A Curriculum Look Back: 1st, 4th, 5th grades

 Last summer, as I planned our 6th year of homeschooling, I got a little scared because I was putting together our first year of truly custom plans. I wasn’t using a boxed curriculum for our together subjects.  I trusted myself to know what had worked over the previous 5 years of homeschool but I still doubted if what I planned would be exciting to the kids or cause a mutiny.  And now I can say that we did make it to the end of they year with most of the plans still working for us.  Also, I can look back and review what curriculum worked and where we needed a plan B.  This school year ended like no other as we sheltered in place to slow the spread of a global pandemic. As so many of the activities we loved were cancelled our school routine kept us grounded.


We planned to read through Story of the World Volume 2 using the coordinating maps and coloring pages and adding a Lapbook for the 5th grader.  This worked wonderful.  They had a great time listening to the audiobook each week and the coloring pages helped with focus.  We did give up on the lapbook in the spring because other projects and Covid-19 took over.  But over all it was a success. 

As we looked forward to our empty summer days of pandemic restricted life we choose to continue with Story of the World Volume 3 over the summer.  We are moving faster through volume 3 and adding some timeline figures to our books so we can see them when we start American History in the fall.  


The plan was to use Expedition Earth by Confessions of A Homeschooler to study countries around the world and make a lapbook along the way.   I can say this was a success.  We had a great time visiting 30 different countries over the year.  The lapbook was teacher intensive because I had to go looking for different pieces for each country.  The curriculum we used had very cookie-cutter lapbook pieces and we wanted more variety.  One of my goals was sneaking in more fine-motor work besides writing, and this worked great for that.  Cutting each week’s lapbook out and short writing and coloring assignments achieved my goal.  

Geography lapbook InsideOurNormal.com


My plan was to try a completely new curriculum and follow science through history with the Berean Builder’s Science in the Scientific Revolution.  We gave this a good try and used it for a good 12 weeks, but it didn’t stick for us.  When picking this curriculum I forgot I am not a hands-on mom so the required experiments didn’t work for us and the text referred to the experiments too much to not do them.  The kids also felt it was over their heads and required background knowledge we hadn’t covered.  

We jumped back to our old favorite of Sonlight Science.  We jumped  in to the Science “C” curriculum and picked a unit that interested us, on how machines work.  In the spring we also did two different unit studies on Coral Reefs and the history Space Exploration inspired by our vacation to Texas and a cruise. During the Shelter in Place period we added another audiobook to the rotation and enjoyed listening to Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry and wrapped up the year with a few more units from the Sonlight C on weather and birds.   


For our Art curriculum last year we planned two things.  Art Appreciation with the book Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories, and Four Artist Study units with some friends. The art appreciation went great as weekly part of our together school.  The chronological presentation let us see how new techniques developed.  We will read the second half of the book next year.  

It can be challenging to know what will happen when you make  plans with a friend nine months ahead of time, but for our Artist Studies it was another success.  We used the Greatest Artists lessons from Confessions of a Homeschooler and made it work for us.  My friend is a messy art mom and I’m a read aloud mom, so we split the teaching to our strengths and everyone said it was a success.  It worked really well to plan our units at times in the school year when other activities were in a lull, instead of adding one more thing every week.  

greatest artist study InsideOurNormal.com


Our Literature selections this year were Aesop’s Fables and poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson. I was fascinated by some of the lessons the kids drew from the Fables and their understanding of relationships from the stories.  We read an abridged collection of Stevenson’s poetry which left time in the year to add some other titles.  We added some short biographies and stories from around the world.  Around the World in 80 Tales was a great supplement to our World Geography studies.    And we added some math enrichment as we learned about the lives of great mathematicians in Mathematicians are People Too.  


Our Bible studies started the year by finishing Leading Little Ones to God, which we had started the previous year.  After a short break we added Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd Jones, which lasted the rest of the year.  It’s a series of encouraging reflections on scripture. Many of the readings are filled with vivid imagery which led to good discussions on our faith.  We also took time to enjoy some different offerings, like daily online worship, from our local church during the Shelter in Place period. We learned prayers and readings that were used in our virtual services.  

Final Thoughts

We have now completed 6 years as a homeschooling family.  Every year our schooling changes as the students change and mature.  Over the course of the year our morning time got longer as everyone’s attention span grew.  After being so nervous to plan our school from scratch a year ago, I am amazed at how much of my original plans for the year we completed.  Seeing the results reminds me to trust myself and my understanding of the kids as we make plans each year.

One advantage of learning and living as a family is being in tune with your child’s ability and interests.  We had previously discussed starting a year-round school routine this summer.  Due to the pandemic restrictions it was even easier to keep going without a break this summer.  We have changed things up and been more relaxed about some of our learning.  But for our family, the routine of our school time is a healthy anchor everyone looks forward to each day.  


HOmschooling Year 6 in Review InsideOurNormal

Tips for Keeping Homeschool Records

All moms regardless of where our kids learn we want to keep samples of their school work. As a homeschooler there are a few extra considerations and extra piles of work to think about.  We all want to remember how they wrote as a kindergartner or that special art project they did with the enrichment club.   As a homeschooler we also have every worksheet they ever did, every drawing they ever made and every workbook, text book and scratch paper they wrote on.  It can be overwhelming to contain all the papers as they year progresses.   And even more overwhelming to decide what to keep for official records depending on your states regulation.  Having been at this whole homeschool thing for over five years and lived in two different states with different regulations, I’m here to share a few of the ways we stay organized.

#1 Know Your state Regulations

Each state has its own requirements on record keeping and reporting.  You can find out what your requirements are by checking with your local homeschool groups or searching online.  When we lived in Florida where each homeschool family was required to register with either the local district or a private school covering.  We chose to register with the district.  We also had to choose one of several ways to report growth for each student each year.  The way we chose was to create a portfolio of each child’s work and review it with a certified teacher who would sign off as making adequate progress.  Now we live in Illinois where we are required to teach 6 basic subjects. We have no reporting or registration requirements.  I choose to continue to keep records for myself and for the kids since we have a system already in place that works for us.


#2 Have a plan for daily work

Homeschooling uses a lot of paper!  It easily gets out of control if I let it.  I have discovered the easiest way to contain it is to use “In and Out” boxes.  Each child has one assigned to them and each time they complete a worksheet after I check it. It is turned into their box for their records.  This keeps me from having to separate each child’s papers from their siblings papers later.  I do not put it in the box, it is the child’s job to put the papers worth keeping in the box.  Scratch paper goes to the recycle box.

This year we also started using binders.  Every subject for each child is kept in a single large binder so there aren’t as many loose pages around the room.  At the end of each 6 week term I reset their binders with the new materials and take out the completed work.  I still use the IN and Out boxes to store the completed work until I sort for their long term records.

#3 Sort it all at the end of the year

All year we fill their In and out boxes.  And at the end of the year I take all the papers and sort them by subject.  I keep the best parts and recycling the rest.  I keep each math chapter test but toss the daily worksheets, I keep finished writing papers but toss the rough drafts and outlines.  Usually a few fun drawing or creative non-school papers will get added as well.  I want it to be a snapshot of them.

By sorting only once or twice a year its easier to be objective and keep a sampling of the best parts of the year.  I only keep what will fit in a 1-2 inch binder for the year.  As they  are getting older I have started adding a table of contents or snapshot of the year’s studies in their binder. We can easily see what was covered in their work or when they read a specific novel.

#4 The Non-Book Learning

To record the non-book learning, I make a photo book of each year.  My focus of the book is what field trips and other activities that don’t fit neatly in a binder.  This also means I have to think about taking pictures of that learning all year which comes easy to me.  I also celebrate each workbook or level of a program with a picture.  Its a great reminder to look back and see what each child used in a specific year.  We also include things like what our school space looks like and learning we do at Co-op.  Pictures of large art projects can also be included in the photo records as well.

Making the photo book is a summer project for me. I watch for a discount code from Shutterfly to save on printing.  We are wrapping up our 6th year of homeschooling and will make our 5th photo book soon.  I find them all over the house as the kids enjoy looking at themselves.  They remember all the fun activities we have done over the years. Use THIS LINK to make your own free Memory book with Shutterfly!


Keeping a Field Trip Journal

Keeping a Journal While You Explore

Homeschooling allows us to make the most of the learning moments we encounter in our lives, including our exploration of the world around us, both natural and man made.  We record our adventures in a Field Trip journal each time we do our exploring.  This allows us to reflect and process our experiences, practice our narrative writing and create a memory book we can look back at later.

A field trip journal is like a Nature Study Notebook but for field trips.  I heard a talk from Holly Giles at a homeschool convention that helped me understand how easy keeping a journal can be.  We use it to write down what we remember and learned when we are doing school out and about in the community.  The directions are simple.  After we return home, or sometimes in the car, I pass out the notebooks and they write about what we did.  They must include the date and location.  Now that everyone is older we write 3 details about what we did, which is a great natural introduction to paragraph writing.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

I took the idea and made it our own.  When we did our learning away from home, I took notebooks.  When we completed our activity or experience, I helped the kids write or draw some thoughts in their notebooks.  While they are writing we are able to talk through and discuss our experience as a family.  The kids can ask questions and I can get ideas for activities at home to continue their interest.  I also get a peek into what they found most important and take away from the experience.

Building Writing Skills

We have been using the journals for a few years now.  Initially they were filled with drawing and dictations they gave me to write down when the kids were emerging writers.  Now that everyone is older I ask each child to write 3 details from the experience.  They are learning to write a paragraph and don’t even know it!  Their opening sentence is where we went or what we did.  They choose their own 3 details, and i don’t tell them what they should be.  Their conclusion is their opinion of the experience.

It was incredibly cold, not my favorite trip.

As you can see from one of their recent journals what they remember isn’t always positive.  Our co-op went to a Maple Tree Grove during sugaring season the day he wrote these honest comments.  We came home and wrote in our journals and did our math for the day.  It’s fun to see what stands out to the kids on each outing.  For the sugaring, it was the cold weather we endured as we hiked through the grove.

Recently we took a big road trip as family and our journals came along for the ride.  3 of our stops included rich, hands-on learning opportunities.  We visited our first foreign country as a family during a cruise.  And on the road trip to the port we visited a National Park and Space Center Houston. Our cruise stop in Mexico was a great cross-cultural experience as we walked to the town square and read the signs and observed the differences from what our town looks like.  The conversations that followed our visit to the Space Center led to a change in our science plans when we returned home.  We turned that study in to a newspaper and quoted the kids journals in our review of the Space Center.

What are you waiting for? Grab a notebook and start keeping a journal.  It can be what you found on your walk around the block or a visit to the local donut shoppe.  It’s up to you and don’t forget to keep it simple.

Keeping a Field Trip Journal - Inside Our Normal

What’s your Homeschool Soundtrack?

Does your homeschool have a soundtrack?

In our homeschool we have music that is part of our daily routine.  I’m not talking about doing a composer study or learning about music.  I’m talking about the ways music and audio are facilitating your learning environment, the soundtrack in our home.  In our house we use audio to gather us to start our school day, to teach some of our subjects and to help us focus while we work.  As teacher/mom I also listen to podcasts to grow as teacher and parent.

A Gathering Song

A new habit we introduced this year was a gathering song.  We set up a custom routine on our Google Mini that plays a specific song when its time to get started.  The routine is set to turn on our smart lights in the school room and play “Good Morning” from Singing In the Rain.  We got stuck on the song after we saw the play last summer and now it’s part of our routine.

By having a gathering song I don’t have to scream all over the house or watch the clock in the morning.  My challenging child can’t get mad at mom for interrupting their activities because it wasn’t Mom’s idea: it was Google who is telling them is time to start school, and we all know it’s no use arguing with Google.

Audiobooks for Morning Time

We start our school day with subjects we can learn together as a family.  Usually this is done with reading aloud from our basket of books.  I enjoy reading together and sharing in the learning.  What I don’t love is pronouncing all the names of the heroes throughout history.  This year we delegated our history reading to an audiobook! This took the pressure off me to know all the proper names of places and people as we study the middle ages.  Sometimes we played it through a computer and sometimes we played the CD in the stereo.

We are using Story of the World volume 2 Audiobook this year.  It was funny when one night as dinner one of the kids started imitating Jim Weiss, the narrator, at the dinner table.  We have the activity pages for the series as well so everyone is able to color a page related to what we are listening to stay focused.

Background Music

One of the kids discovered that music helped them focus on their task.  So they asked if we could play it during our school time as our learning soundtrack.  Turning on our local Classical music and public radio station has been calming to us as we work.  It fills the silence and keeps everyone motivated.  I’d like to think they are gaining some music appreciation as well from listening.  When we are in the car we listen to a different radio station. Lyrics are detracting when we are reading or trying to focus on the math problem at hand.  After school work is done for everyone the radio switches back to our favorite station.  We also use our TuneIn app to stream either station to our Google Home speakers, depending where we are working.

Podcast for Professional Development for teacher/mom

The last part of our homeschool soundtrack is what I listen to away from our school time.  Homeschool related podcasts and audiobooks to listen to help me be a better teacher and encourage myself.  I have learned many new strategies to try for our family. Podcast teach me about the learning disabilities and disabilities we have in our family.  I may not have gone to school to be an expert, but I am expert on my children because I am their parent. I have shared before about what books I have read to learn about my kids’ challenges and how they are wired.

Some of my favorite podcasts are:

What's Your Homeschool Soundtrack? Inside Our Normal

Our Homeschool Day: 5th, 4th and 1st grade

Google says Good Morning

Our homeschool day officially starts at 9 am, when the Google Home plays our gathering song, “Good Morning” (from Singing in the Rain) and turns the classroom lights on.  Gotta love customized Google Routines.  Before Google tells us to gather, everyone is on their own to get dressed and eat breakfast.  I am often the last one to come downstairs and usually eat while everyone plays LEGOs.  Sometimes if the weather is suitable at least one child will go play outside before we start as well.

This year we are in our 6th year of homeschooling.  Each year looks a little different as each child grows and we try new activities.  Take a look inside what one day of learning looks like at our house with three students in First, Fourth, and Fifth grades.  Somethings that make our homeschool unique is that each of our kids has a different learning disability and one has autism.

Learning Together

After we gather in our school room we start our day with our together subjects.  I do my best to teach as much as I can as a group, since that makes my life easier and less subjects to keep track of.  This year we are reading Aesop’s Fables and our devotional daily, Vincent’s Starry Night  weekly, and we listen to Story of the World Volume 2 on audiobook a few times a week.  We have activity pages we use to help us stay focused during our history readings. We are visiting a different country each week for our geography this year, and use our together time to do this work, as well. See our plans for the year over HERE


After these activities, each child begins their independent work.  Mostly this is Math and Language Arts topics.  Each child uses a different math program based on their learning style and strengths.  Each child does writing, and independent reading activities.  I float between each child to answer questions and be available and check assignments as they are finished.

Lynn is an independent learner so she has two online classes she attends each week for writing and grammar.  Her online classes give her deadlines each week for assignments, so we have made a weekly routine to meet her deadlines.  Once a week, I take one child to Speech therapy for his stuttering.  We are using the therapy appointment as an opportunity for the oldest to learn to babysit the younger.  Everyone knows the routine and knows what work they have to complete each day.  On a good day we wrap up all our schoolwork before we eat lunch.


Our afternoons are spent with independent activities and play and other scheduled activities. Once a week we carpool to First LEGO League practice.  It’s a STEM oriented program where the teams program a LEGO robot to complete missions.  They also complete a research project to develop solutions to a given problem.  For the competition they develop presentations to present their information and solution.

Dad’s turn to teach

We eat dinner as a family most nights between activities.  When everyone is home in the evening we end our homeschool day with dad teaching, and mom escapes to her own interests. Dad is the story reader.  He does read alouds and prayer with the kids before bed each night.  He is great at reading novels with many voices and it’s a relief to share the work load with him.  I give him the reading list for the year and he decides when to read each one and sometimes throws in a few of his own choosing.  The kids get to read in their bed for a while before the lights go out. And we all get up the next day and do it again.


Our Typical HOmeschool Day with 1st, 4th, 5th grades

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