When Andrew and I found out we were expecting our first child our daily conversations immediately began to revolve around our expectations of parenting. From the most immediate concerns of bottle or breast and cloth or disposable to the farthest possibilities of college and marriage our conversations covered it all. There were many things we were not sure of, some things we didn’t quit agree on, but one thing we both new for sure was we wanted to raise our child in the most traditional way possible. We agreed that I would stay home with our new daughter as long as it was financially possible. Little did we know a short sixteen months later our second child would arrive! With two small children at home in diapers being a stay at home Mom seemed to be the most reasonable thing to do. As Macey and William got older, Andrew and I became concerned with the quality of education they would receive. We began talking about public vs. private, and while we both preferred private school there just wasn’t a good option available for us in our area. So we turned to home schooling.
Macey has always been a very perceptive child. As a four year old she had a strong desire to learn. Her birthday fell in November, after the school age guideline for kindergarten. So we took the leap in August and enrolled her in home school kindergarten. I was excited, but also scared! What did I know about being a teacher? Andrew and I both have college degrees, we have experience coaching youth sports teams and teaching youth groups. But this was our own child, and her future! No pressure.
Within days we knew we had made the right decision. Macey flew through kindergarten so quickly I had to order her more books by January just to keep her busy! By the end of the year she was reading Dick and Jane to us, writing short sentences, reading road signs and counting her own money. She loved science and reading, enjoyed art and history, and had an incredible memory for her age.
During Macey’s kindergarten year, our family moved from a small lot in a large town to a farm in a rural area twenty minutes from the nearest small town. Culture shock! While it was tough starting up a new operation here while taking care of the kids and home schooling one, there were also many un-expected benefits.
Our first summer here we spent every spare moment fencing, building, finding breeding stock, picking out equipment, planting, harvesting, canning, preserving, and exploring outdoors. The kids were amazed daily at all the new activities here! Before our move, the kids’ knowledge of the outdoors was basically formed around the soccer field, public park, and the yard.
William started kindergarten this past fall. With two young children to home school and a new baby at home, things were getting quit interesting! It simply wasn’t possible to sit at a table for hours on end doing bookwork all day. I stressed over this the first few months, and then I suddenly realized… we didn’t HAVE to sit and do book work all day!
The kids and I began to incorporate our daily chores and outdoor activities into our school day. For instance, when Macey was learning division we used our new baby chicks as a learning tool. As we cleaned their brooding boxes and moved them into fresh containers she divided them into equal groups. William gathers eggs for us daily. When we went to the barn to collect, I would ask him to count all the eggs for me. On a farm with 104 animals, there are many opportunities to practice math!
We do our language, handwriting, and spelling indoors using a combination of books, dry erases boards, and learning games. Even these lessons can be incorporated outdoors. Try having your child spell the species, breeds, and names of your animals. Give them chalk and let them write sentences or their spelling list on the concrete or brick outside. We made an outdoor chalkboard from a piece of plywood and krylon chalkboard spray paint. For a fun activity, write down specific items or places in your yard and set up a reading scavenger hunt. For instance, start with the word “bird feeder.” When your child reads the words and finds the bird feeder, give them another clue saying “slide” and so on. A sweet treat at the end is usually a good motivation for this game!
Science has become much more fun since we moved! Last year as part of our science lessons we got a butterfly habitat and ordered larvae. The kids got to watch the entire process from caterpillar to cocoon and finally beautiful butterfly! After enjoying our butterflies indoors for a few days, we had a release party one Friday and released them into our yard. Now every time the kids see a black and orange butterfly they say it’s one of our babies. This Christmas they got an ant farm. In a few weeks we will get our ants for it.
Life on a farm provides many unique life and science lessons that can simply not be learned in a classroom. Since Andrew works away from home and the kids and I are home together each day, when there is a farm emergency we are all in it together. The kids have sat with me through sick sheep, piglets being born, chicks hatching, and all manners of gardening chores. They know the different stages of a tomato plant not from a book, but from real life observation. They know the food chain intimately as they have experienced birth, life, and death of livestock. Macey and William probably know more about livestock behavior and habitat than many adults. They can also identify several types of plants and trees by their leaves and bark. We take “nature walks” frequently and discuss the different species of flowers, trees, grasses, and weeds. The kids also enjoy field trips, such as this one to the Ripley's Aquarium dinosaur exhibit.
Our kids are very hands on. They enjoy learning things through doing. We use every opportunity we can to learn things by moving, touching, seeing, and doing. Macey’s favorite class of coarse is art! She loves to draw, color, and create. We have incorporated art and history together by having each child work on a “States” folder. Each week we learn about a different state, color a page showing the state flowers, animals, birds, etc. and add it to the folder. Bruce Larkin has a neat series of short reading books on each state. Every state has it’s own book, and Macey reads these to us as we get to each state (they are designed for a 2nd grade reading level). We have also done projects in drawing, modeling clay, origami, beads, and many other mediums.
Beyond the “normal” subjects usually studied, home schooling on a homestead offers other life lessons necessary for the development of strong adults. By assigning your children age appropriate farm chores they learn responsibility and compassion. We want our children to feel like they are a part of our operation. When they each have turned 6, we have let them pick their own spring lamb. Last year, Macey picked Alpha. This year William will get his pick. Our deal with them is as long as they help care for their sheep, the money made off of their sheep is theirs. If they slack off on their duties then they do not get the reward for the work. This year Macey asked for her own chickens. Andrew built her a chicken tractor, and Macey was allowed to pick her own breed. She wanted Americanas because they lay colored eggs. So she now has a flock of five birds. We are about to hatch our first eggs off of her little flock, and she will get to either keep or sale her chicks. William has already picked his breed, the Salmon Faverolles. Now Andrew has to get to work on another tractor! Last year the kids made over $400 together from farm chores and sales, not to bad considering they were 6 and 5 years old! Not only are they learning responsibility, animal husbandry, and math, but also how to save and spend wisely. We do not buy our children gifts throughout the year if it is not a birthday or holiday. Instead, we provide opportunities for them to earn money throughout the year. When they want something, they have to decide if they want it badly enough to spend their own money. Our kiddo’s have become pretty savvy shoppers!
Regardless of which approach you decide to take towards home schooling, I would definitely recommend you contact your local school system or state school board and request the yearly learning assessment guidelines for your childs grade level. This will allow you to make sure your child is learning all the minimum requirements as their public school counterparts. If your child is going above and beyond these minimums that is great! Keep up the good work. Many states will also allow your child to take yearly assessment tests with the public schools. Next year, Macey will be taking the state TCAP tests with our local 3rd grade public school classes. William will do the same when he is older, as will Cierra eventually.
When we first had the notion to home school, I had no idea how complex our decision truly was. I imagined an organized and structured plan centered around a table, stack of books, and notebook paper. Life rarely turns out as we plan, and in this case I am thrilled that is the case! Eight years ago I had no idea we would be here on this farm with three young children, home schooling, and me staying at home. Our life is crazy hectic, and our days full of new adventures! The kids are flourishing, our family is close and happy, and I will never look back with any regret at the decisions we have made. So if you are sitting on the fence wondering if you have what it takes to home school, I felt the same way at first. How scary it is to take that leap! Just remember, no one loves your children as much as you do. There is no one perfect way to home school, every child is different and your approach may not be the same as mine. That is the beauty of home schooling though, it can be adapted to suit your family, your needs, and your child’s learning type. So jump right in, and be prepared to learn a lot about yourself along the way!