Our Second Grade School Day
The house wakes early, even in the dark. Partly because kids are insane, and partly because I have a puppy, which is another story.
In any case, by 6:30am the dog is pooping, Boots is shuffling cards, Shortshanks is asking for a plain tortilla, and King Sturdy is groggily lurking in doorways.
This, then, is how the school day starts.
Wake when you wake. If you're eight years old, make breakfast for yourself and your brother. If you're four, feed the kitty.
Eat breakfast. Do your chores; this means cleaning your room and tidying up the downstairs.
Next, quiet reading time: 20 minutes of independent reading (if you can read) or looking at books (if you can't). Theoretically, this is followed by some amount of reading aloud, either by child or grown-up, but how exactly that shakes out is subject to change.
If all goes well, all this is done by the stroke of nine, at which point we have ... movie time! Each kid gets half an hour of their chosen show or video game, some of it in French, but not always. Movie time is slated precisely from nine to ten (theoretically), so if the morning's tasks aren't done until 9:20am, the kids get only 40 minutes of screen time, and since a passion for screens rules their every waking moment, this fact is Quite Motivating.
From there, we do a structured learning session (more on that below), after which the kids are ushered out of doors with a snack. They play outside (theoretically) until they're called in for lunch.
What happens next depends on the day. It might be a visit to the cousins' house (Wednesday). It might be another structured session, followed by a trip to the library (Monday) or more free playtime (Friday). It might be two structured sessions with a break in between (Tuesday and Thursday).
Theoretically, playing with friends is not allowed until all school sessions are done, providing us with Another Motivation.
As for day's end, Boots and I like a quiet evening, so the kids go to bed early, between 6:30 and 7pm. Not that they go to sleep. They can stay up and read for as long as they want, if (if) they can do it quietly. Otherwise lights out — and if, from there, they interrupt said evening with an ongoing parade of slapstick emergencies and circus acts, no screen time the following day: yet One More Motivation.
That's the idea, anyway.
Life is always happening. The routine lapses, Boots or I have to ignore the plan to meet a deadline, or one or all of us get sick. This is normal. Falling down is okay. The month rolls around, the intention is reset, and we begin again, begin again, begin again.
So, here's the weekly chart we follow. I made it based on my research of common core, the classical homeschooling approach, and my own views and ideas.
Every year, Boots and I sit down toward the end of summer and make such a plan as this for the year to come, aiming to balance all the moving pieces: our schedules, King Sturdy's ability, his need for both structured and unstructured play and learning, his brother's needs, and the relative importance of one subject over another (for example, at this point, we've chosen to spend more time on history than science; more time on composition than handwriting).
In any case, here's what we do in each area.
We've been using Singapore Math, which has a textbook, a workbook and a teacher's guide. I like the lucid approach the program uses and how it teaches different strategies to find answers. I like its balanced use of abstract and tactile learning.
Before jumping into the lesson, though, King Sturdy blazes through ten flashcards from his number bond deck, which includes every additive pair for every number from 1-10, plus the occasional funny-face card to keep things unpredictable.
Sometimes, too, we switch up the routine with homemade instruction, when it seems King Sturdy needs to practice or think about something in a different way.
Our language studies start with a memory warmup. We write down a short poem or paragraph, read and say it back line by line, then see how much King Sturdy can recall without looking. Whenever he masters one reading, we move on to another. Occasionally we go back through and recite the old ones.
After the warmup, we do Grammar, Spelling or Writing, depending on the day.
Writing is the Handwriting Without Tears workbook. I love everything about this program: its incremental approach, the concepts and warmups it uses to make the act of writing comprehensible, the value it places on handwriting as a larger part of a kid's development, its commonsense handling of cursive ...
Spelling is Phonics Pathways by Dolores Hiskes, which teaches spelling rules cumulatively, building a thorough and conscious understanding of how words are built. In addition to going through that, I keep track of words I notice King Sturdy misspelling and make writing prompts out of them: I give him three random spelling words; he composes a sentence (any sentence) that uses all three. This brings his creativity to the table while challenging him on spelling, capitalization and punctuation.
For grammar, I tell him about a part of speech (for example: a noun) and write down a few facts about it. Then we make up a song together to remember them by. I show King Sturdy a paragraph and have him pick out all the nouns. I challenge him to remember his noun facts in various ways (recite them, sing the song, fill in the blank, draw lines to connect words in two columns, etc). Finally, to test and reward him, we do Mad Libs.
I make all this up on the fly, basing the material loosely on The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf, who ran our nation's grammar hotline for a while and answered all the questions America could throw at him.
From the activities above, I choose two or three per session, cycling through different combinations, focusing on new parts of speech or mixing them up with ones we've already studied. I decide when to introduce new terms and what to practice and review based on what I observe King Sturdy's mastery to be.
The library visit is a highlight of our week and provides fodder for independent reading time each morning.
We start by exploring, first off. Shortshanks and his cousin play with toys in the children's corner, I track down kids' nonfiction titles that support and expand on the week's history and science topics, and King Sturdy follows the good-natured librarian through the stacks in search of books that match his interests that day: scary Halloween tales, Garfield, books about monsters, etc.
Each kid gets to check out five or so books of their choice. Shortshanks is a big Maisy Mouse fan. In addition to the basic five, I require King Sturdy to choose one nonfiction book on any topic he wants, as well as one chapter book. Sometimes I pick up one that I want to share with him too, like Redwall, The Phantom Tollbooth, My Side of the Mountain, Babe the Gallant Pig ... all the terrific stories I love, which he might not stumble across on his own.
For history, we read a chapter from Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, focusing on the medieval period this year; then King Sturdy does a short comprehension essay: he tells us what he heard, and we write down what he says.
That's one session. For the other two sessions of the week, we read from the library books I picked out. We talk about what the different authors choose to include and ignore, we tell stories, we find videos or get books from our own shelves to follow a thought, and generally go where the road takes us.
This year's general focus is astronomy. It's one session per week, which includes another comprehension essay, but aside from that it's very unstructured. Activities might include looking at a library book, drawing constellations, watching or listening to kids' videos about planets, and the like.
For example, here's a comic strip that King Sturdy made to describe the lifecycle of the sun. (It guzzles one type of fuel till there's none left, switches to a new type, burps, bloops into a much hotter and huger shape, ages, collapses in on itself and turns into a black hole.)
Our approach to art, at least when doing it in a structured way, is based on Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes. We might do one of the warmup exercises or follow her model to draw a picture step by step, but more often we'll each choose a picture or object that we like, put it on the table, quietly observe it, and draw what we notice.
The challenge for the kids is to get into the quiet, interested headspace that makes art so satisfying, so our sessions involve a lot of body calming and mindfulness work. As for the art itself, it's always pretty amazing to see what they come up with. Here's a study of a tomato and a teapot:
That's structured art. Unstructured art happens all the time, meanwhile, with Shortshanks doing coloring books or using the supplies in his art backpack however he sees fit, while King Sturdy keeps a diary of grotesque and detailed monster portraits.
* * *
Outside of these activities, the kids play with neighbors, build forts, try to grow plants, play with the baby chicks, build LEGO things, walk by themselves to the fast food restaurant on the corner to buy junk food, and generally mess around. This is the "unschooling" part of the curriculum — where life and learning are basically the same thing.
And — it bears repeating — the plan outlined above is just that: the plan. Theoretically. It's what we aim for and achieve, uh, some of the time. Half? Two thirds? Our practice ebbs and flows, and as a result, unschooling gets a larger slice of our time day-to-day than it does in this post.
But generally speaking, this is what second grade looks like around here.