I’ve shared intimate details of my birth stories, revealed the dark side of blogging, and exposed the extent of my crunchiness writing about menstrual cups…
I haven’t written much about homeschooling, even though it is a big part of my family’s life, because I didn’t think it would interest most of you.
When a picture of our homeschool room became the most popular picture I’ve shared on Instagram, many of you asked details about specific parts of the picture, so I decided to write about our homeschool classroom.
I hope that some of the tips in this post will be helpful to you, even if your kids are not taught at home.
I have two children who are technically under “school-age,” and many of the things I have in our school room are there to engage their creativity and keep them busy while the older kids learn. These activities would be helpful for children who aren’t of school age yet, but still want to be involved in the learning process.
My Homeschool Classroom Philosophy
One of the many reasons we decided to homeschool our children is that we felt we could give them a more detailed and diverse education than they could get in a typical school system.
In short, my philosophy is that learning happens 24/7 with children, and that while we might focus on specific topics during certain parts of the day, we teach them all the time.
We tie in aspects of the Montessori teaching method, along with a couple of traditional learning curriculums (this one and this one are the two we’re currently using) and many hands-on activities and field trips. While I love the Montessori philosophy, we spend a great deal of time outside in the treehouse, going for walks, and playing than sitting in the classroom whenever we can. We also try to allow the children to have some autonomy in choosing the specific activities that they do and the subjects they learn first each day.
We also incorporate travel into our learning whenever possible, as children learn much more from visiting a place or culture than they could from simply reading about it.
So while I love our little school room, I also really love the time we spend learning outside of it.
Setting Up Our Homeschool Classroom
As we prepare to begin school this year and I set up the classroom, I’m sharing my personal homeschool ideas, so I hope you’ll share yours in the comments so we can all learn from each other.
Our homeschool room reflects the diversity of learning methods we use and the diversity of ages we teach. My children are all currently under 10 years of age, so obviously, a much different environment would be needed for older children.
I followed the idea of “Workstations” that is popular in Montessori schools in setting up our classroom. My goal was to have different stations that my children could rotate to and each have their own space for independent learning.
These are the “Stations” we have and how we use them:
- Jumping station: I’ve found that especially for active boys, movement actually improves learning, rather than stifling it. In fact, sitting for too long in one place quickly makes them bored and inattentive, while being able to move helps them focus. I’ve used rebounding for health for years, and I love that kids can use it as an indoor exercise while learning (and this builds on the Montessori idea that movement enhances cognition). We mainly use the mini-trampoline (or rebounder) to let them jump while we read, teach a lesson, or while quizzing them on spelling, multiplication tables, etc. It is also a great place for them to move around during breaks, especially when it is raining outside.
- Reading Station: Pictured above in the top image in this post, the reading station is a little area with three beanbags for sitting on to read. This is used for independent reading or studying and is a good break from sitting in chairs.
- The Little Kids Station: The favorite spot of the under 5 crowd, this mini-table is a refurbished old coffee table that lost a leg and that we rescued and refurbished. The top has a ledge so small pieces won’t fall off, and the surface is covered in chalkboard contact paper so that they can practice writing on the table itself. This is one of two stations specifically for the little kids and the chairs are mini-sized as well. See more detail below for the specific activities we have at this table.
- School Cabinet and Teacher Station: We found that having the school books in an open space where the kids could access them at all times led to little kids trying to learn like the big kids by becoming interested in books. Our solution was an old cabinet (technically a kitchen island) that we found at a salvage store. We installed child locks on the doors and now each child has a cubby inside the cabinet for books. We open it during school and return the books after school time. This also minimizes the mess. The top of the station is home to teacher supplies, our school plant and some flash cards. See more detail below.
- The Workbook Station: The older children take turns working at this table with one of us at a time, and while we try not to sit for very long, a table is a great place for the necessary book work or test.
- Artwork Display: A friend made these adorable artwork display boards and they help keep a handle on the amount of precious artwork on the walls at any given time. Each child has one “clip” and can display a piece of artwork or something they’ve worked on in school that week. It is just a board with some heavy metal clips that say “Look What I Did..”
- Learning Station Storage: I list some of our specific learning stations below, but these bins contain sets of flash cards, beading activities for little ones, lacing cards, art supplies, and Montessori learning stations. We also keep the few toys that we have in these bins (legos, blocks, etc).
- Little Kid Play Station: A play area for the little ones. A kitchen set with wooden toys, an art easel for painting, drawing with chalk, whiteboard writing and other activities. More below.
- Acrobatic Station: (Not Pictured) Hanging in the door of our school room is a Gorilla Gym (the best Christmas present we’ve ever gotten for our kids). This indoor playground is essentially a super strong pull-up bar with five attachments for play and exercise. The pull up bar is strong enough for adults to use, but a swing, a climbing rope, rings, a trapeze and a ladder can be added for the children to play. This is a great station for them to get their energy out or swing while listening to a lesson or a language CD.
- Book Station: (not pictured)- A simple bookcase of books that the children can access any time.
More detail on the various stations….
The Little Kid Learning Stations
Many of our little kid activities are stored in the bins on the other side of the classroom and not pictured, but some of their favorite activities are:
- Sorting Beads: I have a few dozen wooden beads that I’ve painted in various colors. The little ones can sort these into little wooden bowls that are painted the same color.
- Threading Beads: I use more of these painted wooden beads in a station where little ones can thread beads. They use shoelaces to thread the beads in various patterns.
- Sandpaper Letters: They have lowercase letters and uppercase letters on cards made out of sandpaper. This gives them a tactile experience of learning the letters and they really enjoy it. I know many moms who make these letters out of index cards and sandpaper, but this is one activity I chose to buy to save time getting ready for school.
- Lacing Cards: Another favorite activity for little ones… you could absolutely make these out of cardboard and shoelaces, but our kids got this set as a gift and it has been great for school.
- Counting Stations: For learning numbers, we have several activities: A magnetic learning maze (great for motor skills and counting), A count and sort, the abacus, and number rods.
- Blocks: They enjoy these blocks filled with colored sand to add another sensory element.
- Shapes and Fractions: We have cards and drawing modules for this, but also this Fraction Action Board, which we also use to teach the older ones fractions.
- Puzzle Stations: We have a box full of age-appropriate puzzles for little ones. They especially like this skeleton floor puzzle for learning the bones of the body.
- Arts and Crafts: When I’m feeling especially brave/crazy, we have painting, coloring, modeling clay and cutting stations for them to use. These are typically a special treat since they require more cleanup, but we try to do these a couple times a week.
- Wooden Animals: I got a big set of these non-toxic wooden Animals toys as a baby gift and they are one of the most played with activities for kids. They draw pictures of scenery to play with the animals on, make baby clothes to dress them up in, and match them to their zoo animal cards. These are also great to put in the diaper bag for church and other quiet times.
- Reading Station: Another favorite is a bin of board books and sensory books specifically for little ones. They like having their own books and “reading” them. They also have their personal books that I make for them each year with pictures and memories from the last year and they love looking back over these memories and asking about them.
- Music Station: Various wooden musical instruments for music time. We also have opera and classical music CDs for learning about music throughout history. Opera is the little kid favorite at our house.
We try to encourage the kids to only use one station at a time and clean it up before moving on to another. I’m not a Montessori perfectionist, and at times, several stations will end up out at one time, but in general, the idea of stations cuts down on mess. The rest of the little kid station includes a kitchen set with wooden food (another Christmas gift) and an art easel (also a Christmas gift)…
Big Kid Learning Stations
As I mentioned, we try to facilitate as much learning as possible outside, while traveling or while moving, but we do follow a hands-on curriculum for the older kids. I’ve set up learning stations for them as well, and they rotate so that we can teach them all easily.
The stations for the older kids include:
- School books: Kept in out school cabinet, these school books and workbooks are the core of the curriculum we use.
- Geography Station: The globe and big maps are used when teaching about geography and we also have puzzles, colorable maps, and matching games for this.
- Language Stations: This year, we are teaching the children Italian since it is part of their heritage. We have Little Pim Language Set for the littles and Rosetta Stone for the older ones. My husband teaches this subject since he speaks some Italian.
- Phonics and Reading Stations: I take an unusual approach to language and phonics. While teaching the basics of phonics and reading, I also use flash cards that I’ve made of the 100 most used words in the English language and flash cards of English From the Roots Up- Greek and Latin Roots (which I learned in school myself and which I credit partially with my high score on the SAT). The greek and latin roots help them understand language as they learn more complex words and make it easier to figure out what longer words mean.
- Lego Boxes and Hundreds Boards: Basic lego blocks are great for teaching counting, fractions, stacking and other number related activities. We also will incorporate these into subjects like history (letting them build models of ancient buildings) or science.
- Horticulture Station: We haven’t planted our plants for the year yet, but we have indoor plants, herbs and greens that the children tend during school each day. We also do experiments with sprouting seeds and planting for the garden to help them learn about this.
- Art Stations: Natural paints, coloring, clays, glue and scissors that we use for various activities.
- Science Experiments: We have various hands on experiments and stations for learning chemistry, biology, physics, etc. and the materials for these are stored in the boxes as well. Some favorites are the anatomy models we use for teaching biology, and the physics experiments.
Homeschool Classroom Decoration
The decorations in our classroom are very simple. I have some homeschooling friends whose classrooms are awe-inspiring, but I didn’t have the time/energy to create everything from scratch and opted for some basics from the local teacher supply store.
We have a simple alphabet poster around the top of the room and various learning posters that I change out throughout the year.
Once we begin school, most decorations are artwork or school work the kids have completed and it changes constantly.
Real Life Learning:
As important as structured learning is, my favorite thing to teach (and probably their favorite thing to learn) is what I call “Real Life Learning,” or lessons that help provide real life skills.
This may be anything from coming to the store and farmers market with me and helping determine which foods are the best deal (per ounce), making tinctures or salves with me, going on a nature hike and learning about wildcrafting or some form of fitness.
I try to involve my kids in activities like cooking dinner, doing laundry, sewing on buttons, and even balancing the checkbook (for the older ones) as these are practical skills that they will absolutely need one day, no matter what career or further education they choose.
In fact, most of the recipes on this blog are ones that my children helped me with in some way.
I’m sharing our school room for informational purposes. I’m not an expert by any means and am learning as I go. Also, lest anyone think that our home and school room always looks this neat, the school room is organized right now because we haven’t begun our year school yet. 🙂
While we aim to keep things this clean and organized, it doesn’t always happen during school. I also attempt to be patient every single day during school and that doesn’t usually happen either. 🙂
The system, stations and notes above are optimal for our school system, but by no means do all aspects of this happen perfectly every day. Like parenthood, homeschooling is a moving target that seems to be constantly adapting and changing. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Keep experimenting until you find the best homeschool schedule and set-up for you!
I hope that some of my tips will be helpful to you, and I’d love to hear some of your top tips for homeschooling or teaching your children as well.
Do you homeschool? What does your homeschool classroom look like? Have you found any tips, tricks, or hacks that make the learning process easier?
Discussion (109 Comments)
I am on my seventh year of homeschooling. My daughter is in 6th grade and my son is in 4th.
We have a schoolroom too. There is a table & chairs or exercise balls to sit on depending on preference any given day. We often end up on the sofa in another room, at the dining table, at the kitchen counter, on the school room floor, or even out on the back patio if the weather is nice enough. It doesn’t really matter where we work as long as books and supplies are returned to the school room at the end of the day, so we aren’t hunting for things we need when we’re trying to get our work done.
We are year-round schoolers. Yes, the kids are mildly envious of summer vacation, but their friends are mildly envious of the many breaks we take throughout the school year.
We always take off a full week for Thanksgiving & then 3-4 weeks leading up to Christmas and through the New Year. That gives us ample time to decorate the house, bake for ourselves & friends, do crafts, and curl up with books & movies. It’s my favorite time of year. We even open one Christmas present each day leading up to Christmas (the number of days varies year to year depending on what friends/family have sent). This way the kids can enjoy something new and special on several days during our time off. And then, on Christmas Day, the only thing left is the stocking. This way, when we take them to church on Christmas they can focus on the message and not the pile waiting under the tree.
Our homeschool resources:
• We love the history, read alouds, and grade-by-grade readers available through http://www.sonlight.com
• We began using http://www.writeathome.com last year for my daughter and loved the program.
• First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind is wonderful for teaching grammar. I wish it went further than level 4!
• We have used Horizons and Saxon math. I liked Horizons in the first few grades and Saxon beginning around grade 4. Recently (as in the past 2 weeks), I decided to try http://www.khanacademy.org for math. I have been super impressed! If it holds up over the next several months, I may never have to pay for another math curriculum again. It is a complete online math curriculum from K-12 and beyond! All free. Too good to be true? I hope not! We’re loving it.
There are lots of ways to schedule the day, but I’ve found it works best for us to tackle as much school as we can in the morning and then tackle chores and such after lunch. This leaves the kids mostly free when their friends get home from school and are available to play. My daughter likes to save her “homework” for just before bed. She likes the quiet time for working on her own.
I think the hardest part for me is working with two very different children. One is a morning person, the other is a night owl. One is academically advanced. The other is bright and vibrant, but on a slower learning trajectory. (I’m waiting for the day it all clicks and the learning curve shoots up like a rocket. Right now I’m just watching the wheels turn.) It’s hard because I’ll finally figure out how to explain something & teach a concept, only to find that my amazing discovery doesn’t work on the second child.
I have finally, over these years, learned that we don’t have to finish everything. If we’re not enjoying a book, stop reading it, there are so many others out there. It’s also ok to repeat something. If I need to re-teach a concept, better to do it now than move on and confuse my student/child. That even meant re-teaching an entire year of grammar once.
I am not a perfect mom, person, or homeschooler, but I do my best every day. When I saw that Katie is a homeschooler, I was not surprised, but my initial reaction was not kind (to myself, that is). I thought, “There goes my assumption that she runs such a tight ship: blogging, baking, kombucha-making since her kids must be at school all day. What have I done lately?” But I realize that even though Katie is obviously an awesome mom, my family thinks I am too. They like (most of) my meals. They (mostly) enjoy homeschooling. They love me. And I love them. Pretty good deal around here.
Thank you for sharing this very inspiring article. I’d love to homeschool but have one 4 year old that loves to be very social. Loves to be with others/friends etc and her sister is only 6 months old. So Im not sure that she will be happy being homeschooled (any ideas on this from anyone will be very appreciated). Also what resource do you use for lesson plans? You prepare it using “this one this one learning curriculums” you mention in the article?
Katie - Wellness Mama
We use a mixture of several curriculums along with additional online and off-line resources…
Unless you live in an extremely rural area, you will probably be pleasanatly surprised at how many opportunities for socialization you can find; homeschooling is becoming way more popular and there are play groups and co-ops all over the place. We could have an activity every day of the week if we chose to. Also, homeschooling offers socialization opportunities that aren’t readily available to a child in traditional school, such as interacting with people of all ages in everyday situations (running errands, grocery shopping, etc).
Thanks a lot Arliss. Sounds very good and encouraging. I see that I just need to get a little creative and it can work out. I’ll research more on this and get clear on how to go about it.
What is your daily schedule for homeschool? Do you homeschool year round?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Our school schedule varies depending on the day. We do a little bit year round, but not as intensely during the summer as in the typical school year.
what a wonderful learning enviroment you have created. I love that you put a trampoline in there. In my daughters lower elementary Montessori classroom they had exercise balls and a T stool available to sit on instead of a chair if they chose, while doing work. I always thought that was a great idea.
Such a great and timely post! We’re starting homeschool for our 6 y.o. and 8 y.o. next week! I think I’ll have to take Jeanie’s advice (great comment, btw, Jeanie!) and go whereever we can, but I appreciated knowing what thought went behind each piece of your school space. I think I may have to add a rebounder to this year’s holiday shopping. 🙂
We homeschool! And when this popped up in my feedly, I thought, “Wait, Wellness Mama homeschools?” Awesome! We follow the Well-Trained Mind with our three kids. We don’t have a dedicated school room. We use Ikea Expedit bookcases (5×5) for school stuff and books and a metal-topped dining table for a “desk” and for projects–that all fits in our large living room. The weather here is pretty temperate during the school year, so most days, we can use the swings and slides in the backyard–but that Gorilla Gym looks pretty neat.
I taught in the public schools for 11 years…and this next year for the first time…I will be homeschooling (and running a daycare of 3 extra pumpkins)…that being said this post came at a good time as I am now preparing for the beginning of the school year. Great ideas and reasons for doing them. Thank you for sharing! #wellnessmamarocks (my hubby has heard your name so many times in the past 6 months…lol…he doesn’t think you’re real hahaha…it’s a running joke now…take it as a compliment!)
I didn’t actually know you homeschooled as well as everything else until I saw this post. I think you are an absolute inspiration and follow a lot of your recipes and remedies, now the homeschooling. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing everything that you do, it’s really awesome to have help with Hashimotos and everything else.
This looks so lovely. When I do have kids I want to homeschool them as much as I can. Until what age are you planning on homeschooling your kids?
Katie, you remind me of myself when I was much younger. I love this post. It made me smile. I’ve homeschooled my 5 kids for 26 years, ready to begin year 27 with my last child (who has Down syndrome) in just a few short weeks. You have done a great job and yes, it is learn-as-you-go. I used to have a school room all set up with all the stuff, much like your own. Now that my last one is in high school, we just have such a laid back approach. As they get into high school, it does become more that way. Not necessarily the academics (those are serious!), but where and how we do it. Most of the time, they would sit at the kitchen table for awhile, then move to a couch or even the floor, and eventually up to their rooms to do the ‘homework’ part of it. I write most of my own curriculum now, after 26 years of trying virtually everything out there! What a great journey. My oldest is 35 and all of my grown up kids are so glad they were home schooled. They are all successful adults and were very well adjusted and prepared when they went to college. I got nothing but positive comments from their teachers, professors, and even the CEO and president of the college! I’ve been asked to be on the advisory board at my youngest son’s college and the liaison to HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) for them. It’s a humble job that brings so much of a sense of accomplishment and pride (the good kind) when it’s all said and done. Anyone can home school. They don’t have to be super smart (I’m not anything special!). Just some organization skills are great, and it looks like you have both!! It’s a lot more rewarding (and even fun!) than one might expect. Once again, great post!!!
Wow, your comment gives me hope! We’re just starting this fall with a pre-k/k blend with my oldest and I’m completely confused by the sheer variety of what is available to buy, let alone how to figure out what to make myself. I’m getting very much caught up in “what if I miss something????” so it’s overwhelming at this point. I hope to one day look back as you are, happy with what we’ve done for our boys and the start we’ve given them in life. But right now…..whew. Just trying to figure it out!
I’ve been homeschooling my kids now for a year ( 6 and 3 ). I wish I could sit with someone like you and talk for hours . Although I think I’m doing a good job, I always wonder if I could be doing better. I’ve never done this before and it is both scary and exciting. I am specially scared about teaching my 3 year old. Currently, he isn’t interested in school time in the least and gives me a hard time if he even suspects I’m stealing his sister away for school time. Hopefully that changes. In any case , congratulations for so many years of educating your childrens. It’s a beautiful thing. Xoxo Freya