.  We enjoy collecting nature items from outside and bringing them home to study and sketch.  We have also sketched and painted animals we have decided to learn about (for example reindeers during the month of December). 

From the Classical style of education we highly value the 3 R’s – reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.  We currently work on these subjects the Montessori way, but they are definitely an important aspect to our homeschool.  In our quest to raise independent thinkers, I believe reading the great books will be an important part of our homeschool as our kids get older.

When I first heard of Unschooling I was immediately turned off by the term.  That’s not for “us”, I thought.  However as I learn more about it, I realize it both resonates with me and I want to experiment more with it.  I believe free time for children is important so they can focus on what interests them and develop their individual passions.  

Nutcracker
The kids spent a large part of December acting out the Nutcracker

After reading Peter Gray’s, Free to Learn, I came across the concept of Self-Directed Learning.  I also had the privilege to hear him speak at an alternative education conference (AERO) here in New York last summer.  He was very inspiring and I now ensure my children have the opportunity for lots of self-directed learning at home.  They are free to follow their interests and I try to guide them along the way or find a way to supply materials to meet their needs.  This is most evident in my son’s love of sharks and the many, many, many projects he’s undertaken to learn more about his favorite animal. 

I’ve found that many of these method overlap and intertwine in so many ways.  Here are some quotes from the creators of these philosophies which I think illustrate their interconnectedness and highlight our homeschool emphasis of the importance of play for young children, time spent outdoors and self-directed learning within limits.  

“To aid life, leaving it free, however, that is the basic task of the educator.”  Maria Montessori

“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it’s shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.”  Maria Montessori

“There is no education but self-education.”  Charlotte Mason

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”  Charlotte Mason

“We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, deprive them of the freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.”  Peter Gray, Free to Learn

Through careful research, we’ve been able to pick and choose what works for us.  In a future post I’ll share more specifically about how our days, weeks and months look.  

I hope you can see that all homeschools are quite unique, from pre-existing philosophies, to a blended approach like ours, to an “open and go” boxed curriculum which maps out a daily homeschool schedule and lessons for you. 

How about you?  What type of homeschool do you have?  Are you a purist – with only one philosophy?  Have you blended like us?  Do you use a boxed curriculum? 

Did you choose a philosophy before you began homeschooling or develop one along the way?

I’d love to hear about your homeschool in the comments!