Today we welcome Jennie, a homeschooling, homesteading mom of two girls from North Carolina, who blogs at Little Bent Creek Farm.
Nearly a year ago, my husband, two daughters, and I began an experiment in living more sustainably and closer to the earth when we bought a small piece of property on the outskirts of Davidson, NC and began converting it to a small farm. We currently have 3 dairy goats, 8 laying hens, 40 chicks and a donkey as well as a large vegetable, fruit and herb garden. Since a number of people have asked me about how homeschooling works in this context, I thought I would describe for you what might be a typical “school day” for us.
On weekdays, my husband and I wake up around 4:30 and head downstairs to work out. By 6:15, my husband has left for work and I am at the computer checking e-mail or trying to find more information on how to de-worm goats and chickens without chemicals, or which plants and herbs to plant next in the garden. Around this time, the girls wake up, make up their beds, get dressed, and come downstairs to report on the dreams they had or tell me a story they have been playing out in their room.
Then it's time to head to the barn. The girls generally get there first. They let the chickens out of the coop and into the run, tossing them some scratch and chatting with them as they excitedly devour their breakfast. After that, Simi (the 6-year-old) feeds the goats and starts mucking out their stall as Segi (the 7-year-old) takes care of cleaning out the chicken coop. I muck Ellie Mae’s (the donkey’s) stall, put out her hay, and groom her. Then we all go visit the baby chicks, filling their own feeders, cuddling them, and giggling at their funny antics. Then we head back to the house, dumping the contents of our muck buckets in the compost pile on our way (it will make beautiful soil for our garden in the coming months).
As the girls eat their breakfast, I comb through their curls (and you thought mucking out the barn sounded challenging?!?) while reading to them from our current chapter book. After the girls finish eating, they usually head straight back to the barn to check for eggs, distribute kitchen scraps, visit with the animals, and orchestrate all sorts of dramas and adventures. These days they are spending a lot of time at the "houses" they have created from sticks, rocks, planks, and hay lying around the barnyard. While they hang out there, I prepare and eat my own breakfast, and then it's time to start school--or as we prefer to call it, "Discovery Time."
By this time it is around 9:00. While our daily study schedule is not set in stone (one of the benefits of homeschooling is being able to take advantage of opportunities that come up anytime, after all!), we follow a fairly consistent pattern. Two days a week, we begin our studies with a yoga session. For this, we follow a program called Angel Bear Yoga. It involves reflecting each time on a different principle or character trait (optimism, compassion, peace, love, patience, and so forth) and then acting out through yoga poses beings in nature that reflect that principle/trait (a sunrise, an elephant, a maple tree, a seahorse). On other weekdays, we begin by reading and memorizing poetry together.
Then it is time for reading and writing. Each of the girls chooses from a group of readers or chapter books I have selected for her based on her reading level and interests. They take turns reading, the older one often helping the younger one with several words. After that it is my turn to read to them. This is when we turn to our current unit studies topic. Our own unit studies system this year has involved learning about different countries around the world: one each month of the school year. During that month, our social studies, science, and art appreciation studies focus on that country. Thus, the book(s) I read to them at this time will be about that country.
After I read, they will carry out one or more hands-on activities related to that country. Examples include:
· doing a related arts and crafts project (painting, making clay models, sewing)
· studying the country's flag and coloring it
· labeling and coloring a map of the country
· listening and dancing to music from the country
· preparing food from the country
· conducting a science experiment related to the ecology of the country
· watching an educational video about the country (generally short videos we access online)
· completing interactive online activities related to the country.
Then the girls and I work together to choose their writing projects. We generally try to come up with a purposeful exercise (letters to friends) or something related to our unit studies theme (a mini-essay about desert animals, for example). One of their favorite writing projects this year was composing and illustrating fictional "books" about their goats and chickens (e.g.,"The Great Chicken Escape"). After this we turn to math. We are currently using a combination of math exercises from the Oak Meadow homeschooling curriculum and a math program called Miquon Math. Both programs teach students (and their teachers!) to think creatively about math problems and to use manipulates to understand math concepts. After math we might have music time, or we might have Spanish. At this point, we are generally through with our formal studies for the day. It is now around 12:30 and time for a short stroll up the lane to check the mail and then lunch.
After we've all eaten and rested a bit, we usually spend the afternoon working around the barn or in the garden. The girls might enjoy a ride on Ellie Mae, take the goats for a walk, or play in the creek for a while. If there is not a lot of work to do close to home, we might hike through the woods, walk into town to visit the library, or wander up to a nearby playground. Sometimes we do research following up on topics we've breeched during Discovery Time or on topics the girls have come up with on their own.
While my girls and I generally spend only a few hours of most weekdays doing what most people would recognize as "school," we spend a great deal of our time learning together--as we cook together, hike together, work together, and discuss books we are reading or issues that interest us. Perhaps the best laboratories we have for learning are the barn and the woods surrounding our house. As we follow the development of the baby chicks; treat a laceration on a goat’s leg; try to figure out if Ellie Mae is pregnant; watch the seasons change and the birds migrate; organize seeds for planting; research organic methods for controlling garden pests the girls and I delve into biology, chemistry, history, and sociology. And they learn some of the practical skills that have disappeared from the knowledge stores of so many American families and communities.
We call our little school "Whole World Homeschool"--an ambitious name for our tiny operation, perhaps, but reflective our ambitions--to see the whole world as our classroom and our object of study: from India, Ecuador, the Alps and the Sahara to the earthworms in our backyard, the ferns in the forest, and the animals and plants we raise to feed ourselves. For us homeschooling is an adventure in learning that takes us well beyond the parameters of traditional "subjects" and well beyond the confines of classroom walls. It is an adventure that is often messy and difficult but also often filled with excitement, wonder and discovery. Perhaps most importantly, it is an adventure that allows us to journey together.
Jennie, her husband, and their two home-schooled children live and learn on a small country homestead just outside the city limits of Davidson, NC. After years of dreaming about living a more self-sufficient life, in the summer of 2011, the family bought a 4 1/2-acre homestead. You can follow Jennie's journey on her blog, Little Bent Creek Farm.