Tuesday, April 8, 2014

We're doing bare minimum homeschooling. Because life is the ultimate curriculum.

We are in a bit of a homeschooling lull at the moment, and for the most part, I'm okay with it. I loved this post from Modern Mrs. Darcy, in which she says, "Everyone wants to quit in November and February,"  because I found that the transition from February to March put the brakes on our homeschooling routine. The sun finally started coming out, so we started spending more time outdoors instead of at the dining room table. My husband left on a short deployment, so I was single-parenting for a little stretch. And my oldest daughter had her sixth birthday while he was gone. Things were just out-of-sync in our family.

And here we are at the beginning of April, and we still don't have a rigid homeschooling routine. Add to that the fact that we have friends coming to visit next week and are taking a trip to Kyoto, and that my sister is coming for two weeks in May, and I know our routine isn't going to be looking steady for a while. When the schedule is changing every week or two, it's easy to feel like we're not "doing it right." I notice those thoughts creeping in... the ones that say, "Are your kids learning enough?" or, "You are a terrible homeschooler!" And "the should's" aren't great either... "I should be doing more reading/science/math/art/music/you-name-it."

But this changing schedule is exactly one of the reasons homeschooling appealed to me. We don't follow a homeschooling yearly schedule because we try to learn something every day. If learning is a daily/monthly/yearly goal for us, then it's okay that our homeschooling schedule and routine changes with the seasons in our lives. It may look like we're doing the bare minimum, but I'm convinced that my kids are learning a lot from life itself.

Here's what "bare minimum learning" may look like:

Workbooks and read-alouds to slowly practice what we're learning, and reinforce foundational concepts.

We have a phonics workbook, handwriting workbook, and math workbook. I still don't require any workbooks for my four-year-old because... she's only four! But I do require work from my six-year-old most days. It may only be 1-2 pages in each workbook (and spread out over the course of the day), but even if that's all she does, I can still see progress and retention of what she's learning.

I also use mealtimes for read-alouds as I usually have the girls' undivided attention. We might read one chapter from The Story of the World, or do a short lesson on grammar from First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1.

Playing outside with little interruption from me when they start digging in the dirt.

We live in a military community, in a tower apartment. We don't have a large backyard right outside the back door. I think it's important for my kids to get outside and play. They burn off energy, get some exercise, and use their imaginations. And they notice, observe, and ask about things in nature that I forgot were interesting. They learn so much when they get dirty! I know homeschooling is working well when they ask a question, I lack the answer, and their response is, "Well we should look that up and learn about it!"

Using their iPad to practice piano over and over, and over.

Yes, they are "playing" on an iPad. But after the purchase of this app, they have spent significantly more time at the piano in the last month than they have in the last year. I have seen improvement in tempo, sight-reading, and using both hands to play. It's hard to tell my daughter "No" when she asks to use the iPad to practice piano.

Travel! And new experiences!

In just the last month, we went on a tour of the Hina doll museum in anticipation of Japan's "Hinamatsuri" holiday (a celebration of girls). We went on a hike with the girls' favorite Japanese tour guide, Fusako san, to have a picnic lunch under the cherry blossoms. We went to a science museum and art museum in Tokyo. And my girls went with me to the a Buddhism class at a local temple, where they played inside the temple, chatted with priests, and got lots of little candies for being good. :)

This month, we'll be traveling to Kyoto and staying in a machiya (traditional town home), going to Tokyo, taking a day-trip to Hakone, and going on another tour and hike in Kamakura (the ancient samurai capital of Japan).

Next month, we'll be showing my sister around Japan while she visits for two weeks. I think my kids will be learning plenty....

Watching educational television.

Have you been watching "The Cosmos"? If not, you should be. We have been watching a new episode every week, and though much of the information is over the heads of my girls, I have been amazed by their interest. They have learned about the solar system, evolution, DNA (which my six-year-old can explain pretty accurately!), Halley's comet, Isaac Newton, space time, and the theory of light. Because of this show, we've had some interesting science discussions, checked out books from the library to learn more, and watched corresponding videos from www.brainpop.com and www.brainpopjr.com to help them understand those concepts a little more clearly. The Cosmos television series has been an excellent addition to our science lessons.

I'm sure our schedule will settle down a bit more this summer - when it's so hot and humid that we don't want to go outside anymore. But until then, we'll plug along with our daily reading and math, adding social studies, geography, history, and science lessons when they pop up. This is the time for imaginations to run wild, for the world to be awe-inspiring, and for learning to be second-nature. If excitement and curiosity is what I'm going for - and believe, me, IT IS - then I think we're doing just fine with "school" at the bare minimum. 


  1. Kimberly--They are amazing young ladies! Could you share the app you use for learning piano? We left our piano in the States, but I'd love for my kids to learn a little! (Rachel De For)

    1. The app is Piano Maestro. I believe it is free, but you can also purchase a subscription and get more lessons and songs. So far, we have been perfectly happy without the extras. It is great!