A Homeschool Beginning

Around the time James was born, Jeremy and I began discussing the possibility of homeschooling our children. As we talked, we discovered that we were both drawn to a classical form of education. For me, this was born from having read C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis had a classical education and when you read his books you quickly realize just how deep is his knowledge of the great works of literature. There’s this cozy familiarity, this love, of good and wonderful stories, poems and works of philosophy. I wanted that for my children, and God, in his great goodness, gave me a husband who also desired that for his kids!

And last month, we got started! So here’s what homeschooling looks like for us these days. Every weekday morning, James, June and I have Tea Time together. This is a time for us to pray, read and discuss a part of the Bible, sing beautiful hymns and recite some lovely poetry together. We usually end Tea Time by reading a book aloud on the couch. We just finished reading Pinocchio last week; if you’ve only ever read the Disney version, the original by Carlo Collodi is so much darker, deeper and more wonderful. James loved it! Now we’re reading Up One Pair of Stairs, which is part of the My Book House series. We’re really enjoying it, too. June flits in and out of the room as we read, but James is captivated.

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One of the stories in Up One Pair of Stairs is called The Owl’s Answer to Tommy and it tells the tale of a lazy boy who asks an owl where he might find a brownie (a house elf who’d do household chores while the family slept) to do his chores for him. The owl ends up telling him, “All children are brownies.” James looked at me with huge eyes when I read that part of the story. And then the other morning Jeremy left early for school and James was the first of the rest of us to arise from bed. When we joined him downstairs, he proudly told me he’d been a little brownie and swept the floor and tidied up his all his toys. (I just wanted to squish him hearing that!)

The other part of homeschooling involves teaching James to read. He has been ready for reading for some time, but I hadn’t found a curriculum that I was happy with. We’d tried two books (Teach a Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Alpha Phonics), but they share a similar problem: they sneak in words that don’t follow the rules, and don’t explain the exceptions.

For example, the book would say, “Have the child read the following words” and then would follow a list like so:

Can you spot the problem with that list? Well, if you are teaching James that “S” says “ssssss” and you come to “has”, he will pronounce it “hassss” and no amount of “well, in this situation it actually says ‘zzzz'” will make him change the pronunciation. And no wonder! We all like rules that are consistent!

So, anyways, after much frustration and much internet research, I finally found an absolutely excellent program called Logic of English that teaches children to read in a logical, step by step manner, explaining everything. It’s been a godsend. It’s thorough, the explanations are clear and logical, and it slowly builds on what has already been learned.

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We work through one lesson a day, and that lesson involves a number of things:
– phonogram practice, that is, saying all the sounds of a letter. For example, A has three sounds: ah, ay and aw. Ah as in mat, ay as in table, aw as in father. And S has two sounds: ssss and zzzz! 🙂 (If you have an iPad or an iPhone, there is a really helpful app for phonogram practice that only costs $2.99.)
– blending sounds
– handwriting practice
– spelling words
– reading

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I lean more towards being a no frills kind of teacher, but sometimes I forget that James is just four years old. And four-year olds love to have fun, right? 🙂 So we do the silly games suggested in the textbook: reading a word, then acting it out – run, jump, spin, etc. Or the phonogram march game, where if James says the phonogram sounds correctly he gets to take one giant step and if he gets it wrong he gets sent back to the beginning. So dramatic and thrilling!

The handwriting portion was pretty frustrating in the beginning, but in the last few days something has really clicked and James is making great strides in his writing. We are actually teaching him cursive first as you can see (if you’re wondering why, here’s a very helpful explanation.). James wrote his first word in cursive the other day: dad! 🙂

I think part of the reason for tying reading with writing is that actually writing out the letter helps kids to really know that letter. James used to mix up his Bs and Ds quite regularly, but since he’s started writing Ds he rarely mixes them up anymore.

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Okay, seriously, look at those letters! Aren’t they grand? I’m so proud of him! 🙂

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One thing I wasn’t really expecting was how tenderly James would respond to different forms of praise. The book had suggested having James write several letters at a time and then putting a star beside the best one. James’s heart nearly burst when I wrote a little star beside one of his letters, he was just so pleased with it. Today he was so tickled with a star I gave him he wanted to give me a sun in return. He named the bigger sun James and the littler sun June. 🙂

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So, that is what homeschooling looks like for us right now: Tea Time in the morning, a reading lesson during June’s nap and reading lots of books aloud. It’s pretty low-key and James is loving it so far.


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