Homeschooling

Question: How to Homeschool a Preschooler?

I received a timely request from a reader the other day. She asked a sensible question, which ran as follows:

With the new school year approaching, I would love your input on beginner homeschooling with a preschooler. How did you structure your day when you first started, and what did you focus on during those first years as a homeschool mom?  What should I do for Morning Time? What is Morning Time? Do you have any other tips to keep me sane and joyful?

I’ll give my best to answer this question by breaking it down into sections.

What did you focus on during your first years of homeschooling?

I started homeschooling when my eldest was about 5 years old. I also had twin 3-year-olds, and a baby. Now this sounds busy, and it was, but it was worth it.

Here was my “crew” about a year after we started in 2012.

Our “homeschooling” day consisted of reading a lot of books. When I was tired, I played audio books. We also went on daily walks and met other moms at the park.

Even in colder weather, we always tried to get outside for my sanity.

While we did do “seat work,” it wasn’t much…a math workbook, a phonics book, and a book where The Eldest could trace letters. I can’t remember much else.

I do remember stressing out because I thought she was supposed to be a whiz at math facts–adding and subtracting single digits with the snap of a finger. I bought flash cards and wrung my hands because she wasn’t very quick. If I could do it again, I’d cut that part out. Of course math facts are important, but not to the point of tears.

The focus of those first years was just to enjoy reading and being outdoors and learning to help around the house.

What we didn’t do was technology. In other words, very little screen time was ever allowed.

How did you structure your day when you first started homeschooling?

Since the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I have always begun the day with prayer. This has evolved over the years, as to what and how we prayed, but we’ve always done it. For how can one be a decent wife, mother, and teacher without Jesus? Not possible.

So, prayer first. Then, I just followed the natural rhythm of the day. After breakfast and clean-up, I liked to do “school” right off the bat for the simple reason that we could be done for the day.

Then I remember daily walks around the neighborhood. Then lunch. Then naps. And oh! Blessed Day if the younger children fell asleep at the same time, and I could nap too.

Afternoons were always a bit difficult, however, if there wasn’t anything to do. At times, I felt lonely. I suspected I called my mom a lot, just to chat with an adult.

What else did we do?

I took all the children everywhere, just to get out of the house…Target, the grocery store, more neighborhood walks, a friend’s house…I learned how to cook, experimenting with different recipes and ingredients. I eventually learned a little bit about gardening.

We read more books.

What is Morning Time?

Cindy Rollins coined the term “Morning Time,” I believe. It’s just a time when Mom and all the children gather together for prayer and school for a short while. It varies from household to household.

We’ve always started Morning Time with a short prayer, followed by whatever song I want to learn. Right now, it’s Ave Maris Stella, a traditional Vespers hymn. When the children were all little, I seem to remember learning other favorite hymns and also the different parts of the Traditional Latin Mass, like Credo III or something.

After prayer, the children recite whatever poem they are memorizing. Today it’s Shakespeare’s Sonnet 27 for the older children and “O Wind” by Robert Louis Stevenson for the younger ones. Years ago, when I started, we did a lot of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

In the beginning of my homeschool career, that was likely all for Morning Time. Now, however, we’ve added our Latin vocabulary and any other school songs we may be working on for grammar, writing and rhetoric, or geography.

What should I do for Morning Time?

You should do whatever you’d like all the children to learn together. I would of course recommend poetry. And then, think about what you would like to learn. That’s how I choose most of our material, especially the poetry, songs, and Bible verses that we’ve memorized over the years.

I’ve found that if I’m interested in the material, the children will be too, and if I’m not, they’re not.

Ultimately, you can do whatever suits your fancy! And, feel free to return to family favorites. I’ve written about this before. There are certain poems that we always recite at particular times of the year every year.

Other tips for maintaining sanity and joy?

Yes, read A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot. She lays everything out beautifully, getting First Things first.

In particular, I like her recommendation of getting out of the house by yourself from time to time. I generally spend a few hours away every Saturday. It’s restorative for me.

There are other things that help with sanity and joy too. I am thinking of a weekly Adoration hour, just for you. Then also, be sure to go to confession at least once a month. We all need it.

Lastly, if you aren’t already, pray a rosary together as a family, daily. If that seems overwhelming, just start somewhere, maybe a decade or two. The point is to start now and work towards the whole as soon as you can.

The beginning of the Second Homeschool Year and pregnant with Number 5!

Does this help? Let me know if I need to be more specific in any area. Also, if anyone else has anything to add, be sure to comment below. I tend to forget things.

P.S. If you’d like another book recommendation…read Michael O’Brien’s Landscape with Dragons. Not only does he lay out great guidelines for what makes a book good, but there’s also a book list in the back that I found helpful for children.

Book Review

Books in Brief: Summer Reading

Has anyone read anything good this summer? Today I’ll highlight a few I’ve enjoyed.

The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome

by Joseph Pearce

I recently finished Joseph Pearce’s The Quest for Shakespeare from Ignatius Press. In this book, Pearce gives all the evidence for Shakespeare’s Catholicism. I’ve always wanted to read this book, since it was published in 2008, but I never got around to it until last week. As it turns out, I was missing out!

Did you know that Shakespeare’s father was a registered recusant Catholic? Or that Shakespeare was taught by Catholics and married by a Catholic priest? Think about that and remember it was verboten to be a Catholic in England at this time under the Great Persecutor, Queen Elizabeth.

Remember the great martyrs? St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. Edmund Campion…among hundreds of others? If one wasn’t downright tortured for being Catholic, one was heavily fined for failing to attend Anglican services in the least. And guess how many Anglican services Shakespeare attended? None that we know of. And we know this because copious records were kept by the government for the express purpose of collecting fines to financially ruin Catholics.

I could go on with more interesting details, but you should just read it.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, here’s Peter Kreeft’s endorsement, “In this book, he [Pearce] proves it [Shakespeare’s Catholicism] historically. I mean proves it.” Or, perhaps you’d like Anthony Esolen’s words? “Pearce shows that Shakespeare himself was such a dutiful servant, ever dutiful to the Queen, but to God first. He does not leap to conclusions, but builds a case that is meticulous, reasonable, and convincing.”

The Quest for Shakespeare would be a great read for your high schoolers too.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp

This is another one of those books that I’ve always been meaning to read, but never did, until two weeks ago. I don’t know about you, but I grew up watching Rodger and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music and loving it. (Naturally, as little girls, we shut the movie off after the wedding because the Nazi part was too scary.) I’m so glad I finally purchased the book and read about the real Trapp family.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers was a sheer delight. There was much that the movie got right, and then, there was much that was left out too. Did you know that Maria and the Captain actually dined at a restaurant in Salzburg, sitting at a table near Hitler? (They were disgusted.) Or that after they fled to the United States, the infamous Heinrich Himmler–the main architect of the Holocaust– confiscated their estate and ruined their chapel?

Above all, I was impressed with the faith of this family. You, too, might find it inspiring. In the very least, the way in which Maria and Georg became engaged was downright sweet and comical. (The movie gets it wrong.)

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

I read this book a few years ago and had memories of laughing so hard, my sides ached. Naturally, I’d want to pick it up again, so I did.

Do you need a laugh? Do you come from a big family? Or have lots of children yourself? Then you’ll love this hilarious book.*

By the way, the book is way better than either the old movie or the new one. Both movies are a disgrace in comparison to the book.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent from Baronius Press

No, I did not read the whole catechism. Rather, my local book club, Rad Reads, read the section on marriage and then compared it to John Paul II’s catechism on marriage. It’s incredibly telling how different they are. We had lovely, heated discussions. We also read Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical, Casti Cannubii, which is also on marriage.

Now, if you want something interesting to read with your husband, pick up the Catechism of the Council of Trent, flip to the fifteen or so pages written specifically on the Sacrament of Marriage, and pour yourself a glass of wine. You won’t be disappointed.

What am I reading now?

I’m currently reading Nothing Superfluous by Rev. James Jackson, an FSSP priest, for my next Rad Reads discussion. This book details the theological meaning behind different actions and prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass. I’m really enjoying it so far.

I also hope to peruse another Dorothy Sayers detective fiction soon.

How about you?

*Note: I’d only recommend this book to a mature audience, as the older daughters tend to be worldly, etc. Also, unfortunately, there are problems with the Second Commandment.

Homeschooling

Memory Work

Most of you know that we’re a homeschooling family, and from time to time I like to review what we’re doing for memory work, which consists mostly of poetry. As some of you may be new to this, I’ll answer a few questions first.

Question #1:  How do you choose your memory work?

We memorize those poems, public addresses, Bible verses, or other literary works that we like. It’s as simple as that, but I think it’s an important point.  Your children will sniff it out immediately if they think you think a poem is dull or lame.  And you’ll hate teaching it. So don’t choose memory work that you don’t like.

For example, if all your friends’ kids are memorizing Shakespeare, but you don’t understand Shakespeare, and it makes you break out in hives just thinking about reading all that “foreign” language, then don’t do Shakespeare!  Quit stressing yourself out and pick something you do enjoy and understand.

Furthermore, If you’ve never memorized anything with your family at all, ever, don’t panic, but do begin somewhere. It’s worth it. We cannot truly own something until we’ve interiorized it, or memorized it. If you really don’t know where to begin, crack open your Bible to the book of Psalms and pick one. Go for Psalm 23 if you’re completely lost. There are obvious reasons why everyone used to have that thing memorized.

Or, if you want a book of poetry for your small children, but don’t know where to start, buy Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.  He’s just plain fun, and we love reciting Where Go the Boats and Foreign Lands this time of year. Or belting out The Swing while pushing those little sweeties back and forth on swings.

Question #2:  How do you teach a poem?

For a number of years, we always did our reciting at the breakfast table.  Usually I’d begin by reading the poem first and then let everyone else have a shot at it.  If you have five children memorizing the same poem, it really doesn’t take that long before everyone has it memorized.  Think about it.  That’s six times of hearing the same thing every morning.

A few years ago, however, we began reading the Bible at breakfast, so now our poetry has become a part of “Morning Time.” This is a half hour slot in the mid-morning when everyone comes together to review Latin vocabulary, pray, and recite.

Question #3:  Are you always memorizing new poetry?

Yes and no.  There are certain poems that we always return to because they’re family favorites.  For example, every Fall the little ones recite Autumn Fires because it’s what we’re living.  We’re really raking leaves and burning them.  And every winter we revisit Stevenson’s Wintertime and Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on Snowy Evening.  In the spring, we return to the great Catholic priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, which I mentioned in a previous post.  The summer always brings us around to a more patriotic theme with Paul Revere’s Ride and the Declaration of Independence.

But again, throughout the year, we do whatever strikes me or the children.

I also keep a running list of the poems that we’ve memorized over the years.  It’s fun to see what the children have done, and it’s good to review our favorite ones from time to time. I don’t have a problem with repeating again and again our favorites.

Question #4: What are you memorizing now?

Three Must Haves: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare, and Stevenson

At this very moment, the boys are memorizing and loving Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech. It’s from his play, Henry V. In this selection, King Henry V is encouraging his English soldiers to fight valiantly against the French, on the feast day of St. Crispin. In spite of terrible odds, they do win.

One of my little girls is reciting Hopkins’ Pied Beauty, and the other little girls are enjoying Stevenson’s Foreign Lands.

The Eldest is required to recite at her school, but she isn’t home at the moment, so I don’t know what she’s working on. (Although I think it might be some Edgar Allan Poe.)

I hope that clears a few things up.  Just ask, if you have any more questions.

Lastly…The Well Read Poem

For those of you who might want more, I came across a lovely podcast that features one poem a week, read and explained by Mr. Thomas Banks. I’m greatly enjoying it.

Monthly Picks

August Picks

As the days of summer are flitting away, our family is enjoying a little Shakespeare.  In fact, we’ve taken Fr. Z’s Sonnet A Day Challenge and are simply doing that–reading a sonnet a day.

As you may know, Shakespeare’s first twenty or so of the 154 sonnets feature the same theme: they’re all an attempt to convince a selfish, vain young man to get married and have children.  O, what perfect poetry for our culture!

August Favorites:

Favorite Collection of Poems:  Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Favorite Audible Purchase:  J.R.R. Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham.  We do also have this short story in book-form featuring other Tolkien gems, but I wanted an audio version for our trip last week.  We were not disappointed in this version read by Derek Jacobi.  It was so entertaining, our children were laughing out loud.  In fact, we all were.

Best Option For Running Gear?  You know, I like to jog a mile or two every day, and I refuse to wear just leggings.  Or shorts for that matter.  I like Capri Skirts.  I recently purchased these for running.  I love them.

Best Newspaper:  The Remnant.  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again.  This newspaper is a must.  It’s so important to have sane news coming into your home that is not necessarily shouting out of a screen.  If you don’t have a subscription, you’re missing out.  It’s worth it, if only for Michael Matt’s column.  (This week’s edition featured an article outlining the dangers of mask-wearing.  Oooo, so controversial.  Love it.)

The Girls’ Favorite Coloring Book:  Late Victorian and Edwardian Fashions, naturally.  Those Dover Coloring Books are great.

And finally, for a little humor…

Best “News” Story:  15-Passenger Vans Sold Out Nationwide…HERE!

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Homeschooling

A New Academic Year & A New Schedule

It’s the start of another school year for us, and I apologize for not getting this out sooner.

This year, however, we have a more complicated schedule as three of our children are being homeschooled (The Eldest, Child #4, and Child #5), two of our children are attending a Catholic Montessori grade school (The Twins), and the other two (Child #6 and the Baby) are just. plain. busy.

So, how do I manage it all?

With a good schedule and a lot of grace.  (And coffee, of course.)

Our New Schedule

Some of you may be curious as to how my day now looks, so I’ll break it down.*  Maybe you’ll glean an idea or two that might work for you.  Maybe not.  All families are different and have different needs, after all.

6:00am

Wake-up!  My husband and I still pray the Morning Office and end with about twenty or so minutes of silent prayer.  The three oldest children set their watch alarms and join us at 6:30 for a few minutes of their own silent prayer.  This time ends at 6:40 when the coffee maker beeps to signal that it’s ready for us, at which point I run for the kitchen and thankfully pour myself a big mug full.

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My lovely coffee pot with my favorite chipped mug.  My mother gave it to me.

6:40am

The older children commence Early Morning School, which consists of math facts, Latin, or handwriting.  The Eldest, however, does Saxon Math with my husband.

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The Twins working on a little Math and Latin this morning.

The only thing different about this time is that the two children attending the Montessori school must practice their piano in the morning, after their school work.  They only put in fifteen minutes each, but this is important because after being confined in school all day, who would want to sit down at a piano when getting home later on?  Not these boys.

While the older children are working on things that do not require my help, I sneak in a few minutes of computer time and then get ready for the day.

7:45am

My husband and The Twins leave.  The rest of us eat breakfast and commence Morning Time.  This looks pretty much the same as it did last winter.  While the children eat breakfast, I read the Mass readings and then we recite our poetry.

Right now The Eldest is back to working on a Shakespearian soliloquy, Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be.”  We had started this one earlier in the year, but had to take a break to memorize The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron for a program she’s involved with called. Catholic Schoolhouse.

Catholic Schoolhouse is a group of students who meet once a week and do some really awesome stuff.  (How’s that for an explanation?)

The little children are working on the Ten Commandments and the 46 books of the Old Testament.  A few years ago I came up with a jingle for it, to the tune of Jingle Bells.  It’s linked it below.  (It’s certainly not professional, as I simply sat down one day and recorded with talking babies and banging toddlers in the background.)  Feel free to use it, if it’s helpful.

 

You’ll notice that the first five books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – are missing.  That’s because the children already know them in order, as the law books.  You might also notice that I moved 1 & 2 Maccabees to follow the history books.  I wanted to impress upon the children the 4 kinds of books in the Old Testament: Law, History, Wisdom, and Prophetic.  As a former teacher of the Old Testament, I found it helpful to be able to distinguish between the different kinds of writing.  All the other books are in order, however.

9:00am

After breakfast clean-up and piano, it’s time for Mid-Morning Prayer.  I moved this time up a bit, because it seemed to flow a little better with the baby’s schedule.  Remember, during all this busyness, I’m somehow nursing and caring for a baby and a 2-year-old.

During this time, we’re singing two hymns and learning a new prayer penned by St. Therese.  We finish this time together with a review of all our Latin vocabulary.

9:30am

The Eldest works on her Latin from Classical Academic Press.  Child #4 does Math and Spelling.  Child #5 sits down with me, and we learn to read.

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Who doesn’t love kindergarten?  Lots of coloring and learning of sounds.  I use Seton for phonics and Bob Books for fun.

11:00am

Lunch time!  This year I have to have a longer stretch of time here because The Eldest participates in an online class on writing through Schole Academy twice a week, which happens to be during lunch.  But this class has been wonderful for two reasons:  1.  She loves it, and  2.  I don’t have to do a single thing for writing and rhetoric anymore.

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Here she is, “attending” class, with her headphones on, to block out all the background noise.

During lunch we still listen to audio books from Audible.  Currently we’re enjoying Tan’s The Story of Civilization Volume 1, as we’re studying the Ancient World in history.

And that’s enough for today!

 

 

*Care to see how my day looked last winter?  Click on “A Day in the Life Series” in my tag cloud on the right.

 

Homeschooling

A New Year of Poetry: Bearing My Fardels with a Bodkin

Now that we’re traveling into week 3 of school, I’m just starting to get a rhythm down.  I think in a week or so, I’ll post my new schedule for those of you who are curious.

But onto a specific question, what are we memorizing?

We began the year with Psalm 23, The Good Shepherd.  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”  That should give you a good look into the state of my life right now.  (Oh the agonies of buying and selling a house.  I wish it upon no one.)

I chose this Psalm to begin the year with because a.) the children already know it, b.) the children really like it, and c.) I think it’s important to start the year off with something easy and familiar.

After two weeks of that, we have moved on, however.  My eldest is now memorizing Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not To Be soliloquy.  It’s probably a little morbid for an 11-year-old, but the language is beautiful.  We had to look up a few words like quietus and bodkin and fardels*, but in all, we’ve really been enjoying it, even if we don’t understand everything Shakespeare is trying to say.  That’ll just have to come later.

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Here’s the first part.  On the next page, it goes on for another 29 lines.  I’m glad Hamlet’s conscience wins out in this speech…

The little children have returned to my favorite piece of poetry for the fall: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Autumn Fires.  It is the cutest little poem.  If you have small children, I recommend this one every single fall.  Rake yourself a big pile of leaves, play in it, then have a big bonfire and belt out Stevenson.  Here’s the ending of that little poem:

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

 

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Here are two books you might consider owning.  A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

*Quietus, bodkin, fardels – death, dagger, burden
Homeschooling

Poetry Explained

I had a few worthy questions about poetry the other day, so I thought I’d do a little explaining.  But remember, this is just what works for our family.  Your family may look a lot differently than mine and thereby have different needs and desires.

Question #1:  How do you choose your poems?

I choose poems that I like, and you should too.  I think this is really important.  Your children will sniff it out immediately if you think a poem is dull or lame.  And you’ll hate teaching it.

For example, if all your friends’ kids are memorizing Shakespeare, but you don’t understand Shakespeare, and it makes you break out in hives just thinking about reading all that “foreign” language, then don’t do Shakespeare!  Quit stressing yourself out and pick something you do like and understand.

If you’ve never done poetry before, I recommend getting a book of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry.  He’s just plain fun, and I love reciting Autumn Fires while raking and burning leaves in the fall. And all my children love belting out The Swing while pumping their little legs back and forth on swings.

Question #2:  How do you teach a poem?

We always do our reciting at the breakfast table.  Usually I read the poem first and then let everyone else have a shot at it.  For the first couple of days, though, I have the children repeat after me, but they catch on quickly.  If you have five children memorizing the same poem, it really doesn’t take that long before everyone has it memorized.  Think about it.  That’s six times of hearing the same thing every morning.

We keep at it until the poem is well memorized or I’m sick of it.  Sometimes we work on a poem for a few weeks, sometimes for two months.

Question #3:  Are you always memorizing new poetry?

Yes and no.  There are certain poems that we always return to because they’re family favorites.  I already mentioned Autumn Fires.  We do this poem every fall because it’s what we’re living.  We’re really raking leaves and burning them.  And every winter we revisit Stevenson’s Wintertime and Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on Snowy Evening.  In the spring, we always do Gerard Manley Hopkins, which I mentioned in a previous post.  The summer always brings us around to a more patriotic theme with Paul Revere’s Ride and the Declaration of Independence, which of course, is not actually poetry.

But again, throughout the year, we do whatever strikes me.  We also memorize passages of Scripture too.  (Now there’s an endless supply of good stuff!)

I also keep a running list of the poems that we’ve memorized over the years.  It’s fun to see what the children have done, but then also it’s good to review our favorite ones from time-to-time.

I hope that clears a few things up.  Just ask, if you have any more questions.