And of course, we’ve started homeschooling. We started our year on Monday, 12 August, using the Little Hands to Heaven curriculum published by Heart of Dakota. Overall, homeschooling is going very well. When I asked Alexa, the first day, if she wanted to do school, her first response was “No! Lexa doesn’t want to go to school!” After I explained that she didn’t have to go anywhere, that we could do school right here at home, she was eager to try it. She watched as I took the curriculum guide and children’s Bible (The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes) off the shelf and excitedly announced, “It’s time to read!” I explained to her that we would read, but first, we would pray and ask God to help us learn, and then we had a finger play to do, after which we would read from the Bible.
Those always are the first three things we do—pray, do the finger play, and read the Bible. (The finger play is a rhyme that teaches the sound of the letter we’re working on that week and reinforces the Bible story; for example, the first one started with “A-a-Adam! Can you believe? God made the animals, and you and me.” It has motions to help the student both enjoy and remember it.) After that, the activities vary a little from day to day. Every day, there’s a letter activity of some sort, a Bible activity that teaches other skills while coordinating closely with the Bible story, and a musical selection from The Singing Bible. Once a week, there is an art activity, an active exploration (for example, during the second week—“B/Noah’s Ark”—we put different items in the bathtub to see what floats and what doesn’t), a devotion from Big Thoughts for Little People, dramatic play (in which we act out the Bible story), and a math activity that also ties in to the Bible story (but that doesn't always have much to do with math).
Alexa always asks to read first, but I always refuse. The opening prayer isn’t part of the curriculum, but I believe it’s important, so we do that first anyway. I like to do the finger play next, as the curriculum is written, because it provides an overview of the whole week’s Bible lessons. The Bible story itself consists of what we adults would consider only part of the story—during week 2, we didn’t read the entire story of Noah in one day. Instead, we read it in five parts: Noah builds a big boat, the animals go into the boat, it rains for days and days, Noah and his family are safe, and proud men build the Tower of Babel (ok, this one didn’t totally fit the Noah-themed week, but I’m impressed with how well they’ve gotten each story into a five-day format). So by doing the finger play first, we get the overview; then we move into the specifics on which the rest of the day’s activities focus.
I honestly did not expect Alexa to enjoy school as much as she does. She often doesn’t like to do the wild, crazy physical play that’s typical of preschoolers, as she has an aversion to acting “silly,” so I expected her to resist the finger plays. Instead, she enjoys them, often asking to do them again, and she readily shows them to her Daddy in the evening. She also is learning from them—she already recognizes all of the letters, which limits the usefulness of some of the other activities, but she’s learning the sounds letters make through these finger plays. She also loves some of the other activities, during which she’s learning skills like cutting and gluing. And she’s still asking me to repeat last week’s active exploration activity—“Lexa wants to see what floats!”
I am happy that we chose to start school with Little Hands to Heaven. It’s very much the sort of activities I would expect in a good Christian preschool, but with the added benefit of being able to do it at home. We started out thinking of this curriculum as our test curriculum, to see if Alexa is ready for preschool (she most definitely is!), and as a supplement to whichever main (read: more expensive) curriculum we would choose. However, Alexa is doing so well and learning so much from this curriculum that I’m convinced it would serve well as a sole preschool curriculum.
We’re still not going to use it that way, though. The difference is that I’ve started thinking of the other curriculum—the one that was supposed to be the main one, with Little Hands as a supplement—as the supplemental curriculum, with Little Hands as the main one, providing the phonics and concentrated Bible learning that I want Alexa to have this year. I’m able to have this change in thinking because of another change we’ve decided to make.
Last time I posted about homeschooling, we had decided to use the preschool curriculum developed by Timberdoodle, although a strong part of me still wanted so badly to use Sonlight. Just a few days after announcing that decision, I met a mother here who uses Sonlight to teach her now-kindergarten daughter. She kindly offered to loan us the instructor’s guide for Sonlight’s P3/4 (3/4-year-old preschool) curriculum so we could look over it and make a truly informed decision about its strengths and weaknesses. She told me that her daughter’s favorite subjects are math and science, and as a kindergartener, she’s learning basic addition and subtraction. I gratefully accepted the loan, and as I looked over the guide, I was surprised. While there really didn’t seem to be much math in there, the science books impressed me: Our Animal Friends at Maple Hills Farm and The Usborne Flip-Flap Body Book. There also was a book for social studies—Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?—and there were poetry books. There even were a couple of games to help with spatial relationships (a math skill) and memory. The bulk of the curriculum did consist of fairy tales, classic children’s stories, and other literature, but the basic building blocks of science, social science, and even math were in there. Truth be told, I liked what I saw of Sonlight’s science better than what I saw of Timberdoodle’s.
As I looked through Sonlight’s P3/4 instructor guide, I felt more drawn to it than ever. I wanted Alexa to hear these stories. But I also wanted Alexa to have the best possible preparation for the most important task of school: learning to think critically—to understand, evaluate, and use information. So I looked again at the Timberdoodle curriculum, and I realized something: There are three reasons why I was so drawn to Timberdoodle in the first place. What are those reasons? Simply put, they are Language Lessons for Little Ones, Mathematical Reasoning, and Building Thinking Skills. There certainly are other things in the curriculum that look fun, educational, and interesting, but the main reason I had gotten hooked on the idea of Timberdoodle was these three workbooks that lay a groundwork for critical and mathematical reasoning skills. And I wanted Alexa to begin learning these skills early, just as much as I wanted her to hear and love those stories in the Sonlight curriculum.
I told Jeff what I had found in the Sonlight instructor’s guide. I told him what I had realized about the attraction that Timberdoodle held for me. I asked him to look through the Sonlight materials and to look again at the Timberdoodle website. I wasn’t confident that we had made the right decision, but I also wasn’t confident that we hadn’t. I needed his wisdom and his direction. Jeff looked at all the information I had found, and he agreed with my conclusions: We want the Sonlight curriculum, and we also want explicit teaching of those reasoning skills from the Timberdoodle workbooks.
So we have a new plan: We’re currently using, and will continue to use for this academic year, Little Hands to Heaven as our primary phonics and Bible curriculum. We have ordered Sonlight's P3/4 curriculum, and when it arrives, we will add it as a literature and science supplement; of course, we’ll use the full curriculum, so there will be more than literature and science added. Whenever we decide all three of us are ready—probably sometime next spring or summer—we will add the three workbooks from Timberdoodle as a critical thinking and mathematical reasoning supplement; we're not convinced that Alexa is ready for workbooks just yet. We don’t have a concrete plan for next fall, the beginning of Alexa’s PreK year, but there is a good chance that we’ll continue using some pieced-together curriculum consisting of parts (or all) of one or more curricula, plus an early handwriting program and possibly a beginning math program. We’ll decide the specifics of next year’s curriculum after we’re farther along into this year and can see more clearly what works best for our little learner*.
*Part of seeing more clearly what works best for our little learner will involve applying information that we expect to gather from Cathy Duffy’s book 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, which I ordered last night on the recommendation of a friend who’s been homeschooling successfully for years. She told me that the first half of the book helps the reader to determine the learning styles of both the student and the teacher. It also introduces the reader to different philosophies of education and how those philosophies work with different learning and teaching styles. The remainder of the book reviews homeschool curricula with various approaches. After reading this book, we may decide to forsake all three of our current curricula, we may decide that we stumbled upon the right mix from the start, or we may decide anything in between.