Zooming In on Our First Units: North America, Forests, and Author Studies

I’ve always been a fan of unit studies, so I love that this year’s curriculum lends itself easily to unit style learning. I know this goes against everything Charlotte Mason advocated, and I’m okay with this area of disconnect. Though I do find it funny that while she disliked unit studies, she did advocate for the study of a single artist or composer at a time… sounds a little “unit-esque” to me. 😉

In a previous post, I outlined what curricula we’re using for which subjects, and what our days look like. In my last post, “What’s in a Name“, I touched on how our weeks are structured as a whole and how we’re managing to fit in all the “fun stuff” on a regular basis. If you read those, you know I spent a significant amount of time over the summer planning out our school year. Though not necessary for all homeschoolers, I like to get a big picture of our year and then zoom in on each piece or unit, and enhance it if I can. I rearranged the countries that were outlined in My Father’s World to suit my preferences. (I wanted to study Antarctica in January rather than late spring–call me crazy–which led to rearranging the other units as well. I was happy with the result, though!) Then I added in the units from “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books, the combined 3rd and 1st grade sciences, and the author studies for first grade.

So here’s a “zoomed in” look at our first units: studying the countries of North America, forests and deserts, and author studies on Laura Numeroff plus the start of Eric Carle.

We started in the U.S.A. with a review of what we were learning last year through our exploration of United States history. We also began our unit on forests. Both curricula we’re using this year call for quite a bit of notebooking and rather than try to make it all work together and exasperate my children with an intense amount of writing and recording, I decided we’d make a mural out of butcher paper for each ecosystem studied in lieu of an ecosystem notebook. It makes a nice addition to our homeschool decor and it’s fun to see the scene come together over time.

While studying deciduous forests, we used our home field advantage and took several nature walks and field trips around the area. We’re attempting to take a nature walk every week this year but in addition to that, we climbed Mt. Wachusett, hiked Quabbin Reservoir, and took other walks off the beaten path…

To help keep Emmalyn included in our studies, she had her own “units” on trees, leaves, autumn, and the changing colors. I also found these cute “cut & paste” papers on ecosystems for preschoolers. They are a great way to practice those scissor and glue skills and make a nice addition to our mural! We did lots of nature collecting on our walks and made these neat field guides with leaf prints on the covers. In the end, we had a pretty awesome forest mural happening…

After the United States, we hit Canada, while staying within our forest unit. This allowed us to expand to talking about coniferous forests as well. (You may have noticed the very hastily completed “pine tree” that graced our forest mural…) While studying Canada, we made “Inuit sculptures” out of soap, and “poutine” for dinner one night!

Before I talk about Mexico, I should mention our author studies. When Abby was in first grade, I split the curriculum into two years because I started her schooling at a young age. So with only half of a one-year curriculum to complete, it was easy to fit in monthly author studies with their own lessons. This year, we are essentially trying to do 3 different curricula in one year PLUS the author studies, so it’s not as easy to do all the lessons. But just as Charlotte Mason saw the value in studying a single artist or composer at one time, I still see the value in zooming in on a single author to study their voice, style, and genre. We may not do all the lessons and activities that I wrote a couple years ago, but we still learn a little something about each author as we go. We began with Laura Numeroff and transitioned into Eric Carle when we started Mexico because his books are easily found in Spanish and I thought it would be fun to do some side-by-side reading! Eric Carle’s art is really fun, too, so we did find a way to fit that in! To find out how I structured those author studies when Abby was in first grade and to download the material for FREE, click the links for Laura Numeroff and Eric Carle.

On to Mexico! And deserts! We finished up North America by spending an AMPLE amount of time in Mexico; reading Spanish picture books, studying deserts, making plenty of tortillas and churros from scratch, blasting mariachi music while we cleaned the house on “Work Wednesdays”, and I even found an old movie I watched as a kid called “Friendship’s Field” about a family who hired Mexican workers to help them on their farm in the 1960s–that brought back memories! Capped it off with a family dinner at a local cantina and decided our homemade salsa was just a little bit better. 😉

Next, we head to Africa and continue our desert study. Hopefully I can get that post up soon!

6 Weeks In: What Our Homeschool Looks Like This Year

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this. There’s a laundry basket full of clothes to be folded, another load that needs to be started, new clothes from birthdays that need to be put away, and I still need to solidify my lesson plans for the upcoming week. But I’ve been in this cycle for about 6 weeks now (school work, house work, repeat) with no end in sight and decided I needed to just force myself to break it this once–even if it means I’ll be “behind” for a day or so. These past weeks since we started school have been CRAZY. I am overwhelmed, I feel overworked, I am exhausted, a little depressed, but I am also grateful. Overwhelmed because there is so much good stuff I want to do/read/incorporate in our homeschool. Overworked because schooling kids with a baby and toddlers in tow is exhausting. Every time I go to do SOMEthing, I am interrupted by a little one with very real and very immediate needs (hunger, diaper, potty, runny nose, etc). Exhausted because of both those things, plus if I ever DO get a break from the needs of the children, there are dishes, laundry, or that email I started 2 days ago but haven’t finished or sent yet. (Yes, this has happened on more than one occasion recently and is entirely out of character for me.) I have been depressed because I set out this year aiming to truly “teach from rest” and I don’t feel like that’s what I’ve been doing because I’m so exhausted. But I am so grateful for this time with my children. I’m grateful for the hard days we have together when I get to witness some really touching interactions or triumphant breakthroughs. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and explore with my children.

First day of school!

But let’s talk practically for a minute. Even though the days are hard, things ARE getting done. So… how? If you are thinking of homeschooling, or already homeschool and are trying to figure out a rhythm, you’re in GREAT company. We’re all trying to figure out our rhythm. These past 6 weeks have been our testing period. And now that I think we have a new groove to settle into, we’ll keep at it for 6 more weeks or so and then reassess. I’ll let you know if it’s still working then. For now, here’s how our days look:

I’ve got Abby in 3rd grade using My Father’s World ECC (Exploring Countries and Cultures), Noah in 1st grade using My Father’s World Learning God’s Story, Emmalyn doing her first year of preschool, and Elijah (2) and Logan (6 months) tagging along. I knew that structuring this year was going to be tricky so I spent much of the summer gathering our supplements and drafting a rough plan for our year. That way I’d be able to spend time during the school year working on our daily schedule and I’d never have to wonder “what’s next” theme-wise. This school year is unit-based and one of the things “teaching from rest” means to me is that each unit can be as long or as short as we feel like while we’re in it. We are exploring countries and cultures, and I fully anticipate that we’ll be more interested in some than others so we’ll explore accordingly. Math and ELA will still be done everyday at our own pace.

What We’re Adding On: We are supplementing with another literature-based world geography curriculum called “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books. I am so in love! I think the countries we learn about from this curriculum will be our favorites. Their book lists are short and quality choices. I bought the art supplies from the BF supply list and we are excited to get our paint on and improve our skills! It’s going to be a beautiful year! I’m counting this and any other art projects we do from the book Global Art as our art for the year.

For music we are using Simply Charlotte Mason’s Music Study with the Masters: Chopin. I plan to use my own piano skills to teach a few things and if Abby wants to further explore the instrument, hopefully she can take lessons next year. This year was just too crazy! We’re also using the MFW 1st grade music: a study on Peter and the Wolf. Speaking of my own skills… we’re learning Spanish this year! Or, I’m teaching Spanish to my children this year. Slowly and gently. I love the website languagelearningathome.com for help with this.

For science, we are learning about the different ecosystems that coincide with our countries by region. I’m using the MFW 3rd grade resources for this, but I also went through their 1st grade science and pulled experiments that I liked and could link to different ecosystems and fit them into my outline.

First Ecosystem: Forest

First grade is my author study year, so we are doing that as well, though not quite as in-depth as we did it when Abby was in 1st grade. We have a lot going on! But I still want to incorporate them as much as possible and I chose a few different authors that I thought would appeal more to Noah. For more information about what I do with author studies, check out that post from a couple years ago.

Starting our Eric Carle & Spanish book unit!

How We Structure Our Days:

7:30 breakfast/family devotions: We are reading through the book of Matthew, focusing on Proverbs for Noah, and using Window on the World to talk about missionaries around the world.

8:00 Kitchen Crew/Preschool Time: Abby, Noah, and Randy make up the “kitchen crew” and they are in charge of getting the kitchen cleaned after breakfast. Emmalyn, Elijah, Logan and I head to the living room for “preschool.” Over the summer I picked preschool units to coincide with the rest of our school. Some “match” clearly, others don’t and are separate themes. We do a lot of interactive play, sensory activities, puzzles, singing, work on motor skills, block building, etc. This is basically time I get to spend with the little kids right away to help satisfy their desire for mommy time. I’m not saying it magically makes them play on their own for the rest of the day, but I do believe it helps soften the blow when I can’t give them the attention they want later.

Matching letters!

8:30 Morning Work/Continue Preschool Time: Randy leaves for work and Abby and Noah are to start their morning work/individual work. This includes daily math, handwriting, spelling, and simple worksheets that reinforce what was discussed the day before, etc. They each have a list that I type out the night before and paper clip it to whatever work the are to do on their own.

9:00 Table Work: We are all at the kitchen table; Emmalyn and Eli are probably coloring or Emmalyn might have a specific worksheet or activity to do. I also have tactile boxes for them that I’m putting together for each of our ecosystem units, which they can use and play with at this time. I help Abby and Noah with their ELA and reading. Usually I’ll help Abby first and then she does 15 minutes of silent reading while I do reading instruction with Noah.

10:00 Snack/Math (Just what it sounds like!) Emmalyn and Eli have been dismissed from the table by this point and are playing independently or maybe watching a toddler DVD.

That is our basic morning schedule and when those things are done, we fit in science, geography, art, music, and more when we can. And to be honest, sometimes the morning schedule goes longer than I’d like. As I was typing them out, I was thinking “hmm, this doesn’t seem so bad, so why do I feel so stressed out?” Well it’s because our mornings are constantly interrupted (we do have a baby and a potty-training toddler). We are not schooling in a vacuum. The transitions between subjects can sometimes be a hassle in a small space, as well. But we are getting the hang of it. I’ve had to come to the conclusion that I can still teach from rest and be tired, because I have a baby. Babies are tiring. Plain and simple. So I’m giving myself grace on that end. I’m going to be tired for a little while longer, and that’s okay.

Morning Work

After I got our year and our days structured, I thought I was done. Turns out I wasn’t. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And that’s another blog post of its own, hopefully I can get around to it soon!

A weekend planning session at its finest!