Our homeschool year in review: a look back at first grade. What worked, what didn’t, and frequently asked questions.
With the culmination being Hailey’s end of year testing last week, I have officially declared that our regular scheduled schooling is on break for summer! We are still doing fun workbook pages everyday (I chose these for the girls) and reading, but it’s definitely more unschooling/relaxed homeschool vibe for summertime.
I am in a little bit of disbelief that we’ve been doing this for 2 years. I never pictured myself homeschooling, but honestly have a hard time imagining it any other way now. Here is why we choose to homeschool and how long we plan to do it, in case you’re catching up.
The fall will bring some new excitement, as I’ll have a second grader and a kindergartner. Also, we will be attending co-op two days a week instead of one. But before we get into what is to come, I want to take a look back at our 1st grade homeschool year to see what worked for us and what did not.
Things That Worked Well in Our Homeschool Year
Subjects we can all do together. This includes science, Beautiful Feet, and read alouds. It’s so nice to approach a topic together rather than have to play ping pong back and forth between the subjects/levels with the girls. We have to split for language arts and math, though Kaitlyn is usually interested and listens along with Hailey’s lessons, too.
Co-op. Our co-op is structured a little differently than most co-ops. Most I know of, the parents must teach a subject in one of the time blocks, usually something like baking, STEM, physical education, etc, and it’s mostly used as a social structure.
Ours is academic-focused (science, math, language arts, and history), has trained conductors (teachers) for the classes, and is even expanding next year to include electives like Spanish and typing. My girls love it and the women/moms that run it are incredibly passionate about what they do. I feel fortunate to be a part of the group, especially because I take full advantage of the drop-off option and use that time to work.
Audiobooks in the car. Our co-op is not close by. We drive 45 minutes one way, so audio books have been such a blessing for us! A few favorites have been: Little House on the Prairie, The Tale of Despereaux, and multiple Jim Weiss CDs- a favorite being this one. The girls also like listening to Stories Podcast.
Games. We still play Sum Swamp. We play a lot of card games, like War (and addition war), chess, and recently I introduced them to Scrabble. It was a slow process, but they both were really into it, so I bought Scrabble for Kids, and can’t wait for it to arrive this week!
Multiple Maths. I feel like the system failed me with math when I was growing up. I always did fine grade-wise but felt I was always just kind of pushed along and tried to keep my head above water. Because of that, I felt like I was no good at it and have been compelled to not let my girls follow the same path. We love Singapore Math as our primary curriculum. However we also added in Math Lessons for a Living Education and Bedtime Math just to give us different angles to approach math and it’s helped make it more fun and easy to sprinkle throughout different times of the day.
Things That Didn’t Work for Our Homeschool Year
Language arts curriculum. I feel I spent most of the year piecing together parts of Bravewriter, Explode the Code, and The Good and The Beautiful. I appreciate different parts of all those programs but didn’t feel like I found one that perfectly fit all our needs.
Comparing to what other people were doing. I shake my head at myself for this one because my personal rule is to keep my eyes on my own paper and work my tail off on my own life. However, when it comes to being responsible for my children’s education, it is so tempting to peek around. What are our friends in public/private/charter/homeschool working on right now? This did not serve me. Some weeks I felt like we were ROCKING it, then I’d see another first grader doing multiplication and I was all… oh shoot, are we behind?! The truth is I can clearly see progress in my own kids, and that’s what I should be striving for.
Following a strict schedule. My kindergarten homeschool post from two years ago is so cute. Little block schedule and all. When we start the year I crave that kind of structure, but the reality is we thrive better when we don’t try to recreate school at home, but rather go with the flow. Some people may do well with a “start” time and “end” time, but we do better with a routine, a general flow to our days and weeks, instead of a schedule.
Recent FAQ from Instagram
What end of year test do you take?
Last year and this year Hailey has taken the Woodcock Johnson test at the end of the year. We take her a local woman who is a certified proctor and the test takes about 45 minutes-1 hour.
How often did you meet up with other homeschool kids?
All the time! Between co-op, poetry tea time, art class, and just play dates with friends that homeschool, I feel like we had to focus more on staying home to do school than trying to find people to hang out with.
What are you favorite kindergarten prep recommendations?
Read a lot of books and play! That’s truly my focus, but for a little more structure, I’d recommend Handwriting Without Tears for learning and practicing letters and Singapore Math (with the teacher’s guide). Kaitlyn really loved The Good and The Beautiful Curriculum and reader. It has a lot of little activities and games, so I’d recommend that, too.
Do you do school 5 days a week?
Yes and no. We typically “do school” 4 days a week with Friday being for field trips or something fun, but I really feel we’ve adopted the “learning every day” philosophy so we try to learn something new or practice a skill everyday.
How do you incorporate kid chores/responsibilities into the day?
This is a work in progress. They complete their chore/responsibility charts in the morning, and I’m grateful a lot of those things have become second nature by now. I recently switched to having them be in charge of their own laundry (washing, folding, putting away). They clear their dishes and team up to rinse and put in the dishwasher. And that’s about the extent of it right now.
What time do you start and finish school?
I started with a start and finish time, but that fell by the wayside. Sometimes we start and 9:00 and work right through and are done by lunch. Sometimes we do a little in the morning and a little in the afternoon.
Are there a lot of people that homeschool in your area?
I didn’t think so at first, but now I feel like it’s just as common as any other school choice (though it might just be because I’ve immersed myself in that community). In North Carolina there are more kids that home school than do private school, so I would say that yes, it’s prevalent.
How do you take breaks as a homeschool mom?
If you figure this out, let me know! 😉
A more real answer- I take full advantage of the early morning hours. I typically get up at 4:40 to go workout, have “me” time and start my day in peace. Also, our co-op has been a huge blessing for me. I take advantage of the drop-off option and have a chunk of four hours to myself once a week (twice a week next year). And finally, I am 100% present with my kids when we do school, but often times after lunch, I’ll do an hour or two of computer work while they play on their own. And lastly, I hire a sitter sometimes to help out if I’m really needing some time, but that’s only really easy to find during summertime!
Right now we are enjoying all summer has to offer- swimming, sunshine, later bedtimes, and all! In the next month or so I’ll start to piece together what our next year will consist of. I am going to reread The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart before I dive into our planning because her enchanting approach to homeschool is exactly the vibe I strive for. Homeschool first and foremost is about the relationship I have with my children and I feel incredibly grateful to be able to walk this path with them.
I’m so curious… with your kids and their academic year- What worked well for you and what didn’t?
And if I missed anything, just ask! I’m happy to answer 🙂
Anna H says
You mentioned Learning without Tears for handwriting instruction. Did you just purchase the books and let the girls follow along or did you get the teacher’s guide too? Just wondering if it’s self-explanatory as the children work along…with a little help from mom.
Brittany Dixon says
I just bought the workbooks and felt it was pretty self-explanatory. I’m sure the teacher guide adds value, but for what we used it for, the workbooks worked just fine on their own!
Why do you homeschool your kids?
Brittany Dixon says
I wrote all about it here 🙂
John J. Stathas says
I love your approach – focused, but flexible -and fun for the most part. You have incredible energy and creativity, fueled by your commitment to get your kids ready for their future. If only more Moms, and Dads, brought this passion to their kids. Way to go, Brittany!
Brittany Dixon says
I think I’m going to snag that phrase from you- focused but flexible – and put it on my next planner. I love that! 🙂
Is your end of the year test mandated by the town/state or do you do it for your own information? Just curious 🙂
Brittany Dixon says
It is mandated by the state law, however, we just keep it on record. There is no required sending it in to the state or anything like that. But even if it wasn’t I probably would because of my own curiosity 🙂
I am home with my babies right now, but as a public school teacher and reading specialist, I think it’s pretty normal to have to pull from multiple areas when it comes to literacy. Though I have theories and approaches I completely agree with, I have never seen something meet all the needs of my students. I think you’re doing your job well if you are pulling from multiple resources and planning for what you need. There are so many “one-size-fits-all” models out there, and I just don’t agree with them. I think you’re doing a disservice if you just stick to one. I say this solely so you don’t find yourself continuously frustrated with purchased programs. In literacy, I think it’s completely normal to pull from multiple areas to plan for your needs.
Brittany Dixon says
That is really helpful to hear because I was getting frustrated that I haven’t found “the one.” Maybe I just need to stick to pulling my favorite parts from each and just embracing that there isn’t a single program that can do it all. Thank you!
I think that a lot of students feel the same way as you did in math, and are often missing the “big picture”, maybe due to curriculum or the instructor. I think it’s wonderful that you recognize this and aim to do better for your girls! Even though math always came easy for me, I often felt I missed the big picture, especially in college, when I didn’t have much time to devote to my math classes and got by well enough by zipping through processes. I’m committing to a new school next year and will continue to teach 7th and 8th grade math, and what amazes me is that even though I know math way beyond, there is still more ways for me to learn and teach 7th and 8th grade math! It still hasn’t gotten old for me, and this will be my 9th year teaching. I always saw middle school as a stepping stone to teaching high school math, but now I’m just so happy where I’m at in this moment. Here are three math books I’m reading this summer that are applicable to any math teacher (it helps to have good college-level math background, but not necessary): “Math with Bad Drawings” (AMAZING, BRILLIANT!!), “How I Wish I Taught Maths” (written by a British teacher who has some great insight), and “Calculus for Dummies” (I fell in love with math when I learned Calculus in high school, but then lost the big picture of it in college, so this is to help reteach and remind me of the big ideas). The “dummies” math books are great, and I read the Algebra for Dummies cover to cover before I switched from engineering to teaching.
Also I agree about multiple curriculum- for me I always have to use the textbook/ curriculum that that school follows, but at least 25% (probably more) of my year is supplemented with outside material, either that I’ve written or sought out from other teachers/ sites.
Brittany Dixon says
When I read you suggest “calculus for dummies” my ears started smoking. Not sure I’m down for that! haha! But I’ll look into the others. Thanks so uch for the feedback and encouragement. I’m so glad you’ve found a sweet spot in teaching middle schoolers!
Patti Williams says
Thank you so much for opening up and sharing!
You share so much and touch upon so many factors of HomeSchooling! We have been researching homeschooling for quite some time and reading what you share seems flexible, fun, with main emphasis on ‘family’ connection!
I am beginning a new journey this August with my 10 year old grandson. Must admit I am alittle nervous, but so looking forward to being up close and personal in his every day growth and development!
Brittany Dixon says
We all are nervous and doubt ourselves, so welcome to the club. 😉 The good news is the highs are SO high! Best of luck to you in that fall! You’ve got this!
We just finished second grade and this was my first time being “on record” for our state. It was daunting, I worried, and ultimately we did a LOT of workbooks. My kiddo hated that aspect. I realized putting together photos of first grade and second grade just how many fewer manipulatives, fun, projects, and trips etc there were this year compared to last. Planning more projects and less workbook work for third.
Brittany Dixon says
I love that acknowledgement. I get it because workbooks always provide that tangible proof that we did something which feels good, but they usually aren’t our most growth-inducing experiences either. It’s a tough balance!
Are you going to do a similar post about what you did with Kaitlyn this year? I know you mentioned some of it above, but I am curious what specific “level” of the curricula (like math) you used with her. I LOVE all your homeschooling posts! They’re so interesting!
Brittany Dixon says
I don’t think I’m going to do a full review post for K, but I’m happy to answer any questions! I actually started her a couple months ago on the same math level H started at the beginning of the year (1A in Singapore) with the idea to go really slowly. She seems to pick up on math stuff quickly and likes a challenge and was really excited about it. I think we will pick it up again in August.
She liked The Good and The Beautiful Kindergarten language arts, too. She does not, however, enjoy coloring or drawing answers to things, whereas H could do art stuff all day! ha.
If you have any specific questions, please just let me know!
Our daughter started kindergarten this year at a public school, and while she enjoyed it, we were really frustrated with how things went in the classroom. They didn’t have a teacher for the first 3 weeks, then hired a brand new teacher who was alone with 25 students, and about 8-9 of them were boys with serious behavior issues. There were also many ESL kids and a few with some other developmental delays. It was a very challenging class, but for a first year teacher coming in late, she just never got a grip on things. The “well behaved” kids suffered academically bc the teacher spent most of her time putting out fires. I volunteered in the class and tried to help as much as I could, but as a parent it was hard to see my daughter in that negative environment every day. It was probably the first time I’ve ever even considered home schooling…in the past I’ve really not thought it would be a good fit for us. We are switching to a new school next year just by coincidence (the city we live in redrew the elementary boundaries) and I’m much more impressed with the new school and principal and some of the ways they handle challenges there. I’m hopeful it will be a good year, and I’ve taken a job as a lunchroom monitor so I can be present in the school more. Anyway, all that to say that I always find your homeschool posts interesting! It’s not something I see myself doing (unless this year is as bad as the last one was!!), but I certainly can understand your reasons for wanting to do it.
Brittany Dixon says
Thanks for sharing your story, Liz. While no schooling situation is perfect, that does sound like a tough year! I’m so glad y’all have a new set up for this year and that is looks promising. I’ve had several friends that have had to make adjustments (pull out of school to homeschool, go back to public school from homeschooling, switch to private, etc etc) and I’m just amazed and grateful that we live in a time with so many options. Best of luck to you! <3
I’m really interested in how you found your co-op and how to look up the options that are available in my area. My babies are still super little, but I’m really trying to think ahead about school options. The area I live in is on a county line with a city situated in the middle so, our kids theoretically have the option to attend the city school system or either of the county school systems because they each take kids outside of their zoning boundaries due to the close proximity. We are in the process of looking for a new house and I’m taking our schooling choice into heavy consideration. I have no idea what the next 3-4 years hold, but homeschooling has always been at the back of my mind if the opportunity is there. I’d really like to explore my options locally and add it to the list of our schooling choices. Thanks!
I’m rather unexpectedly looking at possibly homeschooling my second grade and pre-K kids this coming school year. The options right now for curriculum, etc. seem very overwhelming, and I don’t have friends or family that have forged this route before me. Do you have any recommendations for helpful resources/readings to get started with? Thanks in advance 🙂