Our 2nd Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum (with Pre-K too!)


I love new school years! It’s an accomplishment to close out the previous year and plan a new one, and in the beginning of the year, everything feels so tidy and structured. I like structure, but I try to remain flexible about our schedule as the year goes on. It’s inevitable that new priorities will pop up, and some of what we do will fall to the wayside. But I think that is what is awesome about homeschooling – you get to be flexible. You get to follow your instincts about what is best for your kids on any given day. Just do that, and you’ll do great.

The five-year-old joins us.

My boys just turned eight and five! I am considering them in 2nd grade and Pre-K. This is the first time I’ve attempted to do any formal work with my five-year-old, and that’s because I can tell he’s ready for it. Earlier last year he would play while my older son did his lessons, but later in the year I noticed he would hang out at the table and watch/listen as his brother would practice reading. So earlier this summer I offered him a little ABC workbook, and he gleefully cheered “yes! yes!” After that he demanded what he termed his “reading lesson” everyday, even when I wasn’t planning to do it. Now he’s happy to take a day off, but he still likes doing his reading lessons alongside his brother.

What has changed since last year.

I have a popular post from last year about our first grade schedule and curriculum, and I always worry when a post becomes popular because we remain in flux, and while I try to write the truth of any given moment, the next month we might change what we’re doing! But I’m relieved that as I look back over last year’s schedule, not too much changed. But a little did:

  • I nixed the stretching fairly quickly. My boys just hated it. It felt useless to keep trying even though I still think they could use it.
  • When I wrote that post, we had a Friday morning bi-weekly class, and I thought we might have the occasional play date then too. Well, the class didn’t go, and neither did the play date, but later we enrolled my son in his pottery class, which was on Friday mornings for eight weeks, so the schedule didn’t really change after all.
  • Other than this, we kept that schedule fairly well, although we definitely had days when we didn’t do our lessons because other things took priority. I used it as a compass to get back into a routine when I felt we needed it. (Mostly I need it to stay sane. The boys would be fine with just playing everyday.)

So below is our weekly plan this year. It’s not too different from last year.

2nd grade MOL Weekly HS Schedule copy

What this doesn’t reflect: It doesn’t reflect all the little things that pop up like play dates that I don’t have a regular date for on my calendar and all the outings we do as a family, which could be considered field trips. We like to go hiking and to museums and other places of interest whenever we get the chance. Some days we may just go shopping. It also does not reflect my son’s project time.

Project Time

Last year our lessons were shorter, so we had an hour or more for projects in the mornings before lunch. This year, our lessons are taking us right up until lunch, so here is what I’m going to experiment with this year:

Since I want my son’s projects to have priority, every Monday morning I get our project notebook and go over what he’s told me he wants to do. He gets a lot of ideas that he doesn’t follow through with, and that’s okay. He’s in charge of his education. He knows that if he wants to build something or learn about something, we will make time for it. I’ve told him I’m willing to skip our lessons completely, if needed. So far this year, however, he hasn’t been doing anything that he needs me for, or either he seems to make small inquires at other times of the day. He does have one thing he wants to make that we don’t have the materials for yet, so when we get everything, we’ll do that. I’m also wondering how I can spur him on to dig deeper into his latest interest – Star Wars. I’ll write about how all this goes in the future.


Our curriculum is very eclectic. I choose our curriculum based on 1) what I think my kids will actually like and 2) what we have on hand or can find conveniently and/or cheap. I get a lot of resources from teacher-friends, though I don’t use a lot of that stuff. I have bought little workbooks and things on sale over the years and saved them. I have bought some things full price because I thought they were perfect for my boys. Buying a full curriculum that would cover everything has never seemed prudent when each subject requires its own strategy for my boys’ particular needs.

The weekly plan.

I have told my eight-year-old that he has to learn reading, writing, math, etc. The law requires them, and he understands that. But I also tell him we’ll go slow, at his pace, and we’ll try to use books and resources that he likes. This is not always easy, and I’m always wondering when I should nudge or pull back. This is just an ongoing part of homeschooling, I think, and I try to use my good instincts, though they fail me at times.

I am still not completely comfortable with unschooling my eight-year-old or using project-based homeschooling as our sole means of education, though a big part of me wants to do just that. I have opted instead to require him to do just one page in a workbook (to help build his handwriting and reading skills) and read just one or two pages in a book. If it gets hard for him, I usually make him finish at least part of what we’re working on, and then I take a break from it the next day or use a different resource. As I said before, I am willing to take long breaks from our lessons and work on his projects too. But I feel a slow progression in the fundamentals is important, and he is progressing, and I’m happy with that.

This is my order of things that happens between breakfast and lunch unless we have an appointment outside the house or a project to work on. Sometimes we don’t finish before lunch, but we usually do.

Read aloud – This is new. I have sorely missed book time, which is what I did when my son was little. Now we don’t have time in the a.m. for everyone to pick one or more books of their choice, so I’ve decided this is the time I get to pick one book of my choice. I can cover a lot of different subjects this way. (In the evenings before bed, my husband and I read to the boys, and they get to pick the books they want.)

1 Page Workbook – I have purchased simple workbooks (the kind you can get at Walmart or Target or teacher’s stores), and this year I’m having them each do one page each in a workbook. My eight-year-old hates the physical act of writing, so this is kind of an experiment, but also a slow way to build up his muscles and just get him used to writing a little bit. Below are listed the workbooks my boys have completed or are working on. (We started this during the summer, btw!)

The eight-year-old

–I started him out in an easy kindergarten workbook in which he only had to trace and write letters. This is because, as I said, he hates the physical act of writing, and I just wanted him to get used to having to write a little.

–I was not in the market to buy more workbooks, but we were in Barnes and Noble one day, and I happened to find Brainquest’s Star Wars workbooks. I picked them up because both my sons love Star Wars. I’m not so dumb as to think my eight-year-old will also love the workbooks, but if I can make doing what he dislikes a little more fun, I’ll try it. And the reading workbook happened to cover just the things I want him to work on. So we’re just now starting Star Wars 2nd Grade Reading. This is already proving to be difficult, and he’s in tears over it. It’s not that he’s not smart enough to complete the work, he just hates doing it. I may have him do only 1/2 a page at a time or pick and choose the pages. Part of me would like to nix it. Not sure what to do yet.

The five-year-old is my easy kid! He likes doing these workbooks! (I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that he loves drawing too.)

–Stick Kids Workbooks: Amazing Mazes

–A+ Alphabet Workbook

–A+ Numbers 1-12 (He’s almost finished with this.)

After this, I’m going to have him start:

Brainquest’s Star Wars Workbooks: Kindergarten Writing & ABCS

Brainquest’s Star Wars Workbooks: Preschool Number Fun

Reading Lesson – This is for the eight-year-old, but the five-year-old usually listens. I have him read 1-2 pages in a book. We have worked through most of the follow-up books recommended at the end of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We have two more to go on that list, and I’m hoping he’ll be willing to finish those books, but I’m not going to push him. I’ve had great success at letting him read books about the things he loves most, which are Legos’ characters and Superheros. We just finished Scholastic’s Super Heroes Save the Day! It makes a huge difference when he can read something like this versus any other book. I will probably alternate this will the workbook because doing both in one day proves to be too difficult.

Starfall – This is for both boys, although I didn’t tell my eight-year-old that. I asked him if he would sit with his younger brother and go over all the phonic reading lessons, games, books, and videos on Starfall.com.  They do about two rows every time they sit down to do this. I knew my five-year-old could benefit from it, but I wanted my eight-year-old to get the review as well as gain confidence in his reading ability. It’s working well, and my eight-year-old is shining as “teacher.” They don’t do this everyday, but they are almost finished with all fifteen rows on the website. I’m not sure if we’ll continue this, or go to other sections on that site.

Math – This is for the eight-year-old, but the five-year-old usually listens. We started right in on the next Life of Fred book this year! We are working on Life of Fred: Dogs, which is the fourth book in the series. I have considered changing our math curriculum in the past, but now I feel confident that the quirky story format of Life of Fred is perfect for my eight-year-old. (We are story lovers around here, after all.) I think Life of Fred does a great job teaching him what he needs to know, and when I feel it’s getting a little above his level, we just stop and practice math in other ways until I feel he’s ready to move on. Doing math twice a week still feels just right. If this book starts to get too hard, we’ll pause it awhile and practice math with other resources for awhile.

Science – This is new, although science has always been a huge part of our homeschool. I’ve never made time for it during our lesson time because my son’s projects, the homeschool science classes, the books he picks to read, and all the documentaries we watch daily have skyrocketed him well beyond 2nd grade science! Despite all this, I have a goal to study science in a more systematic way, especially when he gets older. And, this year, his pottery class conflicts with homeschool science, so we’ll have to miss out on those for the first time. (I’m really sad about that, although a little relieved to have a lighter class schedule.) Each year, I seem to be able to weave one more thing into our homeschool. Last year, it was art. This year, it’s science. (I hope by next year, I’ll find a way to take our Spanish lessons to a higher level.) We’re starting with something simple. I happened to have DK’s 101 Great Science Experiments, so we are working through this book and doing 1~2 science experiments a week. By the way, the first time I asked my son if he had a project he wanted to work on, he said, “Can’t we just do the experiments?” So, in a way, this is still his project.

Spanish – I wanted to find a better program to work on, but in some ways, I think watching Salsa is still the best bet for my boys so that they don’t lose interest in Spanish. I still write down the vocabulary, and I watch every episode with them – because I want to learn Spanish too!

Art – Last year at this time, I felt like we didn’t have enough art in our homeschool (despite all the craft and building projects that my son initiated on his own). I wanted to be able to teach a little bit about different artists and techniques. It’s also a part of project-based homeschooling to introduce children to new tools and techniques so that they’ll have a variety of mediums they can choose from when working on their own projects. I’m proud of myself for working in several art lessons last year and establishing a sketchbook habit with my younger son, who loves to draw. This year, we’re going to make Fridays our art days, and I’m using Amy Hood’s fun Art Together e-zines as my guide. Right now we’re learning about printmaking techniques and the artist Hokusai. When my son begins his pottery class, I’m planning to use that time for sketch booking with my five-year-old.

This is probably the longest post I’ve ever written, and it may seem like a lot on the page, but it only encompasses about 1~2 hours of our day. If you have been following my blog, you know that we do a lot of other things, and we have certain priorities for our boys that haven’t change. In brief:

  • We want them to have time to move, play and explore the things they love. In the afternoons and early evenings, they have lots of time to do the things they love the best, including playing with Legos and a variety of other toys, playing games on their tablets, and watching T.V. Sometimes we go to play dates, sometimes we cook together, and sometimes we play games together. But this is also the time I have to work and get my chores done. I feel grateful for homeschooling because I feel it is creating a strong bond between my boys, and they are learning to be independent doers!
  • We want them to love nature, and they do. But we make a point of getting out into nature a lot by visiting parks and going hiking. My son will slowly be working toward earning the third junior ranger badge this year too.
  • We also keep a garden, and in the evenings after dinner, you might find the boys and me outside watering it and picking ripe tomatoes. I find that by late August and September, the boys are less interested in this though. But I don’t mind having a few minutes alone outside!

Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 26, 2014.

Sometimes I worry that I don’t give my four-year-old enough attention, but then again, sometimes I worry that I don’t give my seven-year-old enough attention. In truth, it’s probably about even.

For three years, my oldest son had all my attention, but his younger brother has had to compete ever since he was born. I have to remind myself that my four-year-old got a lot of things his older brother didn’t get. Since he was a baby, he’s been carried along to play dates whereas I didn’t know many mothers with infants and toddlers when I first had children. He’s also been taken to his older brother’s classes and been around big groups of children of all ages from day one.

He was also born into a home with lots of toys and art supplies, and when he was a baby, we converted our dining room into a school room, so he is very comfortable going in there and pulling down books or puzzles or blocks and other building toys. Now, he sits at the table and listens while his older brother works on his lessons. Sometimes he wants to draw or do something else, but I’m surprised how much he’ll just watch. (Not exactly quietly, but not too distracting either.)

Even though he’s not getting the direct one-on-one attention my oldest son got from age one to three, he is absorbing so much information from his brother and me. (I can’t forget to mention daddy either. He’s always been around for both of them.)

Right now I’m very focused on my “first grader.” Reading lessons, math lessons, book time, computer time, conversations about history and cultural events, and most of all, his projects. We are project-based homeschoolers, which means that I set aside time for my son’s interests and use some “tricks of the trade” to get him to study deeper than the surface of those subjects.

My four-year-old has interests too, and lately I’ve been considering how I can make more time for his projects and lessons. I don’t think that at four-years-old, academics should be a priority, but by letting him explore his interests, he is learning everything a four-year-old would typically learn in preschool anyway.

Right now he loves letters and numbers. He hasn’t mastered the ability to identify all the letters like my oldest son did at an early age, but he’s taking a different approach. He loves to sing the ABC song, and by singing it with him every night, he has mastered it.

He loves to count everything, and we often overhear him counting when he’s playing by himself. He loves to play our math games even though they are too hard for him, and sometimes he’ll play by himself when no one else is available. He uses some tiny little, rubber vehicles (manipulatives) to help him add and subtract.

His favorite subject is dinosaurs, and whenever we go to the library, he asks for dinosaur books. (I’m really tired of reading about dinosaurs!) He watches dinosaur shows on T.V. with his brother, and we’ve taken him to museums to see dinosaur bones. He has asked me to draw him dinosaurs, make a dinosaur out of clay, and his father tells him a story about “Dig Dig the T-Rex” every night before bed. I have never thought about it before, but I guess you could say that he has an ongoing “dinosaur project.”

Whenever he tells me to draw or make him something, I encourage him to try to do it himself first. He never wants to. I guess he knows his own limits. I started to get frustrated about this, but then I remembered all the “art” he makes on his own. You might call it “abstract” art, but it takes some time and thought. He is very calculating about applying different colors of paint all over one piece of paper, drawing line art, or cutting and taping paper together to make interesting shapes. I’m glad he’s felt free to “create” whenever he wants to, and I have a nice collection of his work to save in a memory box.

When you have more than one child, it’s easy to worry about whether or not you’re giving them their fair share of your time, but in many ways, both boys have benefitted from not having my full attention. They occupy themselves. And when I stop to chronicle everything they do, I’m pleasantly surprised that quite a bit gets accomplished without me even trying.


By having all our materials accessible to both of my children, I’m very happy to see how my youngest son has picked up on the “creating” “building” “art” vibe of his house. I will often find him in the activity room, scribbling away on a piece of paper. Sometimes, he pretends he’s writing. Other times, he wants to paint, and I love how he carefully applies different colors to his work. What I love most is when he’ll gather a bunch of supplies, such as paper, pen, markers, scissors, glue, string, beads, goggly eyes or what not, and then he says, “I’m gonna make somethin!” Here’s a slideshow of some of my four-year-old’s art and “writing.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Homeschooling Preschool the 2nd Time: My Four-Year-Old’s Letter D

In some ways, I hesitate to say that I homeschooled preschool with my first son. I was fairly relaxed with him during his “preschool” years (which isn’t to say I didn’t worry or wonder if I was doing it right), and he made it easy because he learned to recognize the ABCs before he could even speak all their names at 22 months. At two- and three-years-old all I did was play with him with some rubber letters in the bathtub. Sometimes I would write the letters in chalk outside on the sidewalk. It was all fun and games to him. At age four, I just got a little more intentional about what I was doing.

I’m also relaxed (more so) with my four-year-old, but for completely different reasons. (And I’m not worried about whether I’m doing it right anymore. Be sure to read The Only Preschool Curriculum You Need Is Your Enthusiasm.)

My four-year-old is a very different boy, and he’s having a completely different experience during these early years from what his brother had. While my first born spent a lot of time at home alone with me because we didn’t have as many friends back then, my four-year-old has the benefit of not only more friends but tagging along to classes that my older son attends. He has also started taking the knee-high naturalist class like his brother did at this age, and I’m able to leave my older boy home with his dad, so he can have his “own” class.

My current preschooler did not learn his letters and numbers early like his brother, but without doing any intentional ABC “games” he has mastered at least half the ABCs on his own. And now he counts to 10 flawlessly.

He loves to count things. For a long time, he counted, although he was wrong most of the time. “One, one, one, one,” he would say. Or “One, two, three, six, eight,” he would say. I didn’t try to correct him much. I praised his effort, and sometimes we would take turns counting.

Slowly his counting improved. He might miss just one number. Then he would count to ten correctly one time, but the next time he would trip up. Now, he counts to 10 perfectly every time unless he starts to count too fast or gets silly about it.

It’s been fun to witness this progression. And relaxing. I haven’t really done anything to promote or encourage it. I just watch and listen and follow his cues. Since I’m busy working with my older son on his projects, it eases my mind to know my preschooler is teaching himself.

I see the same thing happening with the alphabet. Recently my preschooler has been enjoying some little cookies with the letters printed on them. When he eats them, he wants me to sit with him and tell him what each letter is, and he asks me what sound it makes. Whenever he happens to pull out an alphabet book or alphabet puzzle, I try to tell him the letter and its sound.

I keep the rubber letters that I used in the bathtub with my older son in a basket downstairs now. The other night, my four-year-old began spreading the letters around on the living room floor, and he wanted me to sit with him. Then while we were looking at them, he took the letter D over to the activity room, and through his actions, I knew he wanted to try to make something – it was the first time I witnessed him initiate a building or art project like his older brother does!!! I was very excited.

I just watched him awhile. He got a strip of white paper that we had been using the previous day to make bookmarks. Then he got out some pens and string and scissors and tape. He was very serious as he went about decorating this piece of paper with the pens and string. And then he folded it up.

He was trying to make a letter D. But he couldn’t get the paper shaped right. As I watched him, I saw how I could gently fold and bend the paper to make a D shape without compromising his efforts too much, so I did that for him. He was pleased.

And I was tickled pink. Here’s my preschooler, teaching himself and beginning to emulate the positive actions of his older brother. Of course, I also give myself (and my husband) some credit. We have created a household where books are loved, stories are told, conversations brew and questions are honored.  I have created an environment where both boys have access to materials for creative endeavors, and I don’t stop them from making messes. And I get excited about their work, I showcase it, and I take so many photos of it that if I forget, they’ll remind me!

I guess you can say that now that my sons are seven- and four-years-old, I am seeing my efforts pay off. I am seeing results, and I get the feeling that we’ll continue down this course of learning how to love learning. It makes me giddy.

Please share. What’s your child’s latest handiwork?

The Only Preschool (or Kindergarten) Curriculum You Need Is Your Enthusiasm

i.e., The building blocks for a child’s education, starting with preschool.

My four-year-old is of preschool age, though I won’t consider him “pre-K” until next year. (This is because both my boys have August birthdays, but I also believe children are required to start school too early nowadays. Of course, it depends on the individual child, but I know that for my boys, starting later has and will benefit them.) As I watch him mature and begin to learn the fundamentals on his own, I am delighted with this unique personality growing up alongside his brother who is so different than him. In some areas, he’s more advanced than his older brother was. In other areas, he is behind. None of that matters except as a testament to these two complimentary brothers who have different personalities and learning styles.

One thing my four-year-old doesn’t have that my eldest son had was a mother with more time on her hands to work directly with him. Yet he benefits in participating in classes, projects and play dates that my eldest son never had at that age. As I do more work with my youngest child, I’ll be writing about “preschool” all over again, though it will look a little different this time.

I write this post as a kick-off to another round of preschool, and as a way to show what I have learned on my first go-around. Everything I wrote below must be present throughout our children’s whole education. If parents are not involved or learning alongside their children, kids will not learn to love learning. They will not flourish. If parents are enthusiastic about learning and use their own imaginations, the child probably will too. (This is the same whether you homeschool or not.)


I see parents asking about preschool curriculums frequently, and it always blows my mind.  Believe me, you don’t need a packaged curriculum for preschool (or Kindergarten for that matter). What your child needs is experiences and conversation. Depending on your willingness to lead your child to wonderful places of discovery, they are going to learn all they need to know and more for their preschool years.

Your #1 teaching instrument is your voice.

Talk to your child. Be patient. Tell them all the simple things you take for granted. “Tree.”  “Green leaf. Isn’t it pretty?” “Do you like carrots? I like carrots.” “Look at the kitty!” As they get older, your conversations will get more sophisticated. Ask your child questions. Answer their questions. Use big words and follow them up with a simple definition.

Children in households where parents talk to their children do much better in school and have a larger vocabulary than their counterparts.  Teach them everything you know through conversation and story. (Don’t worry about what you don’t know. As the questions get harder, you’ll teach your child how to find answers by letting them watch you search for answers.)

Talk to your child frequently, but don’t exhaust yourself either! Children need quiet too.

Your #1 teaching resource is the library.

Take frequent trips to the library. At least once a month go and let your child pick whatever books he likes, and you pick some that you like. Let them explore the library, play with the toys there, and take them to story times, if you and your child would enjoy that. (My eldest son didn’t like story time at all when he was two years old, so we didn’t go anymore. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t like it. You can try again next year, if you like.)

Letting your kids explore and play at the library at a young age will teach them it’s a fun place. And you can learn about the opportunities and resources your library will offer you during your child’s school years. Remember to look up math and science books for your kids – there are so many fun books that teach the fundamentals.  Another reason not to buy a packaged curriculum!

If you live in a rural area and have a small library like I do, be sure to check and see if your library offers an inter-library loan. I can order any book in the Georgia PINES system, which is throughout the whole state of Georgia and have it delivered to our local library. Read this for a more thorough description of how we use our library.

Remember whats important.

Remember: Reading, arithmetic, and all those other fundamentals can be learned by any mature child or adult who has a desire to learn. Don’t worry if your five-year-old isn’t reading yet. Some children learn how to read early, but others aren’t ready until they’re 7 or 8. This has no bearing on their intelligence. It’s simply how they’re developing.

Fostering a love of learning, tenacity, kindness, and creativity has to happen in the early years. How do you do that?

Foster a love of learning by exploring the world with your child and be fascinated in the world with your child. Every child is delighted by those small things we take for granted – flowers, butterflies, a beetle on the sidewalk. If you dont delight in these wondrous things, your child wont delight in them.

Help your child find the answer to his questions. If he asks a question at an inconvenient time, say, “That’s a great question. We can look it up later. Remind me, okay?” Or as Lori Pickert suggests, say, “Where do you think we could find the answer to that question?” If you dont take the time to answer or let your child know that his questions are worthy, hell stop asking questions.

To teach tenacity, we must be tenacious ourselves.  I love to read, learn, take long walks, delight in nature, write and dream. I don’t sit around doing nothing all day (unless I need to rest). I like having a clean house, having goals, and I’m always wondering what I could do to make some more money.  I may not live up to my ideal self, but I’m not a lazy person either. By modeling tenacity, my children are going to learn how to accomplish the important goals in their life. (The key word being important. I’m not against quitting when a better path reveals itself.)

By now I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I’m going to say: To teach children how to be kind, we must be kind ourselves.  Be kind to people. This can mean just smiling and keeping an open mind, or maybe you’re the type of person who likes to make soup and take it to your neighbor’s house when he’s sick. When you’re checking out at the grocery store, be patient and say thank you to the clerk.  When dealing with difficult people, try to be diplomatic.

Kindness is more than being kind to people. It means being kind to the planet. Teach your children to be kind to animals and even bugs. Tell your children how we should act in certain situations.  Making up stories about situations that arise can help with this. Don’t worry about being perfect. Kids don’t need perfection, but if you are a kind person, more than likely your children are going to follow in your footsteps.

To foster creativity, you need to let your children play and create. You won’t need to do much planning for this; just dont squash their natural creativity! Go along with what your child’s instincts are for playing, exploring and creating. Look for projects that you know your child would enjoy. Teach them how to play make-believe.  Join them in their own creative play, and if you want them to try something new, you need to do it yourself and let them watch.

There are tools to fostering a love of learning, tenacity, kindness and creativity, and I’ll list some of those below. Let your child’s interests guide you as you invest in their creativity, and remember, sometimes less is more when it comes to building a child’s imagination.


  • Read. Make book time a ritual in your house.
  • Spend time in nature. Walk slowly on a nature path and see what you can find! What can you draw in the dirt with a stick? What can you make with a bunch of leaves? While you are observing nature, teach your children how to be kind to it.
  • Go to interesting places. Explore parks, nature centers, museums, and anywhere else that you can afford to go. Have fun and see what you can learn with your child.
  • Make-believe. Pick your favorite book and act it out. Or pretend to be a animal. Can you run as fast as a cheetah? Parents may need to teach little children how to play make-believe, especially if they don’t have older siblings.
  • Games. Any child’s game such as Simon Says, Hide and Seek or a fun board game teaches children how to pay attention, follow rules and work together.
  • Share your own work with your child. Tell them or teach them about your hobbies. Take them to meet your friends and let them see how you interact with them.
  • For more information, the Tools of the Mind website has some great information for parents about make-believe and supporting self-regulation.


The best toys are those that require a child to use their imagination to play with it. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but these are a few of my boy’s favorites:

  • Toy animals.  My boys play with plastic toy animals more than anything else! They usually carry a favorite one around each day, and they especially like to pretend they’re feeding it while they play outside. The boys don’t care about quality in toys, but I do, so the Schleich animals are my favorites.
  • Blocks.  Legos. Zoob pieces. Any kind of building set.
  • Puzzles.
  • Puppets. We have bought some, but we love to make them too.


Keep within your child’s reach:

  • Different kinds of pretty paper.
  • Crayons, markers, colored pencils.
  • Scissors, glue (if they’re old enough).
  • Paint.
  • Air-dry modeling clay.
  • Artsy materials found at any craft supply: pom poms, popsicle sticks, sequins, googly eyes, felt.

If you are still anxious to make sure you’re covering the bases for preschool, you can refer to World Book’s Typical Course of Study Preschool Curriculum Guide.  But please be wary of lists like this. Every child develops differently, and the most important thing a supportive parent can do is observe their child, support their own way of developing and in their own time frame. For serious concerns, I would ask a trusted physician. Other than this, use your instincts and let your child be the unique child that he/she is!

What else would you add?

If this was helpful to you, you may also like The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching the Early Years. Thank you!

Homeschooling a Kindergartener with a Toddler in the House

a follow-up to my series Homeschooling a Preschooler with a Baby in the House

Note:  * denotes that I’ll follow-up on that topic in a future post. If it’s underlined, click it – that means I’ve followed-up!

The first thing I’d like to clarify is that every family has to find what works best for them, and in fact, I’m in the process of trying to figure that out for myself.  As children grow, and with life’s ebb and flow, I think our schedule will naturally evolve to fit the needs of my family at any given time.  What I offer here is what I’ve been doing thus far.

However, to understand how I homeschool, you must take a look at my series on my mission / priorities.  Sorting out my priorities for my boys at this age (5 and 2) was invaluable for me, and as you’ll see much of what I do for my boys’ “homeschool” is simply life experience with a little bit of guidance and influence from me and my husband. 

Learning happens all the time, and I don’t feel like I need to “teach” much at all.  My boys absorb almost everything on their own.  At this age, I don’t believe there’s any need for a curriculum or a lot of planned, formal lessons.  Though I’m not there yet, I bet this will hold true for the future too.

However, I do some formal lessons with my five-year-old.  Why?

  • Because my five-year-old is ready and wants to do them.
  • Because I want to give him those first links in the long fence of learning.
  • Because it helps me find out what he’s interested in and what he’s ready for….If I don’t try something, I won’t know whether he’s ready for it or not.  If he doesn’t try something, he won’t know whether he likes it or not!
  • I consider this a time to experiment with different approaches to see what works and what doesn’t.  I am trying to ascertain what his learning style* and needs are.
  • I want to get him used to having some kind of schedule and goals to accomplish.  Just like cleaning the house, I feel that a little schedule and a little accountability now can set the stage for when he’s older and doing more on his own.
  • Honestly, I’m not completely comfortable with a pure “unschooling” approach at this time.  If I did that, I would probably come up against some strong opposition anyway, so I feel like by stating my priorities, keeping track of what they do on a daily basis, and by doing short lessons, I’m finding a balance and an approach I like.

As I said, learning happens all day, especially when the boys are playing by themselves, watching educational television, or playing a game like Simon Says with their parents just before bedtime.  Many of our days are spent running errands, going on play dates or playing outside if the weather is nice.  But for the purpose of this post, I’m writing about when we’re home and inside most of the day. On those days, our formal “homeschool” happens at two points during the day:

1. Between breakfast and lunch ~ This is when both boys are awake, so I do things they can both participate in.

  • We do a long book time. I call out, “It’s book time! Everyone get a book!”  The boys go the bookshelves and pick one or two books, and I do the same.  This gives me a chance to read something new or educational to them.  They often pick the same books over and over.
  • We do puppet shows. I don’t force the puppet shows, but if the boys don’t initiate some other activity, I say, “Let’s do puppet shows!”  We’ve accumulated a basket of puppets, and we each take turns getting behind the love seat and putting on a show. Puppet shows have all the educational benefits as storytelling, which you can read about by clicking here.
  • We may or may not do another activity.  My five-year-old is quick to initiate all kinds of projects.  He wants to build, make paper animals, or he wants to watch a video of something on the computer after we read about it.  I usually go with the flow here.  If the boys begin to play on their own, more power to them. (I do chores or take a break.)  If they want me to play with them, I do it.

For me, our morning rituals are about making learning fun, igniting their imaginations, and letting me spend concentrated, quality time with them.  This sets a good tone for the rest of day, and no matter what else happens, I feel good because I’ve accomplished my most important priority.

2. When the two-year-old is napping ~ This is when I do more formal lessons with my five-year-old. I only do one kind of lesson each day, and I keep it short.  There’s no way I could do it any other way.  He’s five.  He’s a boy.  This is not the time for longer lessons.

Note: As I write this, my two-year-old is transitioning out of naptime. (Yikes!)  This is what I’ve done for the last several months:

On our white board, I write our goals for the week and check off each time we finish a lesson.  It doesn’t always happen, but my goals are two reading lessons, two math lessons, and one day to work on our project.  This is what it might look like at the end of a good week:

2x Reading ✓✓

2x Math ✓

1x Project ✓

I should also note that I feel like we’ve hit a plateau with the reading and math.  While my son really moved quickly at the beginning of 100 Lessons, I haven’t seen a lot of progress lately.  However, that’s okay with me.  I have to consider these things:

  • He’s only five, and if I were putting him into school, he would be entering Kindergarten this coming fall.  He’s way ahead of the game already.
  • Children all learn at a different pace, and there’s a lot of evidence that boys (and some girls) learn to read slower. This has no bearing on their level of intelligence.
  • It’s not my priority to make him learn how to do anything right now.  I believe that the most important thing a teacher can do to teach any child how to read or do math is to read to them frequently and show them how math is used in an everyday context.
  • I believe that developing his imagination and showing him the wonders of this earth will lead him to want to learn how to do all these basic skills on his own time.

In addition to all this, my son gets a good dose of science, social studies and art through the classes we attend, books we read, crafts we do, television we watch and conversations that I have with him.

Please stay tuned for my follow-up posts on this and more!  And to find resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

Do you have a blog post about how you manage your daily homeschooling?  Feel free to link to it in the comments section.

Homeschool Priorities Part 6 of 6: Teaching Responsibility

Sophie - She has taught both my boys about being gentle and caring for animals.

My last homeschool priority for my children is teaching responsibility. Obviously this is something that will have to be taught over the long-haul, and I’m always looking for ideas on character building.  If anyone has any suggestions in this area, especially for youngsters, I’d love for you to contribute your ideas in the comments section.

I’ve tried different things to instill a sense of responsibility in my five-year-old.  Some of them I continue to do, but there is one that didn’t stick:

I created a sticker board for him, and across the top, I wrote various things that I expected him to do during the day, such as his reading and math lessons, helping to take care of his baby brother, playing, and helping to clean.  If he did that during the day, he’d get a sticker for it.  Some of what I put down as his “responsibilities” were easy for him because I didn’t want to make all of them chores, and I wanted to show him that working is just as important as taking time to play.  We used this sticker board for a while, and he really liked it, but unfortunately, we started to forget about it and eventually I abandoned it altogether.  In addition, I didn’t like the idea of rewarding him with stickers all the time.  It wasn’t a big deal after awhile.  However, I do think it served an important purpose: it got him to realize that I expect certain things from him, and he seems more willing to “step up to the plate” when I ask him to do something.

Here are a few other things I’ve done to (hopefully) instill a sense of responsibility:

  • After I abandoned the sticker board, I created a sheet in which I listed everyone’s responsibilities in house.  I made three columns (and a short one for the two-year-old on the bottom), and I listed every chore that each of us do to “maintain and take care of our home.”  I often tell my son that this house is our only home, and it’s our responsibility to take care of it.  I believe that writing this out and going over it with him has helped him see the “big picture” and begin to understand the roles each of us play in making a home.   (I don’t expect him to remember all this.  It’s a just a beginning.)  So, for example, I wrote:
      • Daddy: Works full-time to make money to pay for the house, food, clothes, etc.  Takes out garbage and takes care of pets, including fish tank.  Makes repairs, mows the grass, takes care of cars, gives five-year-old a shower every night.  Etc. Etc. Etc.
      • Mommy:  Listed all my chores…….Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.!
      • Five-year-old:  Here I listed what I expected of him, including helping to clean, take care of his younger brother, feed the cat, and do what mommy and daddy asks.
      • Two-year-old:  Help clean toys, help take care of his older brother, and do what mommy and daddy asks.
  • I have picked a few small chores for him to do to help me around the house.  I only picked things that I thought he and I could both stick to.  And luckily I picked right because I always make him do these things:
      • Help pick up toys.  If there’s a lot of toys out, he knows that he has to put them back before he can get another box out from the closet.
      • Feed the cat.  We are lucky that we have a cat with will power.  We only have to fill up her bowl every few days.  When I notice that it’s empty, I tell my son to fill it up.
      • Take his used plate/bowl/cup after meal times and put them on the kitchen counter.
      • On cleaning days (Mondays), he knows he has to help do some “big” cleaning, and I usually let him chose what he wants to help with.  (Except for picking up the toys. He has to help with that.)  Right now he likes vacuuming under the sofa cushions.  That’s a big help!
      • After he and his brother help me clean on Monday mornings, he knows that he needs to play and keep his brother occupied while I continue cleaning.  (This doesn’t always go as well as I might hope.) I do reward him for this help on Mondays by having “Monday Movie night.”  (I get this reward too, and I’ll write more about that in another post.)
  • I think the biggest way I teach responsibility is just by talking and making gentle reminders (Daddy does this too):
      • I always explain to my five-year-old that we’re a family, so we help take care of each other.  Since he’s the older brother, he’ll need to help his brother more, but as the 2-year-old gets older, they’ll be able to help each other more and more. Occasionally my two-year-old will give his older brother his morning juice that I set on the counter in the morning, or he’ll go get him a spoon from the silverware drawer.  Whenever he does this, I say, “See, he’s already helping you too!”
      • I don’t hesitate to tell him how much things cost or when we can or cannot afford to buy something.  I tell him we need to save our money for certain things.  I remind him that in our home, daddy goes to work in order to make the money we live on.  (I also tell him that in some families, the mommy works.)
      • When we’re outside, I emphasize that it’s our job to take care of the plants and animals.  I try not to let him hurt worms or bugs needlessly.  (Although I admit I do kill bugs that get inside the house.)
  • I tell stories.  Notice that storytelling comes up a lot on my blog?  You can do so much by making up your own stories for your children.  In my Jack and Piper stories, Jack and Piper take care of the forest and all the animals that live there. In these and other stories, I insert my ideas about why we need to be responsible without even thinking about it.

So that is a little of what I do, but I have to say for my five-year-old, being an older brother is probably the number one opportunity to teach him responsibility.  Everyday I see small actions he takes to help care for his brother, and I think he does it out of his own love for his little brother.  It’s wonderful to watch.  Will it take a little more creativity on my part to instill a sense of responsibility on his younger brother?  I guess we’ll see how this all plays out!

Thanks so much for reading about my homeschool priorities!  Please stay tuned because I’m going to write about the formal lessons I do with my five-year-0ld, some activities we’ve been working on, and I need to post some recent columns too!

Now give me those ideas (or children’s books?) that might help with building character and a sense of responsibility.

Homeschool Priorities Part 3: Exploration * Nature

The second priority on my list for my boys at ages 5 and 2 is Exploration and Nature.

I’m not aware of many families who don’t love nature and see the value in getting out into it, but unfortunately there must be some reason that a book like Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv is being written.  No, I have not read that book, but it and many others on this list look intriguing.  I hope to read some of them.

I have always loved nature.  I was lucky to have parents who enjoyed getting out into nature, and with them, I’ve traveled to many national parks in the U.S.  My dad loved boating, so we were often on a lake on weekends too.

My husband grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and he and his friends would play in an alleyway.  He said one of their neighbors would be enraged if any of the kids stepped one foot onto the small square of grass that was his front yard.  Fortunately, I had a nice yard as a child, although I have done my fair share of living in apartments too.

Anyway, my husband and I both fell in love with our yard before we fell in love with the house, although we love it too.  We have less than an acre, but it’s still big by our standards, and it has woods with a variety of trees.  So our nature and exploration starts in our own yard.   

Here are some simple things I do to let my boys explore and appreciate nature:

Most importantly, I hope that I impart the wisdom to respect and take care of nature and be very careful with it.  We follow my son’s knee-high naturalist teacher’s advice when turning over rocks and large branches.  Pull it towards you. If there’s an animal under it, doing this will allow that animal an escape route.  It will also keep you safe!

I used to be wary of letting the boys play with sticks, but then I saw this Ted Talk by Gever Tulley, and it gave me a different perspective.  So I give firm rules about playing with sticks.  (And I keep my eyes on them like glue!)  They can’t get too close to each other when they have a stick, and if they don’t follow this rule, the sticks have to be put down.

Once I needed to channel their energy and the stick toting, so with some fast thinking, I started making this little “shelter,” and the boys helped me gather the sticks and build it.

We are also fortunate that we live in rural Georgia, though we’re between the big city and a college town, which supplies us with a lot of culture and art.  We are two hours from the nearest mountain hiking trails, and we’re five hours from the ocean.  But when we can’t travel, we have Ft. Yargo, The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Sandy Creek Nature Center and many other parks and places to get us outside.

But wait.  I didn’t mean for “Exploration” to only imply exploration of nature.  I let my boys explore everything as long as it’s safe to do so.  When my five-year-old asks me questions about the human body, I get a book about the human body, a human body model and we also look online.  We explore his questions.

When my two-year-old wants to get into the cupboards, I lock the ones that aren’t safe, and I allow him to crawl into the other ones, pull out the pots, bowls, and whatever else might be in there.  I let him explore the world around him.

My husband and I have taken our boys to museums, aquariums, zoos, parks, and wildlife areas as much as we can.  Together we explore what’s out there.

I don’t consider myself an expert on kids; I’m learning this as I go.  But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that kids need freedom to explore, and they need nature.  Even if it’s just a small park with some grass they can roll around in.  But my hope for all children is that they can have the whole world.

I could go on and on about this subject, but I would like to hear from you.  Please tell me what you do to encourage your children to explore the world and get into nature.

Homeschool Priorities Part 2: Imagination * Play * Motion * Literature

scenes from my five-year-old’s puppet show

My first priorities for my sons at the ages of 5 and 2 are: imagination, play, motion and literature.

I grouped imagination/play/motion together because they go hand and hand.  At five-years-old, my son is using his tremendous imagination constantly.  The two-year-old is quite adept at it too. Playing is their number one job.  Right now as I type this, the five-year-old is upstairs with all his stuffed animals.  He has arranged them “just so” on his bed, and he says he’s keeping them warm.

He runs up and down the hallway, and he pretends he’s a horse. He “flies” toys around the house. Outside, he’ll find a strand of wild onion, tell me it’s an “eel” and then go feed it “ants.”

I’m thrilled to see that at five- and two-years-old, my boys are beginning to play together well, creating forts and pretending to be dinosaurs or ocean animals.  (This is also a big relief to me because I’m getting a little more free time to myself.)

Rough and tumble play is a frequent activity in our house.  My boys are always moving, always pretending, and I don’t want to discourage that.  There is clear evidence that children learn through play.  In addition, authors Michael Gurian (The Wonder of Boys) and Steve Biddulph (Raising Boys) both write about how important it is for boys to have plenty of space, and they need to move their bodies.

Biddulph writes in Raising Boys, “Sitting still at a desk for a long time is usually hard and painful for boys (and some girls too).  In early primary school, boys (whose motor nerves are still growing) actually get signals from their body saying,  ‘Move around. Use me.’ To a stressed-out first grade teacher, this looks like misbehavior.”  (This is in a section titled “Starting School: Why Boys Should Start Later.”)

I probably don’t have to convince you how important play and movement is for children (or any of this for that matter), so I’ll leave it at that.  But I will tell you exactly what I’m doing besides giving them ample time to imagine, play and move.  This is where my second priority, Literature, comes in.  The number one “schooling” activity kids this age should be involved in is soaking up books and stories: fiction, non-fiction, oral storytelling, plays, you get the drift.  (The phases of learning mentioned in this post is very intriguing to me, and I want to read more about educational philosophies that support this notion.)

  • We read books often.  If we’re not going anywhere, I have “book time” with both my boys in the mornings, and then we (my husband and I each take one child) usually read one book at bedtime with the five-year-old and look through several picture books with the two-year-old.  We go to the library too, but I’m lucky to have quite a nice collection of children’s books through library sales, so I find we have long stretches of time when we don’t go to the library because we’re busy with other things.

We read storybooks as well as non-fiction.  My five-year-old is very fond of science books about bugs, snakes, the earth or whatnot.

For a long time, I wanted to incorporate another way to foster make-believe with both my boys that I could easily participate in.  I also wanted to create some kind of morning ritual with them.  I wasn’t sure how to do this.  I started “book time” but I wanted more than that.  Then one morning my five-year-old pulled down the finger puppets that were sitting on the top of my bookshelf in the living room.  (They had been there untouched for a long time.)  He wanted to do a puppet show.

  • And that was the beginning of our morning puppet shows.  We all take turns putting on a play, and even my two-year-old will get behind the love seat and put on his own puppet show!  How cool is that?

We don’t do a puppet show every morning.  If we are going somewhere, or if the boys are playing nicely together, I don’t push it, but I do encourage it and ask for a puppet show on a regular basis.   My puppet shows are another outlet for me to impart some wisdom, though mostly I entertain.  (Once I even let their toy alligator try to eat the puppets.  It’s nice for me to have an outlet to do “boy stuff” in a way that suits my energy level.  Afterall, I’m a forty-year-old girl who likes to sit in one place!)

In addition:

My future goals:  In the near future, I hope we can find an art class for the five-year-old.  Long term goals: some kind of art study, music study, and/or creating more elaborate puppet shows.  I’d like to make some puppets or make a puppet stage.

What do you do to stimulate your child’s imagination?  And please come back.  I’ll continue to go over my homeschool priorities in detail.

Our Homeschool Mission

Several years ago I read the mission of another homeschool family that I admire, and I liked the idea of creating a mission.  I don’t think it’s necessary if that’s not your thing, but for me, it helps me focus on what I want my children to learn.  This is especially important since I’m not depending on a curriculum.

Our mission is fluid.  Since I’m just starting out on this homeschooling journey, I’m not going to say this is what we’ll always do.  I’m sure my sons’ interests will take us on many varied paths.  But right now I need a compass to put me in the starting position.

So, almost two years ago, I began brainstorming about what was important to me to teach my children, and I came up with these lists.  The first list is “the basics” and the second list is what I want to teach or emphasize.  Many of these categories overlap, but I wrote them out as a reminder to myself.

Then I wrote the mission statement.  Yes, it’s a bit wordy and lofty, but like I said, I wanted a compass to guide me as I began to facilitate my children’s education.  Why not have a high ideal?  

Now that my eldest son is five-years-old, I am finally referring to this list and statement as I plan our activities.  I think it’ll help me focus my time and my blog, and maybe it’ll help some of you starting out too.

I begin with the categories of learning.  *Note that according to Georgia Law I’m required to teach the following: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.  The law does not go into further detail about what I have to teach.

Categories of Learning

The Basics:

Mama’s Emphasis/Additions:

  • Storytelling
  • Nature/Animals
  • International Education
  • World Religions Education
  • Spiritual Lessons/Life Missions – I have linked to my PBH page here because I think through this my sons will find their life’s work.
  • Leadership/Good Citizenship
  • Financial Literacy
  • Foreign Language

Without further ado…

Our Mission Statement:

The purpose of our homeschool is to not only teach our children what they need to know to be accepted into an accredited college (if they choose to do so) but to also foster a love of learning and give them a foundation on which to build a fulfilling life of their own.  We want to enable them to find what will make them prosper: spiritually, in their vocation, and for their livelihood.  We want to create strong citizens who have knowledge of the world they live in and a respect for the earth they live on.  We want to show them that learning is a life-long endeavor and that knowledge and experience are steppingstones to wisdom.

…Do you have a mission statement for your homeschool? Please share it with me.

In my next post, I’ll talk about our homeschool priorities for my sons’ current ages/levels: preschool and kindergarten.  And I’ll explain how I plan to go about fulfilling our mission.

The Importance of Play in Children’s Lives


Note: This column appeared in the November 9, 2011 print edition of the Barrow Journal.  Almost two years ago I also wrote a column about the importance of playing make-believe and the research on how it teaches self-regulation to children.  You can read that column by clicking here.

Sometimes I’ll get the question: “How’s homeschooling going?” and I get a little taken aback because I feel as if I should answer: “It’s great!  We’re doing reading, math, science, art and going on lots of field trips!” At least, that’s what I think people want to hear.  After all, if my child were in Kindergarten, he would be getting a daily dose of the above.

Truth be told, though we do a little of that stuff, and I’ve written about it in my columns, my main directive for my kids is “Go play.”  Because when I consider what the most important mission of a five- and two-year-old should be, it’s PLAY!

Play is one of the main reasons I am homeschooling in the first place.  I don’t want my children to have to spend their day at school and then have most of their evening hours consumed by doing homework, eating dinner, taking a bath and going to bed early because they have to get up early the next morning to go to school. 

I’m not saying that schoolchildren don’t play, but I do think that play is at a lower priority when we have to stick to schedules and get homework done.  And from what I hear, Kindergarteners are not excluded from these pressures anymore.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a report on “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.”  I recommend that parents read it.  It issues a concern that a “hurried and pressured lifestyle” may be having ill-effects on our children.

It does not say that all activities or after-school programs are bad for children.  In fact, they have clear benefits.  But it does say “…the balance that needs to be achieved will be different for every child on the basis of the child’s academic needs, temperament, environment, and the family’s needs.”

As I watch my boys grow and my eldest nears his elementary years, I increasingly feel that he needs the right balance between structured activity, academics and playtime.  Playtime should take up a much higher percentage of his time.

In “The Case for Play,” Tom Bartlett describes several researchers attempts to bring old-fashioned play back into children’s lives.

He explains that these researchers believe: “The emphasis on standardized testing, on attempting to constantly monitor, measure, and quantify what students learn, has forced teachers to spend more of the school day engaged in so-called direct instruction and has substantially reduced or eliminated opportunities that children have for exploring, interacting, and learning on their own.”

I want to homeschool for exactly those reasons cited above: so that my children can explore, interact and learn on their own.

In a wonderful New York Times opinion piece titled “Play to Learn,” Susan Engel lists what an ideal classroom daily schedule would entail for a third-grade class.  Besides being immersed in storytelling, reading, discussion, practicing computation and giving the children a chance to devise original experiments (just to name a few), they would also have extended time to play.

She writes, “Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.”

Reading this makes me very excited about homeschooling because this is the kind of school I want to create.  At home, I can teach my children the basics without drilling them or making them work on assignments they have no interest in.  I can give them hours of leisure time to play, or I can plan some outings and interesting projects that they’ll enjoy.

Reading the latest research on play has renewed my enthusiasm for teaching my son and has reminded me to keep asking him questions, engage him in conversation, and, most importantly, encourage him to create his own make-believe world.

Susan Engel also writes, “Scientists know that children learn best by putting experiences together in new ways. They construct knowledge; they don’t swallow it.”

At five-years-old, spending time and money worrying about a curriculum should not be on my to-do list for my son.  Instead I should be outside toting sticks and playing with him.

How important do you think play is for children…and adults?!