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Many of you have had questions about our homeschooling journey, how we do things, materials, we use, etc. I have attempted to write this post to answer your questions at least three times, and even as I sit down to write a fourth time, I'm still uncertain if what I'm going to say will make any sense. The truth is, I still feel so little and inexperienced at all of this. Perhaps that feeling never goes away? I guess I'll have to wait another three years to find out. Until then, here are the answers to your questions. If you have any other questions, please write them in the comments section, and I will do my best to answer them.
1. How did your homeschooling journey start?
One day in January 2012, I had a meeting with preschool teachers and administration about Dinomite's behaviors. It did not go well. The next day I decided to keep Dinomite home. Someone had said to me, I couldn't know for certain that the behaviors were being caused by school. I put this theory to the test. Within three days of being home, Dinomite's negative behaviors disappeared.
Bulldozer attended the same school as Dinomite at the time It didn't make sense to send one and not the other. I pulled both out of school permanently, with the plan to homeschool. I didn't know how. I didn't have resources. I had no clue what I was doing. Fortunately, the kiddos didn't know what we were doing either, so we learned together.
2. When you first started homeschooling, what was it like?
The first few months of homeschooling are a complete blur to me. I do remember that learning time took place during nap time. I created a simple preschool syllabus for the kiddos. Each month I chose one theme, and then broke it down into four parts, for a four week study. For example:
Week 1: Percussion
X is for Xylophone
Number of the Week: 12
Week 2: Brass
T is for Trumpet
Number of the Week: 13
Week 3: Strings
V is for Violin
Number of the Week: 14
Week 4: Woodwinds
O is for Oboe
Number of the Week: 15
I created a weekly planning template, and used it to plan out each week of lessons and activities. I also used a workbook for each of the kiddos. Workbooks were supplemental to all the other activities. Dinomite was fairly easy to teach. Bulldozer needed constant one-to-one assistance. Princess was always ready for battle, no matter the task at hand. Sunshine is a combination of Princess and Bulldozer.
3. Do you continue to use workbooks?
We continue to use workbooks as supplemental materials on a daily basis. The kiddos each have one School Zone workbook. They complete one to two pages each day. I feel this is important for several reasons. It's a short activity that helps their writing skills. The process teaches them how to read directions and solve problems in workbook form. It's a skill the kiddos need to learn for state testing, and for all of the paperwork they will have to fill out as adults on a regular basis. In my opinion, it's a practical life skill. The workbooks also help the kiddos review material in a different form than what's on the shelves,thus helping them generalize skills.
4. How did you know what you were supposed to do when you started homeschooling?
I contacted our school district right away. They sent me a packet of information, which included everything I would need to know to meet their requirements. I also became a member of HSLDA. Whenever I had further questions about the homeschooling process, someone there was always just a phone call away.
5. How and when did you decide to teach using the Montessori Method or in a Montessori-Inspired manner?
Each kiddo responded differently to lessons, activities, crafts, etc. Over time, I noticed that all three kiddos responded very well to activity ideas I found at Counting Coconuts. I learned these were Montessori activities. The only problem was, I didn't know what Montessori was. Thankfully, Counting Coconuts has a fabulous Montessori Resources & Recommendations page I could go to. I checked out every book our local library exchange had, that was on the recommendation list and started reading. The process of reading and studying all of the books took about 3 months. I then spent time in our local Montessori preschool, observing, asking questions, and learning more about the materials. By the end of a 3 month period, I was hooked.
6. How did you go about implementing the Montessori Method into your learning time?
Each year I've introduced the kiddos to a new aspect of Montessori. For me, it was too overwhelming to do it any other way. The first year I focused on the presentation of activities. I put shelves in our classroom. Individual activities were placed on trays. Trays were either Melissa & Doug wooden containers from toys my kiddos had received during the holidays, or plastic drawers for organizing papers. I used what I had on hand at home. My collection of tiny containers and manipulatives slowly began to grow with each new unit. Initial containers were Pyrex storage containers from my kitchen. I still love to use them. Manipulatives came from the local dollar store or craft store, and still do. Thrift stores also have some pretty great materials to use.
My second year of homeschooling, I decided to implement the Preschool Montessori Curriculum. This can be found at Montessori Print Shop for a small fee. In order to follow the curriculum, I found it important to either have Montessori Materials, or to learn how to make my own. In almost every situation, I've found or created my own alternatives. When finances permitted, I started purchasing the real materials.
This year, I'm trying to implement the uninterrupted 3 hour working period. It hasn't been the easiest thing to do. It's a good thing we have a whole year to work on things.
I encourage you to progress slowly in your adaptation to whatever method you choose. Not only do you need time to learn and grow, but your kiddos do too. You can't pull off everything at once, unless you've received professional training, and even then, you still have to move at a pace that's comfortable for everyone.
7. Is a syllabus important?
A syllabus for the year is required by our school district. I break mine down by month. The process is extremely time consuming, and at times very difficult and frustrating, but it has been so beneficial. The best way to keep my sanity and to make sure the kiddos are learning everything they need to know is to have a syllabus to go by. I design mine using the Montessori Curriculum and the table of contents of the kiddos' workbooks. (The Montessori Curriculum does not include all that our state requires.) For a sample of my monthly syllabus, click HERE.
8. How did you go about finding Montessori printables to use?
When I started my Montessori journey, I spent A LOT of time searching for free printables. I'm at a point now where I have my go to resources which include the following blogs:
1. Montessori Nature
2. Living Montessori Now
3. The Pinay Homeschooler
4. Trillium Montessori
5. The Kavanaugh Report
6. Montessori Print Shop
7. Montessori for Everyone
9. Suzie's Home Education Ideas
10. Making Montessori Ours
When I can't find exactly what I want, or it's faster to create my own, I do! If you haven't checked out our Free Printables page yet, you're missing out. Don't forget to check out our Tot & Preschool Free Printables also.
9. What other materials have you found helpful to use in your classroom?
When we practice writing and art techniques, the kiddos use lined & unlined white boards with erasable crayons, markers etc. The kiddos also have writing journals. Other materials we use on a daily basis include our math fact and sight word cards.
10. What materials do you use to teach your kiddos how to read?
I am a HUGE fan of BOB Books! All of my kiddos (so far) have learned to read using these books. I start out with Level 1 and have the kiddos progress all the way through Level 5. Each day, the kiddos read their latest BOB book to either Jason or myself. They continue to read the same book every night until they get all the words right. Then, they move on to the next one. Whether they learn to sound out the words, like Princess does, or memorize the words, like Dinomite and Bulldozer, by the time they've finished Level 5, they know how to read extremely well. When they've graduated from the BOB Books, they start choosing their own books to read.
11. Where do you find books to read to your children?
Due to a lack of finances early on in our homeschooling experience, I could not purchase books. Instead I learned to take advantage of our inter-library exchange program. Whatever our local library doesn't have, usually a library within the program does. As long as I order the books a week in advance, I usually have everything I need for a unit. As time has passed, and our finances are more secure, I still find this system to be the best for our family, especially when it comes to storage. I love not having to worry about housing rows and rows of books.
12. When do you fit reading into your homeschool schedule?
In the morning, before Mommy or Daddy come to tell the kiddos it's time to get up, they are welcome to read silently in bed. During learning time, the kiddos each practice reading their BOB Books to me. I read aloud to my kiddos while they're eating their lunch. My husband and I also read with the kiddos before bed.
13. How do you create a weekly unit?
Using my monthly syllabus, I map out what topics I want to cover each week. I know that my weekly shelf set up includes 3-4 language activities, 3-4 math activities, 3-4 science experiments/activities, 3-4 culture/geography activities, 2-3 practical life activities, 2-3 sensorial activities, and 2-3 art and music activities. I have 3 kiddos I work with, and rotate activities out on a weekly basis. You may not need this many activities for each subject, or you may decide to leave them on the shelves for a longer period of time. The set up above, does not include six activities for Sunshine each week.
I try to keep my activities similar to the weekly and monthly theme, although sometimes that's not always possible. When it comes to coming up with ideas, I use Pinterest a lot, and then do a lot of browsing around each week for ideas at craft stores and dollar stores. Most often, my husband and I sit down together, and work through ideas we have individually. I love that he's such a part of learning time. Lately, as I've had less and less time, and financial resources have become available, I've created less activities and use Montessori Materials instead.
14. What does your homeschooling budget look like?
My biggest expense is ink for my printer. This costs me $35 each month. I buy a package of cardstock and sometimes printer paper each month. This costs me $6. Then I spend $50-$100 a month on other supplies such as manipulatives, arts and crafts materials, sensory bin contents etc. I am a regular at our local craft store and dollar store. When I'm shopping I have one rule for myself. I have to be able to think of an activity in detail, that I can create, using whatever cute manipulative I have found, and am holding in my hand, at that very moment. If I can't think of an activity, I don't buy it! This rule saves me a A LOT of money! I know if I think of something later, I can always go back to the store and get the item if I truly need it.
I do have one time a year expenses, such as laminating paper, writing journals, and workbooks, but that doesn't cost me more than $100 all at once. I also have one time expenses such as my laminator and materials I've mentioned earlier in this post, like BOB books, white boards etc.
All of our reading materials and other items used in learning time (such as videos) are borrowed from our local library.
Now that finances allow, I do try to purchase a few new Montessori Materials each month.
15. What do you do on days when you aren't fully prepared or sick?
When a new unit isn't ready, or something else is going on, we usually do a random field trip or write in our journals, do a workbook pages, practice math facts/sight words and writing, and read together. It is very rare that we don't do anything during the course of a day. If I'm really sick, we may just cuddle up on the couch and read or watch educational videos all day. In my yearly syllabus, I try to plan for about a month to 6 weeks of make up time, to make sure I cover everything I need to. Whether it be vacations, holidays, sickness, or whatever, you will have times when you aren't able to do homeschooling with your kiddos. As long as you plan for make up time, you'll be okay!
Thank you for making this journey so incredible! When I started, I never anticipated sharing it with my readers in the way I do today.