So what does our day look like? For starters, we personally do not follow a set schedule and the clock poses as just a suggestion. For some homeschooling families, following a set schedule with specific times works for them, and that's wonderful, but families need to realize that what works for one family may not work for another and that's fine too. What I do have, is a visual list of the subjects that ideally I would like to cover for that week. It's also an easy way for the kids to pick and choose how they would like to schedule their day. Like any teacher in the classroom, with children on multiple levels of learning, I walk around and go from one child to the next and offer assistance or guidance when needed, as well as teaching subjects in "group learning". No, things are not always calm, or go according to plan, but we definitely do our best. By the end of the year when I look back, as I make sure the portfolios are in order, I am always pleasantly surprised with how much we have learned and how much we have grown as a family.
Sometime during the summer, before the start of the new school year, I take out my two large wall calendars. One calendar is for the family which has everything from doctor appointments to art classes on it. The other calendar is the one I base our homeschool year of learning around. I begin by marking in all of the Jewish holidays (if they are not already listed), then I fill in all of the Chassidic holidays or special days. (I also take note of the weekly Torah portion.) Once that is done, I pencil in which books and resources I plan to use for teaching the upcoming special days as well as when I would like to start. These include books on the significance of the actual days, laws and customs, history books and even science books. You would be surprised at how much history and science alone you can cover this way, all while keeping a beautiful connection to Torah.
There is a secular History website that my kids have thoroughly enjoyed over the years. I allow them to pick what interests them, and after we have disgussed it, we write down what they have learned. and add it to their portfolio. www.havefunwithhistory.com
Another incredible resource that a mother recommended to me a couple of years ago, is www.learningally.org . If you have any child in the family with any sort of reading disability or learning disability, this is a gold mind. There are hundreds of books covering every and any subject for all ages. I can't recommend this site highly enough. I very much prefer a Charlotte Mason way of learning, so this has also been an easy and relaxing way to enhance the children's education. www.amblesideonline.org offers a free curriculum for every grade which I also like to use as a guidline. Keep in mind that when they say "year 1", "year 2" etc... it does not necessarily go by grade, but rather by level.
For Geography, my all time favorite is to use a variety of different maps with musical audio CD's by Kathy Troxel. I knew I was onto something a few years ago when my then, preschooler and first grader, proudly began to sing all of the Northern border, Southern border, Easter border and Pacific states.
When any kind of educational audio CD is playing, it is also a great time to encourage quiet creative play or art. I try to include which different audio CD's would be appropriate for certain times during the months on our homeschool calendar, ie, stories of Chassidim, holidays, weekly Torah portion etc, but I have not done this every year. Sometimes it's just easier to go according to my iTunes playlist that I put together according to the Jewish months. Even when the kids or mommy are feeling under the weather, they can be logging school hours from audio books and educational CD's.
For foreign language we have chosen to stick with the Hebrew language, however, since having special needs kids, a few years ago we have added sign language to our curriculum as well. There are a few really nice sign language apps, but my absolute favorite way to teach kids sign language is to use the Signing Time videos by Two Little Hands Productions. I have used them for years, and only recently discovered that for $10 per month or $100 per year, you get full access to their entire DVD collection. Her DVD's have been a life saver for us. www.signingtime.com/subscribe Who knows, maybe one of our children will even decide to take this further.
A wise homeschool mother once told me that about every six months, she stops to re-evaluate the growing needs of her family or if they need to adjust or change the curriculum in any way. One year I was so excited to follow a specific book series for Jewish history that I had found on Artscroll. It worked great, but about halfway through the school year, I sensed the kids needed a change. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that you can adjust things as needed as soon as you feel the need, whether it's the curriculum, the room where your typically do your homeschooling or the seating arrangements. We typically float from the dining room table, to the couch, to the carpet, to quiet reading in bed, and in the warmer months, to the great outdoors. (One of my boys finished reading most of a specific book that I had assigned him, while lying down on the outdoor trampoline.)
What would my advice be to homeschooling families just beginning on this journey? Relax! I definitely put too much pressure on myself in the beginning and my expectations were too high. I was tense, the kids were tense and academics definitely took the front row seat in the house, when there is so much more to homeschooling then that. There is Midos, character, responsibility, household chores, Derech Eretz, connecting with each other, working on family dynamics, being a mentch and simply cultivating a love for Hashem and His Torah.
No matter which path you choose, whether it be homeschooling or traditional schooling, may we all be blessed to have Shalom, peace in our home, nachas from each other, a home full of love, laughter, joy and simcha. May we be able to raise children who constantly feel the love of Hashem, see the beauty of Torah experience it's warmth and understand its depth. May we merit to welcome Moshiach speedily in our days.
Photos by Mendel B