Why We Do Homeschool and Preschool

Ever since I started researching homeschooling options, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of opinions in the homeschool world about preschool.

Some homeschooling families are content to do preschool at home—some with a more play-based model, some with a more structured, academic approach. Some even take an unschooling approach to preschool, choosing to emphasize life skills as the core of their curriculum. 

Other homeschooling families purposefully send younger siblings to preschool in order to give older children more focused attention during school hours.

In our family, we combine these approaches, and take a mostly “life skills” approach to home education, but our older son, Xavi, also attends a bilingual, Christian, Reggio-inspired preschool for two afternoons a week.

 

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We decided to send him to preschool because as a bilingual family, it was important to us that our son was exposed to Spanish speakers outside of our immediate family unit. We wanted him to see that people besides ourselves speak Spanish, and that by learning to speak the language well, he could expand his circle of friends and his experiences.

We also know that even with me at home, speaking Spanish to him most of the time, we will always have to devote a significant amount of time and attention to the development of his Spanish skills.

It is very common for bilingual children to resist communicating in the minority language—that is, the language that is not spoken in the dominant culture—and we found that that was the case for our son. Once, he even begged me to just let him a “niño normal”—a normal kid—which he defined as a kid who spoke only English.

And so, two months in to our preschool journey, I am happy to report that preschool is going great! It has been a very positive influence on him, and is supporting his Spanish language development in exactly the way that I hoped. Xavi is much less reticent to speak Spanish than he was in the past and comes home from school each day sharing new songs and words that he’s learned in our second family language.

His response to preschool has been so positive that I am now looking for ways to replicate this environment in the future. Besides planning for future trips to Latin America (budgets allowing…), I hope to enroll him in a Saturday Spanish School, so that he has consistent practice speaking Spanish in an environment where there are no other options.

So that’s where we are today in our education journey as “part-time homeschoolers”—learning at home, in Spanish, with some support from preschool.

I’d love to know: have you made use of preschool programs for your homeschooling family? Why did you decide to send your children to preschool?

A Day in the Life Here

Earlier this week, I wrote about our homeschool’s goals for 2017-2018 and how our daily rhythms support them.

Now, I’d like to provide you with a visual chart of our days, so that you can see more clearly how it all fits together. Consider this a “day in the life” post. 

Please note that this is an ideal—and not an exact—representation of our days. We do have weekly outside commitments, like our Bible study, that are not all included here and of course, things like playdates and teething babies also force us to shift our schedule at times. Despite that, I hope that this will give you an idea of how we incorporate language learning into all elements of our day—and perhaps give you some inspiration for how you could do so as well!

6-7 AM Quiet Time and/or Sleep

If I’ve woken up less than three times the night before, I’ll get up around 6:00 and spend a half hour reading my Bible, praying, and enjoying my first cup of coffee. I’ll then spend about half an hour reading through Feedly and updating my Twitter feed with the best new articles on homeschooling and language learning.

If the baby has been up more than three times the night before, well, all bets are off. 

7-9 AM Café + Libros/Breakfast

My older son comes out of his room at 7:00, and we usually snuggle on the couch for 30 minutes to enjoy “Café + Libros”—our Spanish-language version of Coffee and Books. We’ll usually get through two picture books or a chapter of our Magic Treehouse books before the baby starts squawking for attention. Xavi especially loves this time because he gets his daily tablespoon of coffee. As you can tell, I really am doing my best to immerse him in Latin American culture.

Sometimes our read-alouds continue through breakfast, but more often than not, we spend that time listening to Spanish music (lately, it’s been this CD) or a dramatized Bible story in Spanish. 

9-10:30 AM Playtime + Chores

While the baby is taking his morning nap, Xavi and I usually play together for 30 minutes or so before doing our daily chores. There are some challenges to living in a small space as a family of four, but getting chores done isn’t one of them! Every time I clean my house, I am grateful for its limited square footage, since I generally need only 15-20 minutes to accomplish my daily “big chores,” such as cleaning the bathroom or the kitchen. Oftentimes, Xavi listens to an Audible book while I do this, but I also pull him into these chores as appropriate. So far, he’s really good at spraying and wiping down counters, scrubbing the kitchen floor (we put down rags and “ice skate” to get it clean), and cleaning crevices with the Dustbuster. 

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10:30-12:00 PM Outdoor Time

At this point in the morning, I’ve been awake for a few hours and am starting to feel claustrophobic in the house, so we head out. Depending on the weather and the day of the week, we will go to a park, a nature center, or a local Storytime. Our double stroller has repaid its cost ten times over (at least!) with these outings. 

12:00 PM - 3:00 PM Lunch + Siesta

Lunch is well, lunch, but I consider nap time to be a cultural experience in and of itself—after all, we’re participating in “siesta culture!” All jokes aside, nap time is non-negotiable in our house. I use that time to read, work on this blog, prep for my Bible studies, and complete any volunteer work that I’ve signed up for. Two days a week, Xavi spends this time in preschool, so it’s just Felix napping at home with me. 

3:00 - 6:00 PM Adventure Time

Since this is the longest period of the day when both kids are awake, this is when we do our big adventures: hikes in the forest, trips to downtown DC, and long, lingering visits to the library. I generally plan one “big” outing per week (like a hike) and reserve one afternoon for grocery shopping—for the other three days, we just do whatever sounds good that day. 

6:00 - 7:30 PM Dinner + Bed

My husband works long hours, so most nights, I fly solo with the kids for dinner and bedtime. During dinner, we like to listen to classical music and play “conductor”—Xavi and I pretend to conduct the music and Felix gets a good laugh out of it. Listening to classical and chamber music during dinner, especially when I am alone with the boys, helps me feel more like an #awesomeadult and also develops their budding appetites for good art, so win-win! Xavi has become so enamored of Wagner because of our classical dinners that we are actually heading to a (local, free) Wagner concert in a few weeks! I’m pretty sure that we won’t be able to stay for the whole thing, but I do hope that he at least gets to hear “The Ride of the Valkyries” performed live.

After dinner, Xavi picks up his toys and is then allowed to watch one show in Spanish (this month, it’s Octonauts) while I clean up the kitchen. Felix gets his last wiggles out cruising along our furniture at this point. Afterwards, we get pajamas on, brush teeth, and start in on bedtime reading. We read a picture book (Xavi’s choice), read one story from our current Spanish Bible, and finally, pray before going to sleep. The two questions that guide our prayers (which we learned from our pastor in a sermon he preached last year) are these: "What happened today that you would like to thank God for?" and "What do you need God’s help with today?” Once Xavi is down, I take Felix and put him to sleep in our room. 

7:30-10:30 PM Cooking + Blogging

After the kids are in bed, I clean up dinner and then start cooking. Ever since I had Xavi and was writing my dissertation, I have used the evenings as cooking time. Back then, I found it impossible to focus on any serious intellectual work after having already spent hours of my day poring over academic research and writing. Nowadays, I’m somewhat less exhausted (at least mentally!), but its still a good time for me to listen to audiobooks and putter around in the kitchen. I generally cook three nights a week, six meals at a time. Since we have some serious food allergies between Felix and myself, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen making meals from scratch. Although this can be intense sometimes, I love it, because it frees up our days and lets us spend the maximum amount of time outdoors, since we never have to be back home to cook dinner—it’s already prepared.

I also use the nighttime to read and work on administrative tasks related to the blog (like social media scheduling and e-mail). My husband comes home late (some nights at 8 PM, some nights at 2 AM…), so whenever he arrives (although not at 2 AM), we check in and try to spend at least 15 minutes together rehashing the day. Most of our “together time” is on the weekends, though. 

Our Homeschool's Learning Goals, 2017-2018

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I’m a little late to the game here—after all, late summer is really the season for posts about curriculum choices—but in the interest of giving you a peek into our daily life here, I thought that I would share our “homeschool” learning goals for 2017-2018 and what tools we’re using along the way.

Before I do that, however, I do have one important disclaimer:

I am mostly homeschooling my three-year-old, so at this point, our “homeschool" is really more of a lifestyle than anything else. We are doing some formal learning this year, but are not using any particular curriculum, and we mostly follow my son's interests within a loose framework. My preschool philosophy is basically summed up by what Lisa Healy wrote here—we rely on “natural learning.”

At this point, my primary objective is to build a culture of learning for my boys that centers around our family values. To do that, I try to structure our daily rhythms around activities that support that goal.

So instead of offering you a rundown of curriculum choices, I’d like to share with you our homeschool’s learning goals for this year. They are roughly separated into three categories:

Goal #1: Learning to Love God (Religious Study)

We are a Christian family, so prioritizing religious study is important to us. Our two daily practices that support this right now are: memorizing Bible verses and having family devotions at bedtime.

For our verse memorization, we tackle a new (short) verse every week. As I was not raised in a Christian home, nor has my education included much memory work, this is actually a wonderful challenge for me! I write our weekly verse out on our contact paper blackboard, which sits opposite our dining room table, so that we can review our verse at every meal and snack. Usually, the verses are related to character issues that we are working on (mine and his!) and I use Parenting With Scripture as a reference to find them.

At this point, I am trying to help my older son memorize each verse in English and Spanish (look for a future post explaining why), so the verse is written in both languages. So far this year, we have memorized Romans 12:10b, 1 Thess 5:11a, Psalm 37:8 and Psalm 56:3.

In terms of family devotions, we do them at bedtime with Scholastic’s Lee-Aprende Bible.

We have a number of Spanish language Bibles (some better than others), but this one is just at the right level of sophistication for my older son. When he was younger, we used the Big Picture Story Bible, even though it is not currently available in Spanish. We read one story from the Bible and pray—it’s pretty much as simple as can be.

We also frequently listen to these dramatized Bible stories (recorded in Spanish) over breakfast. They are rather long, clocking in at about 45 minutes each, so we usually only get through one half during a meal. However, they have been great at making familiar Bible stories—especially Old Testament ones—“come alive” for my older son.

Goal #2: Learning to Love His World (Nature Study)

We spend as much time outdoors as possible, for a number of reasons—some of which are more noble than others. Yes, I want my sons to appreciate God’s creation and the creativity that He displays through it. I also don’t want to lose my mind living in a 900 square ft. apartment with two active boys. Moreover, I find myself bored when I’m cooped up indoors for too long indoors. Finally, I love that being out of the house seems to magically reduce sibling rivalry so...we are outdoors a lot.

We live in a very urban area, but have easy access to hiking trails. We go for short hikes (1-1.5 hours) about every other week, and also visit nature centers about once a month.

Pants totally optional for nature babies (note big brother's amusement)

Pants totally optional for nature babies (note big brother's amusement)

In addition, I’ve planned some formal nature learning for this year. This fall, we plan to: 

  • Attend a campfire to learn about nocturnal animals (as my son adores bats, in particular) 
  • Participate in a class about river animals at our nature center 
  • Go on a bilingual nature walk at our local nature center
  • Go apple picking and make applesauce 

We have also been encouraging my son’s burgeoning interest in scientific topics, so this year, we are doing some (very) loose unit studies on:

  • Anatomy and the human body 
  • The water cycle 
  • The seasons

Once I’ve assembled our materials for those unit studies, I look forward to providing a resource post.

Goal #3: Learning to Love His People (Language Arts + Cultural Education)

Here are some of the daily and weekly practices that we have adopted to support our sons’ language development in Spanish:

  • We practice (as consistently as possible) the One Parent One Language model; I speak Spanish to the boys and my husband speaks English. I communicate with the boys in Spanish probably about 80 percent of the time. I do need to personally be more committed to speaking Spanish to them in public—it’s so easy to slide into English to avoid social awkwardness, but really, there’s no reason that I can’t translate for non-Spanish speakers.  
  • Xavi attends bilingual preschool twice a week; we signed him up for this specifically so that he would have other people holding him accountable for speaking Spanish and so that he could get a sense of the utility of the language outside of our family.  His preschool is a bilingual, Christian, Reggio-inspired school whose educational philosophy really supports the work that we are doing at home, and I am so grateful for that. Even though he’s only been going for a few weeks, he is already much more confident in his Spanish speaking abilities—I am blown away by the positive impact it’s had so far!
  • We read aloud in Spanish for at least 30 minutes daily, usually in the morning and at bedtime. We just started on chapter books (he loves the Magic Treehouse series, which are available in Spanish) and we have many picture books that we enjoy in rotation. 
  • We memorize one poem every other week(ish) in Spanish. These are short—usually only four verses or so—yet it is truly amazing to see how easy this is for him to do. I think it helps that I reward him with an m&m (yes, a single m&m) if he recites it correctly each morning. 
  • We try to do as much of “daily life” in Spanish as possible—we listen to the news in Spanish, listen to music in Spanish with our Amazon Unlimited account, and look at the Spanish language newspapers that are available for free at the Metro. When in public, we also speak Spanish to other Hispanophones as much as possible. 
Important cultural tip: if the piñata malfunctions, you can just tear it open and throw the candy (see my example).

Important cultural tip: if the piñata malfunctions, you can just tear it open and throw the candy (see my example).

In terms of cultural learning, well—we’re doing it all the time! Much of our cultural learning comes through our read-alouds, but we also have a big adventure planned: next summer, we are planning a month-long trip to Latin America (exact location TBD). This will provide the boys with lots of Spanish language exposure, plenty of cultural learning opportunities, and give me a chance to collect materials for future home education endeavors. I really can’t wait!

So that’s it—whew! Thanks for sticking with me this whole time. Later this week, I’ll be providing a chart of our daily routine so that you can have a more visual sense of how it all works out.

Our Week in Review: October 7, 2017

What we’re reading:

I’m halfway through Karen Glass’s Consider This, about how Charlotte Mason’s teaching philosophy manifests the classical model of education. I’ve also been listening to the audiobook of everyone’s favorite Latin American novel: 100 Years of Solitude (Audible Spanish/Audible English). It’s been a while since I read this, and I’d forgotten how funny García Márquez is! This is also the first time I’ve listened to this particular Spanish voice actor narrate an audiobook, and I’m adoring his beautiful diction and melodious voice.

Xavi and I made our way through another Magic Treehouse Book (this time in Spanish): La casa del árbol #5: La noche de los ninjas. It gave us great inspiration for some imaginative play that we did during our hike on Monday afternoon-he and I spent the whole time looking for the “secret cave” where the “Ninja Master” was hidden. (Spoiler alert: we did not find the Ninja Master in our local forest).

What we’re doing:

This week kicked off with a bang—really, more like a bamba—as we got to watch 123 Andrés perform live at our local library!

123 Andrés--our favorite bilingual children's performer!

123 Andrés--our favorite bilingual children's performer!

If you’ve never heard of 123 Andrés, let me be the first to introduce you to one of the best (if not THE best) act in Spanish children’s music today. In 2016, he won a (well-deserved) Latin Grammy for Best Children’s Album for Arriba Abajo and has also produced the excellent album ¡Uno, Dos, Tres con Andrés! Both of those albums are played on heavy rotation in our house, and I think my favorite song is Si tuviera un mariachi/If I Had a Mariachi—but that may just be because I have always dreamed of being serenaded by a mariachi band on my birthday. Best of all, they are bilingual—so if you’re learning Spanish alongside your children, they will be helpful to the whole family!

I cannot stress enough how wonderful this music is for Spanish learners of any age. Not only does 123 Andrés teach Spanish grammar and vocabulary through song, but his songs also represent many different Latin American musical traditions, including salsa, bachata, mambo, and mariachi. I love that my sons are being exposed to these rich traditions from Latin American culture and learning to appreciate them.

As for the concert, Andrés and his assistant Cristina just flat out enthralled their young audience. They were funny, energetic, and wonderful about involving the kids—inviting some up to dance, or even to sing along at the microphone! Xavi was so excited to go on stage with Andrés to boogie down. Andrés and Christina are currently on tour, so check their schedule to see if they are coming to a town near you.

What we’re watching:

First two episodes of Poldark, Season 3. I watched the second episode while awake in the middle of the night with a very sad teething baby, and it definitely made those lonely hours a bit more bearable.

What we’re memorizing: 

Well, we're a little behind on introducing a new poem and verse, but you know, I'm still calibrating these rhythms, so we'll just pick up again next week!

Our Week in Review: September 30, 2017

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What we’re reading:

Xavi and I finished reading his first chapter book this week—Good Morning, Gorillas! We picked it up at the Scholastic booth at the National Festival of the Book a few weeks ago, and he finally decided that he was ready to start it on Monday. I had planned to read a few chapters each day, but he loved it so much, we finished the entire thing in a single day! We then took a trip to the library and checked out six other Magic Tree House books (in Spanish). Let’s just say Xavi is enthusiastic about this series, and we’ve already spent a lot of time playing “Jack” (Xavi) and “Silverback” (Me).

I’m listening to the audiobook version of Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake. I’m nearly finished and have really enjoyed hearing about the author’s unique upbringing as the daughter of L’Abri founders Francis and Edith Schaeffer.

Also, from the blogs this week:

I’m filing away this one for future reference: What if My Child Refuses to Do School Work?

And ranking my favorite takeaways from here: The Best Advice from Working Homeschool Moms

What we’re doing:

On Thursday morning, we visited our local nature center for a class on rivers and the animals that live in them. I'd like to say that Xavi's favorite part was touching the black rat snake that they brought in for us, but really, he preferred racing the other kids down the forest trail during the post-class hike. Oh, and playing in the river while dressed as Batman (see above). Felix enjoyed being adorably disruptive during the class, at least until he was put in "the pack" (i.e. our baby carrier).

Selfies are NOT my forte...bear with me as I find the most flattering angle please.

Selfies are NOT my forte...bear with me as I find the most flattering angle please.

Friday was Felix’s birthday and today, we are celebrating his first year of life at a local park. We are so grateful for our playful, happy little boy!

What we’re watching:

This week hasn’t left too much time for watching TV, between party planning, two Bible studies, preschool activities and blogging. I did sneak an episode of Poldark while folding laundry, however.

What we’re memorizing:

Our poem and Bible verses are the same as last week.

La última hojita del árbol by Douglas Wright

1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.”  

1 Tesalonicenses 5:11: “Por eso, anímense y edifíquense unos a otros.”