How Books Are, and Will Continue to Be, Our Main Homeschool Curriculum

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“What better education can we offer our children than the shaping of their hearts to love others as we have been loved by God ourselves? Charlotte Mason, a nineteenth-century educator, said as much when she taught that it’s not how much children know that matters – it’s how much they care. Education is put to its best use when it teaches us how to love.” Sarah MacKenzie, The Read Aloud Family

I’ve always known the importance of books.
Growing up, my father was a Professor in Children’s Literature, and in our home there was always a library. Thousands and thousands of children’s books at our finger tips. Of course, when I finally got hooked into reading, it was through The Baby Sitter’s Club (much to my Dad’s despair), but hey, I was reading, right? Those girls were my friends, got me through some lonely, friend-less years at school. And, they got me into other books, so I knew – first hand – what meaningful connections books could give.
Watership Down, The Halfmen of O, Snowfall, My Friend Flicka – those books had lasting effects on me as a child. When I left school and went to university, history and books were what I pursued. Words and literary worlds are my thing. So, of course, I knew that they would be my children’s thing also. I don’t think my father would let it be otherwise!
Becoming a homeschooling family has taken this to a whole new meaning.

“It’s tempting to idolize certain aspects of education. We value good grades, high test scores, elite college degrees, and lucrative careers. But our obsession keeps us from remember what education is for. Education is for love.” ~ Read Aloud Family

Starting to homeschool brought me a lot of fear. The invisible standards of our school system, peer levels, and my own lack of confidence meant I have yo-yoed through philoshophies and ideas and what works for us. But one thing has been a common thread these last two years: books.
Whether we are pursuing interests, rabbit holes, or I am planning my own lessons for the children, books are the centre of our learning. Often a book will be the anchor of a unit study. Sometimes, a book will spark a new interest in the children. More often than not, we’re just reading all the new books we get from the library each week. And we’re talking and thinking about those books.
Through all these books, and all the love we have pouring over them together, I have come to see what Sarah MacKenzie says above: education is about love. It isn’t about tests or grades or how much my child actually knows. It is about helping them care about themselves, their family, the wider community, and the world beyond.
“Is the main reason we want an excellent education for our children so they can outperform their peers? So they can rank higher, get promoted faster, become more financially successful than their collegues and friends? Or do we want our children to become educated so they can follow the two greatest commandments: love God and love one another?” ~ Read Aloud Family

 

Why do I think books, as a core curriculum, will provide a better education than anything else?
I think, above all else, books and stories enable the world – people, history, experience, ideas, scientific facts – to truly and deeply come alive to children. Charlotte Mason’s term ‘living books’ is so apt – if a book is written well, anything and all things can come alive in a child’s mind and heart.

From within, then, and not just head-knowledge, will a child be educated.

A child can experience a time in history that could otherwise just be facts, say in Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. The reader can understand, not just what life was like in the late 1930’s, but what it was like for Anna, a Jew, escaping Germany and learning to adjust to a new life for being ‘hated’.
A child’s creative ideas could be planted and grown through reading all the Harry Potter books. Imaginary worlds and characters that spill out into play and creative pursuits expand a child’s mind far more than the typical reading comprehension exercises. Not to mention the inner warmth the reader has as they read Harry’s courage, good characters against evil ones, and the difficulty of choosing what is right when the odd’s are against you.

I could go on and on about how truly wonderful and life-giving books can be for children. And I think really using books – picture books, novels, reference books – can be absolutely sufficient for a homeschool curriculum. (I have already reviewed the Five and a Row curriculum, which is literary-based and which we love and use.)

“We read with our children because it gives both them and us an education of the heart and mind. Of intellect and empathy. We read together and learn because stories teacg us how to love.” ~ Sarah MacKenzie

If you need some more encouragement, I highly recommend the Read Aloud Family book that I have quoted – it is excellent.

An Honest Homeschool Post About Comparing and Feeling a Bit Crazy

I am just so, so, so thankful for the homeschooling community on the internet. In so many ways, we are homeschooling because of all the blogs and mamas I followed when our two were itsy-bitsy. Seeing them online and reading their words planted the idea in my heart, and the Spirit fed it over time. Now, on hard days, taking to Instagram and connecting with like-minded mothers makes all the difference for me. Honestly, God uses this whole new world for mothers for so much good.
Can I share with you my biggest struggle, though?
Comparison. 
For me, the comparison isn’t Oh, dear, I am such a failure kind of comparison. Rather, it’s a Oh my, I love what they’re doing, maybe we should do that? kind of comparison. Seriously, it must be a fear of missing out or something (which is apparently shortened to FOMO, something I didn’t know until recently). 
Like I shared in my last post (which, by the way, resonated with so many which is so encouraging), I have had Charlotte Mason dreams since the beginning. I love to follow CM-style mamas out there because the little Instagram-squares they post are so beautiful and so inspiring. I think I would have loved to be homeschooled under a Charlotte Mason philosophy, and dreamed one for our own home.
In the last few weeks, I have tried to do it again. Those beautiful squares were making me get giddy and longing to have my ideal realised. So I made a quick plan for the rest of the term and we got to it. And, you know what, it went really well. Much better than I thought it would, making me pleasantly surprised and happy. And the reason why it hadn’t worked before – my darling boy – actually did super well. 
And yet, I just don’t know

That’s been my stumbling block right from the beginning of this journey: I just don’t know what I want for us. All the families doing all the homeschool styles look amazing and inspiring and would be wonderful for us, too. So I have frog-jumped onto almost all of them. For a few weeks or months, we’ll be ticking a long doing unschooling/Charlotte Mason/unit study etc. but then, I’ll be inspired by others and change it all.

Is anyone else like me out there?
Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who can’t stick to something. I have heard this is common for curriculum – a mother always wondering if that other curriculum would be the missing puzzle piece to the ‘perfect’ homeschool. So far, that hasn’t been too hard (living in a far away country probably helps with that). But our homeschool style? I just can’t stick!
So, in the last two months, we have Five in a Row-ed, unschooled, Charlotte Mason-ed, and back to Five in a Row. I feel like I’m a little crazy.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a particularly inspiring ending to share, rather, I’m just sharing – what I feel is – a failure of mine so far as a homeschooling mother. Perhaps there is another mother out there who is the same, or a further-along mother can share some advice or encouragement to help me. I think I need it!

And for your information, this week we have been doing Five in a Row in the mornings and Interest-Led Learning for all the rest of the time 😂

Five in a Row: The Blessings of Togetherness + Learning

In this post, I would love to share with you our experience so far with the homeschooling curriculum, Five in a Row. Released in 1994, it has been a blessing to families for many, many years. It may not look as exciting or nostalgic as other homeschooling curriculum/styles, but I promise you, it is well worth looking into for your family.

3 Reasons Five in a Row Will Bless Your Homeschool

Snuggles on the Couch with Good Books

Sitting down together with my children and reading good books is my number one favourite thing to do with them – and I think it is their favourite thing to do also! The closeness, the pouring over pictures, the words creating worlds in our minds, the giggles we have, the conversations that are sparked – books bring families together. And Five in a Row is based upon digging deep into books.
The books suggested by the makers of FIAR are excellent and picked for their beauty, depth, and perspective on the world. Of course, there will be some books that your children don’t love as much as others, but as a mother, it’s a blessing to be able to sit down with trustworthy and beautiful books.

Natural, Well-Rounded Learning

Five in a Row is essentially a literature-based unit study curriculum. This means that the book of the week, say Lentil by Robert McCloskey, is the basis of all activities of the week. When we read Lentil, because of the content of the story, music and the harmonica were something we looked into. The children had never heard the harmonica before, so watching some videos on You Tube was a great activity. For science, we studied a little about the tongue – the four main tastes we have – because Old Sneep sucked a lemon and made everyone pucker their lips!
There is nothing forced about the activities for each book. From art and culture to science and history, there are a broad range of beautiful and meaningful learning opportunities that are drawn from the story. And this is what makes the learning meaningful and lasting – the children can see how learning is, as Charlotte Mason said, a “science of relations”.

The Freedom of Flexibility

I learned fairly quickly that I am not a super structured homeschooling mother. Though I like freedom, I am not so relaxed that I don’t want some routine or intentional learning with the children. This is one of the reasons why I think Five in a Row has suited us – and me, the mother! – so well. 
Within each unit, there are around twenty activities to choose from. You can do as many or as little as you think will suit your children. Some people just use the manual and others supplement with Pinterest or lapbooks found at Homeschool Share. Some weeks you may be able to do a vigorous week of learning, other weeks only minimal. Sometimes we have gone a few weeks between books, and many times, we ‘row’ a book over two weeks and not just one. The flexibility of Five and a Row is one of it’s best assets.
As you can see, we just love Five in a Row. My children are 6 and almost 5, and I can foresee that we will be doing it for the next few years. There are more volumes for older children also, which we may very well go on to. 
My favourite thing about our journey so far with Five in a Row are the memories we have been cultivating together, with the books themselves and the things we learn and do from them. Nine months since rowing Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel (our first book we rowed), we still talked about it. I loved hearing my kids giggle through Cranberry Thanksgiving and hearing them repeat fill sentences after reading The Story of Ping.

If you’re looking into a gentle, literature-based curriculum that builds togetherness and organic learning, Five in a Row could definitely be the one you are looking for.