Homeschooling your Pre-K thru Second Grader
I think the question I am asked most about homeschooling is, “What do you use (curriculum) to teach your kids?” and I find as I explain the answer to most non-homeschooling people, their eyes start to glaze over. However, to those interested, it is an honest question and so I decided to post about my homeschooling pre-K thru 2nd grade “curriculum”. First a little background into our Pre-K story.
Kindergarten once was the preparation for starting school and now, in an effort to get ahead, pre-school is where one is sent to prepare for an entire year of napping, gluing and snack time. Perhaps you might detect a little disdain for pre-school as I type, my problem isn’t really with pre-school, as 2 of my children went for 1 1/2 years and my youngest a half year, it is the such early evaluation and pushed conformity of children that I have issue with… let me explain.
As I just mentioned my kids attended pre-K, which turned out being an entire year geared toward passing Kindergarten round up, not actually learning or exploring or playing. Did my kids have some fun, sure…but did it benefit them educationally, not at all. There was such pressure to conform, as the pre-school teacher explained that the number 8 had to be written in an infinity pattern versus a snowman pattern or the children, once they hit Kindergarten, would be labeled problematic. It was better to have lengthy talks with parents and crush a child’s spirit over how they write the number 8, then just letting them be a preschooler. Site words, versus phonetically reading, are often taught in pre-school, as explained again, because that is how and what children learn in Kindergarten.
Children at the age of 4-5 were already being forced to do things a certain way or faced the consequences of being labeled, and I took issue with that. Having my kids in pre-school, sealed the deal for homeschooling and while many pre-schools are different, the standards of conformity are not. I of course don’t hold pre-K teachers responsible, they are trying to ready kids for what is needed as best they can, I just disagree with the methods.
So, why tell you all of that, well to ease your mind and let you know that pre-K and Kindergartners don’t need to know it all, they need this time to explore and expand their minds and the pushing of formal education at this point isn’t always helpful, in fact, many countries, with much higher reading averages, discourage formal education of children until 6-7 years of age. I don’t advocate foregoing everything but rigorous education is not necessary at such young ages.
Ok, back to what we did and what we used…
Pre-K and Kindergarten
When your kid learns to read, has a lot to do with them, if you think your 3 year old is ready to start learning their alphabet or even ready to start reading, then go for it! Maybe your child just isn’t quite ready to read, even at age 4 or the Kindergarten level, that is ok, start with the alphabet and the rest will come. The book below in the Reading section (The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons) does teach the alphabet and could be a complete stand alone book for both teaching letter recognition and reading, it however does not teach the letters in the order that we usually sing the ABC song.
The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (to the left) is also a complete reading program, very in depth, however the first 2 sections are devoted to short vowel sounds and a cute rhyme that helps teach the alphabet. This book could carry a child from learning the alphabet to reading 6 syllable words like dependability, however, there are some sections that are hard for young children to follow. I would recommend this book to parents as an aid for teaching the alphabet to very young children, who are ready. Then using the below book for reading lessons but keeping this book to brush up on the rules of reading (for instance when c or g meets e, i, or y, its sound is soft) as reinforcement for verbal reading later. It is also a good reference to have for an older child to go to if they are having a hard time with one rule in particular.
The first thing I will recommend is just plain reading. Reading to your child on a daily basis from basically birth is a must and if you haven’t read much to your child by age 3-4, now is the time to start. Setting aside a time everyday to read will not only help them appreciate reading, it will begin to form structure. I recommend having books in the home as well, as studies show that just having books in the home aids in higher reading levels later.
Waiting to teach a child to read until Kindergarten age or even 1st grade level is completely fine, but for those parents whose Pre-K kids are starting to show interest in learning words or reading for themselves, I recommend and used, The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons. I happened by this book at the library, brought it home, and really didn’t think it would work because of it’s simplicity, however, I was sooo wrong! The Reading Lesson teaches phonetic reading in 20 lessons, though the lessons are several pages, with each lesson taking about a week. There are pictures, but they are done coloring page style and could be given to the child to color once done. I like the fact that flashy pictures weren’t used because often items are too distracting for children and many good tools are almost “dumbed” down for children. All 3 of my kids used this easily, however I will say, don’t let the simplicity fool you and give yourself 30 days (5 days a week), doing a couple pages a day (about 15 minutes daily) to really see it progress.
Just having them easily trace letters is a good start here, of course, if they are eager allow them to go farther. Click here for some great workbooks.
Knowing how to add at this level isn’t important however, introducing children to numbers both logically and in a hands on way, is important. Just counting items as they go into the cart or cars as they pass by, will aid in a child’s math ability. Having blocks or beans or even buttons on had to count, as long as they know to keep the items away from their mouth, will also help. We used the inch wooden blocks to the left (click on the picture to view more information about them) but there are many options, such as counting bears (which are super cute) or shapes, click here for more options. The goal is to get the child familiar with numbers and the concept that more of an object increases the number, while less decreases it. My goal at this age was to get my kids to be able to count, both up and down, while playing with objects, to have them recognize written numbers and to have them independently be able to count to 100, which might seem high but counting everyday items really makes this easy!
For this young age, science might seem ridiculous but the key is to get children interested in subjects now, so they want to learn later. For the pre-school age I recommend taking nature walks and discussing the leaves, trees, air, soil and so on, nothing too in depth, just the basics. We had a notebook that the kids were able to draw in as well, sometimes they taped in leaves and so on, they were excited to do it.
Watching certain shows on channels like Nat Geo Wild about animals, was also a great place for my kids to begin learning about animals that aren’t in our back yard. Netflix also has some cute animal documentaries aimed for children that might help kids get interested in animals. One of our favorite animal shows is Wild Kratts and I can’t even begin to tell you how much my little kids learned about animals watching that show.
Signing your children up for ZooBooks or National Geographic Kids (magazines for little ones) is a great step towards getting your children to learn independently, not to mention that they will be excited to get their own mail. Another great tool is something that will grow with your child. The books to the right and left, The Animal Book and Ocean are above the pre-school level but my kids loved them at 4 and 5 but still love them today, so don’t let the grade level keep you from them.
Another thing we did was have hands on things for the kids to play with and use in different situations. The little plastic animals to the right are made by a company named Toob. They have so many options of animals, but also items from ancient Egypt and Rome, little replicas of organs and more, see the options here. Having them has really helped the children connect what they learn elsewhere!
First and Second Grade
I think it is very important to have your children read out loud to you every day, or at least every school day. It can be a small book on their level or a whole chapter if they are capable, but this will strengthen their ability while also allowing you to monitor progress. By now most children will have some grasp at reading, however, all children are different, and if your child has less interest in reading than you would like, take a look at what you are allowing them to read and adjust to their interests. If they are struggling with rules (ai sound like a in acorn) then just review with them gently as they are reading, being repetitive is the key, it will eventually become second nature, however, try not to correct them too soon if they make a mistake, children need to learn to correct themselves. Only step in if they in fact are stumped by the word. If by first grade you haven’t begun to teach reading, start with the books in the above Pre-K and Kindergarten section.
My kids use, and have liked, workbooks from Modern Curriculum Press called Spelling Workout. The workbooks start at level A and go thru to level H. There are 36 lessons in each workbook and with the average school year being that, using 1 workbook a year would suffice giving you material from 1st-8th grade. However, some children will work faster and allowing them to work ahead will not hurt as long as they are learning the material. These workbooks are great, not only do they teach spelling, they reinforce the rules of phonetically reading, have a dictionary at the back of the workbook to help your child to not only learn definitions but also how to use a dictionary, and they teach children how to proofread.
I use these workbooks 4 days a week, giving a spelling test on the 5th day, however, they could be used differently and I only purchase the student editions, I haven’t needed a teacher’s edition yet. I would also say that if you have a Kindergartner that is reading well, starting them in workbook A (pictured above) might not hurt, as long as your expectations of their writing aren’t high. For 1st grade you will use level A and for second grade you will use level B.
To be honest almost any handwriting book will work, of course there are expensive courses, but as long as they are learning the basics of writing and it is done everyday, almost any book will work. Click here for examples.
Not all adults know how to dissect a sentence today or know all of the rules of proper grammar, in fact, I am one of those, there are so many things you forget over time, but this book by Jessie Wise, First Language Lessons, is an excellent book. It builds on itself and allows for even young children to remember the rules and definitions. When my oldest started in this book, my youngest, who is 2 years younger, learned along with him and now my 6 year old can tell me the list of pronouns, the definitions of nouns, verbs and so on better than his older brother! The book to the left is Level 1 which would be used in 1st grade, Level 2 for second and so on…I believe that there are 4 levels.
There are countless math curriculum out there, so many so, that it is overwhelming, and a home school family will swear by their choice, however, you need to find one that will work for you and that reaches your child. The book The Well Trained Mind has several options but there are countless more.
I chose one offered in The Well Trained Mind based on Singapore’s math program, called Primary Mathematics US Edition. The workbooks and textbooks to the left represent level 1A and 1B, which technically is a second grade level, though I started my 1st graders here, I also did not find use in the textbook and only used the workbooks. I chose this system because I read many reviews praising it as the best program because it teaches math mentally at an early age. When I started using it there was a short learning curve but I found that my children were picking up quick math skills.
Workbooks 1A and 1B are intended to be used in a school year, though should you only get through 1A and part of 1B in the first grade year, that is fine, we home school remember! Having a math day once a week during the summer will fix that! The important thing here is that they get the basics so they can build on them.
On top of using the above 1A and 1B workbooks, I included the 1A and 1B workbooks of Singapore Math Practice (to the left). These additional workbooks build on what they learn in the Primary Mathematics US Edition workbooks and build on that, significantly. By the end of 1st grade my children were able to add, subtract, learned about weight, money, time and can do word problems. By the end of 2nd grade my children built on what they learned and added multiplication, division, knowledge of both the Imperial and Metric systems and much more.
For 1st grade you will need Primary Mathematics US Edition 1A and 1B as well as Singapore Math Practice 1A and 1B. For second grade you will use 2A and 2B in both and so on.
For more help with verbal math and mental math, math without pencil and paper, I bought the small book to the left, Verbal Math Lesson. This book states it can be used for 4-7 year olds, so beginning earlier could be an option, however, I started in 1st grade. The book is broke into lessons and the lessons are broke into exercises, which are to be done daily. By the end of Level 1, children can subtract double digit numbers in their head and can do a multitude of word problems without paper and pencil. Level 2 will aid in multiplication and division mentally. I have noticed that my children, unlike many, because of this book and the above workbooks are very comfortable with word problems!
Science can seem daunting without actual textbooks but the goal is to ALWAYS keep the kids wanting to learn. For 1st and 2nd grade I opted in having the kids learn more about the animal world, plants, the human body, and about Earth and Space. There are so many ways to teach these things, it could take pages but for this age group keeping it simple at first is the key.
When teaching about animals, start with the differences between Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Fish, Birds and Insects. Does your child have a favorite animal, if so, dive into learning all about that animal. Find books, documentaries, coloring pages, posters and so on about that animal. Incorporate hands on learning with plastic animals from Toob or animal models. Of course visiting zoos are always a plus! Here are a couple projects we did when we were studying arctic animals to help spark some ideas.
Below are some of the items that we used for our Animal study.
Teaching about plants can be very simple, having a garden will go along way in that! My kids learned a lot about plants through the garden. We also had some books and a few hands on things as well, but getting kids into the dirt, even if you just plant a few pots, will be the key here! Imagine little ones growing their own flowers or tomato plants from seeds and seeing their fruits of their labor. If you are new to gardening or even a seasoned pro check out this book, All New Square Foot Garden, it is awesome Below are a few examples of things we had for our plant study.
The human body is an abyss of teachable information, but learning it little by little is key. Don’t expect them to remember bone names or every body system, but giving them a general knowledge on how the body works is what you are aiming for. Having kids run around and then feel their heart beat is a great way to get them understanding the Circulatory System. Simply taking a measuring tape and measuring out 25ft will show kids how long their intestines are. There are many ways to make the body a hands on experience! Drawing pictures, playing games, and books will aid you… check out some of these experiments
- How to make a Lung
- Understanding the connection of the Nervous System and balance – post coming
Below are also some things we hand on hand to study the human body with.
The subjects of Earth and Space are natural curiosities for kids and adults alike! A great show on PBS currently (2017) is Ready Jet Go, my kids like it, have learned alot about different things from that show, and it also opened the door for wanting to know more about space. We watched the documentary Cosmos, which is on Netflix, and I highly recommend it. The show uses some great graphics along with cartoons to tell a story, though if you are a Christian (I am a Christian and will not go into my personal views here, though feel free to ask) that takes issue with science and creation, then it might be a miss for you, though the show goes to lengths not to dismiss God, in my opinion. As far as the study of Earth, we just reviewed the world around us and there are many hands on things to do. Trips to planetariums and zoos are great options. Experiments are great ideas… here are a few we did.
Below are some things we used to study Earth and Space.
History and Geography
These are usually subjects that come later but can be addressed in fun ways to make them easier to introduce earlier. We studied history and geography by learning the continents, and starting with North America, began studying countries within the continent. We learned about the native animals, the native people, some native food dishes, the anthems, the names of the provinces or states, a few important people, longest and biggest rivers and lakes… things that are probably important to know… this is basic info and as they get older dates and more specific info will come later. We have alot of fun doing this and started with Canada. To see more on our Canada study see here (post coming).