Homeschooling: The Early Years

Realizing that I needed one, I have been taking an extended break from homeschooling Larkspur and Beatrix, and over these weeks, making my plans for our next school year.  I promised that I would write about this a couple of weeks ago, and I think I am finally ready!

The three “Rs” are my primary academic focus during the early years, and there are years during which that is all I am able to accomplish with my younger children.  In our upcoming school year, the girls will be learning religion, history, science, music, writing, and more at the once weekly co-op that we will be participating in.  (This will only be our second year in a homeschooling co-op.)  Were we not participating in the co-op, I would use Mater Amabilis for these subjects.  We also focus on plenty of unstructured time spent outdoors, reading aloud together, and on creative (ahem, messy) pursuits.

To make it simple, I’m just going to talk a little about the three programs I plan to use, and why:

Math:  When I was only homeschooling a couple of kids, I used Rightstart Math.  As our family grew, and I became aware of the different ways that each of my children learn, I began to phase in some different programs.  Currently I have two children using Saxon math, one using Life of Fred, and for my little girls I am using Math Mammoth.  While I did like Rightstart Math for the early years, it is very mom-intensive and I don’t have time for it anymore.  I have been using Math Mammoth as an alternative for a couple of years now thanks to the recommendation of a friend, and I am finding that it works for us.  It is easy to implement, and it is economical too (printable ebooks).  This curriculum does not rely on manipulatives, though it is easy to pull them out to illustrate a concept when desired.  If I am able to, I would love to supplement with Life of Fred.  (Seth is a huge fan of that program, and is using it exclusively for his high school math.)

Reading:  For the past few years I have been using All About Reading for phonics instruction.  I really love this program and recommend it again and again.  I used to be far more spontaneous and creative in teaching reading, but really appreciate this scripted program as it serves us well.  I don’t have to plan lessons, and I don’t have to worry about missing something.  My girls seem to enjoy it as well.  This year Beatrix will be continuing Level 1, and Larkspur, Level 3.  I highly recommend All About Reading for both busy (overwhelmed) homeschooling moms and those who have it all together.

Handwriting:  This is where I am changing gears.  My children do not have nice handwriting!  I have used Handwriting Without Tears from the start, and must not be doing a great job implementing the program.  I also have some children who just generally struggle with handwriting.  I read this article last week, and decided that I am going to work with both of my girls on cursive handwriting this year.  (My boys are going to have a cursive review, though I haven’t broken the news to them yet!)  A friend recently shared the Queen Homeschool Pictures in Cursive program, and I fell in love with the concept and the beautiful artwork.  I ordered workbooks for the first three levels for my girls, and plan to work through them over the next school year.  Dare I say that I am excited about handwriting for possibly the first time ever?

Please ask me any questions you might have in the comments, and feel free to jump into the discussion and answer each others’ questions as well! 

*This post contains affiliate links.


  1. Hi Ginny! I vaugely remember you mentioning once that your girls use a Montessori moveable alphabet with the All About Reading lessons. (Is that right? Maybe I am mistaken on where I read that.) I was wondering how that worked for you. I have a moveable alphabet that we have been using for years but I’m starting AAR with my children this fall. I would really rather not buy the letter tiles unless it’s necessary because it just feels redundant. I’d love to know what you think!

    • You can use the moveable alphabet to some extent with AAR, but you really need the letter tiles too b/c they include different blends, etc. The moveable alphabet is sooooo much more aesthetically pleasing though!

  2. Hi there 🙂 Just wondering how old your children are?

  3. Thanks for sharing the article! My kids are still quite young (oldest of three is not yet 4) but we do plan to home school. I was home schooled myself so I have some pretty clear ideas about how I want to do it, but I am always on the lookout for good ideas and curriculum references. My oldest is a lefty and I’ve been wondering how to teach her writing. This article makes a lot of sense to me.

    Although my kids are not yet school age, they do enjoy having “school time.” That may be something different each day, or it may not happen at all, but I like the fact that they LOVE “school”! Sometimes that’s pulling out paper, scissors, and glue. Other days it may be pulling out the oldest’s Korean alphabet workbook and doing one page (with a Korean-American father, we are trying to raise them bi-lingual). Other days that’s our reading time, but maybe specific types of books (e.g. 1 picture book, 1 animal book, 1 Korean book). My favorite “school” days (rare, indeed) are when I can pull out a huge sheet of watercolor paper, and a few poster paint colors, get them undressed so they’re ready for the bath immediately after and let them go to town. Super fun!

    The biggest piece of their “school,” though, is something new to me. We’re doing quite a bit of memorization. My mom had us do a bit of this when I was elementary age, but we didn’t stick with it long and I now wish we had. We do a mix of poetry, scripture, and Korean songs. We just started this earlier this year and I’ve been amazed at just how quickly kids this age pick things up! Their first poem was “Ooey Gooey” which is just silly, and their most recent one is Stevenson’s “Bed in Summer,” chosen because of my 3yo’s preoccupation with the very same question. For scripture they’ve done Psalms 23 & 100, John 3:16-17, The Lord’s Prayer, and are starting on The Beatitudes. Honestly, they’re quicker studies than I am. It just amazes and blesses me to hear them quoting from Rosetti’s “The Rainbow” and Psalm 100 in almost the same breath as they play at being Beatrix Potter characters!

    Some days we do a formal sit down and “study” with our memorization, but more often than not, I’ll just have the cards that I don’t remember yet myself handy and I’ll spontaneously break into some recitation while they’re playing with blocks, or we’re cleaning up toys, or getting ready for a meal. Other times I don’t get around to doing anything with them for days on end, but I still hear them throughout the day reciting one thing or another.

    I love doing this with them, and have started this mainly because I love what I’ve recently learned about the Classical Method for homeschooling. But I must say that the biggest key to making this doable long-term is the fact that I do not pressure myself to “accomplish” any certain amount of memorization, or even of getting to it daily. I simply wait until they know the most recent items quite well before introducing a new one, whether this is one week, or two months. This lack of pressure frees me up to enjoy my kids and to enjoy the memorization items, as well as our process as it is simply a low-key part of our every day life.

  4. Many years ago in the 80s/90s when my mum was homeschooling I remember meeting Samuel Blumenfield, he stayed at our house here in Australia!:) and meet and lectured with/to the local hs community and even though I was only 16 at the time I never forgot him saying we should write with cursive first. and my husband has been saying the same for years but I haven;’t been sure where to start.

    Thank you soo much for the link to Queen’s the arrows are just what my children need. they won’t listen to me but if the diagram says I believe they will copy!!

    Also interested to check out the Math Mammoth, and interested that you are happy with the Life of Fred, suspect some of my children would enjoy him too.

    I’ve long been a fan of AAS and last year bought AAR and can’t rave enough about it!!
    I’ve taught 7 of our children to read using Spalding cards and whilst they all read well they mostly spell terribly. also a few of them read quite late, something was missing. AAR fills in the something, my 6year (current and first AAR student) old will be reading fluently long before his siblings did I’m sure. I really can’t rave about it enough.

  5. Jessica says:

    Thank you for this homeschooling post, Ginny – I enjoyed it! I’m a former teacher and have been homeschooling our children since our oldest was preschool age (they are now pre-K (3yrs), K(5), and 2nd(7) this fall). I’m very impressed with All About Reading, too. I ordered it at the last minute two years ago, thinking up until then that I might just do a homemade reading program like I do homemade unit studies for our preschool work, and I was so glad that I did! The open-and-go format is time saving, but the main thing is that it works amazingly well! Our oldest has now used AAR level 1 and level 2 and will be going on to level 3 this fall; I also ended up using the AAR Pre-reading level with our middle child this past year and will use it again next year for our youngest…For writing, so far we just do journaling and other simple writing with prompts. Tried AAS level 1 for spelling for the first time this year (gr 1) and had mixed feelings on it. It was the recommended level, but I felt it would have made a lot more sense to use the same level as AAR. I did not do formal grammar this year and had to fill in some gaps with other resources since we are in a state that requires standardized tests, too. I am looking for a good suggestion for 2nd!…I used Math Mammoth this past year for our oldest as well and really liked it. I had used Math-U-See for K and started 1st w/it, but after a few months in it was clear it was not the right fit. Switched to Math Mammoth and saw an immediate difference. I love how affordable it is, too!…And, like you, I used HWOT’s this past year for 1st. Like Math-U-See, I wanted to like it, but I didn’t. Not sure if it’s the program itself or the way I applied it (probably not enough time spent on it), but handwriting got worse as the year went on instead of better, including higher frequency of letter reversals. I skimmed through most of the article you linked to on cursive and am very interested; maybe we’ll try that!…Enjoying the discussion here, thanks again.

  6. When and how do you implement spelling, grammar and writing (not handwriting) skills?

  7. When do you start and how do you implement grammar lessons and writing (not handwriting?

    • Sorry for the double post.

    • Oooh–I totally should have discussed grammar! With my first two I started teaching grammar in the first grade. I tried several different programs over the years (Serle, Rod & Staff, and then First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise), and found that my boys weren’t really retaining much. So my focus now in the early years is moving towards copywork and lots of good literature via reading aloud and audiobooks because I think they learn more via those avenues. Another new addition is IEW, which they are doing as part of co-op (starting in 2nd grade) and while that is a writing program, they pick up some grammar too. I did buy a basic grammar workbook for Bea and need one for Larkspur as well though, because they need to be prepared for the standardized tests our state requires at the end of the year. Basically, I will be teaching to test and I don’t think they will retain information for the longterm from those workbooks.
      As far as writing goes, I would say that has been my biggest struggle with my older boys! They have all been very resistant. I have tried and mostly failed using various writing programs over the years. Last year they all started IEW at co-op, and Keats and Gabe will continue with that program this fall.
      So, my long winded reply boils down to this: If I had it my way, I would wait to begin formal grammar and writing until fourth grade or so. Before that I would encourage copywork, and possibly journaling and read lots of good literature together. I’m no expert though, this is just based on what I have observed with my kids.

      • Thank you for your reply. We’ve been using Jessie Wise’s Ordinary Parents Teaching Reading with success so I was looking at First Language Lessons but my gut was telling me that he just wasn’t ready (this will be his 1st grade year). I’ve started some journaling with him where he has to draw a picture and then write a simple sentence about the picture. We work through the spelling together on difficult words. My 3 and 4 yo draw and narrate their sentence to me. So far this has been going great without much resistance. I’ve been reading about Words Their Way and am waiting on the books from the library.

        We’ve been using Sinagpore Math and so far so good. We tried Math Mammoth and there seemed to be too much on the page for my kiddo with sensory and attention issues. Too much and he gets overwhelmed then shuts down. Plus he likes lots of manipulatives and games. The Singapore home instructors guide has been very helpful for this first time homeschooling mama. We’ve been supplementing with dreambox online program and he seems to enjoy it a lot and it works well for him as he is a pretty visual learner.

  8. Both my older kids were in public school during years K-5 and used Handwriting Without Tears & I was not impressed. Several of their teachers were not, either, so I don’t think it’s you (or anyone else), but rather the curriculum. Eventually the district dropped it as it was a huge expense. Sadly, I don’t think they replaced it with anything. Handwriting & cursive seem to be going to the wayside in a lot of public schools today. My son is entering 5th grade this year and is starting OT for his writing–it is just SO atrocious and his ADHD/TS are not helping the matter (probably the root of the problem, actually). Great post, Ginny! And I’ve loved reading the discussion that has sprung-up in the Comments.

  9. Kathleen, I too am a military wife (19yrs) and we homeschool in VA (eastern hampton roads area). The homeschool community here is also quite big; so many options! I have to agree with Ginny about having little ones alongside while schooling. Try to have Lots of little constructive things for them to do, and take lots of little breaks in between; also maybe trying to find a curriculum that encourages more indepent learning and not so much Mom-instructed may help as well. Have fun with it, it doesn’t have to be perfect or completely structured.

  10. Have you ever considered italic handwriting? It is a cross between cursive and printing, and it is truly lovely. I had one of my daughters learn this and to this day she has such pretty handwriting. My sons, on the other hand, are a different story. Several of them resorted to block printing at about age 14, though they had very passable cursive when younger. I lost the battle of handwriting with them, but it did not hurt them. So much of their work will be at the computer anyway. I still admire and appreciate nice handwriting, though, and almost consider it a lost art.

    • I did use Italic for a short period, many years ago. I don’t remember why I gave it up, but I might revisit it after we spend some time on cursive!

  11. Thank you for sharing Ginny! We don’t homeschool (yet) but I found that my son had pretty good handwriting (for a 4 year old) just from informal instruction at home before starting Handwriting Without Tears at preschool. Now he has quite a bit of trouble and I’m definitely going to look into the program you recommend to get him back on track. 🙂

    • reply to all

      there is a method called Writing 8 – it is mentioned in Dianne Croft’s work, but is not original to her. It helps you use your left and right brain together for handwriting. it is especially useful for dysgraphia.
      we use it at our house but call it “race car letters”
      there is a large figure 8 on it’s side and you trace around the circles three times then form an individual letter, making your way through the entire alphabet.
      This has been an incredible asset to us, my oldest son should truly be left handed, but as he was ambidextrous he wanted to write with both, and then choose to be right handed for penmanship (he is left OR right in many areas as he feels most comfortable). 3 years ago he had truly terrible handwriting, with reversals and mixed case letters and he cried everytime we asked him to write, he now has a wonderful cursive style with no issues. If anyone is interested you could email me and I will send you back the info I have on this method. I can no longer access the link online to where I got the information in the beginning,

      I have all the instructions, but don’t know how to post a file here.

  12. I so love that you are sharing all of this with us, Ginny <3 My question for you is about how you teach religion. I have a feeling a lot is simply done by living your life! <3 You know my story and how new my children and I are to our faith so I am at such a loss and have no idea where to begin with teaching them about our faith. Other than feast days and simple things like that. I mean really, I am learning along with them. It's so important to me that we are strong in our faith. Any advice?

    • Yes, you are right. The most important thing is living out our faith, but I still struggle with teaching too, because even ten years post conversion I feel like I have so much to learn. I still find feast days overwhelming! You are really strong in that area. 🙂 Do you do Catechism with them? The Faith and Life Series is a good one. We also read a lot of books about the saints. My girls especially like Mary Fabyan Windeatt books, and for audio, Glory Stories.

    • unlike both of you I am a cradle Catholic. Born and raised in NZ I went to a Convent school through 8th grade and then a public high school.
      I still feel that I have a lot to learn about the Catholic faith, so you are not alone just because you are new. There is SO much more information available for adults now that there is Internet, but I feel that trying to teach my kids has been the most valuable learning experience for me.
      Ginny had the book Catholic Christianity on Yarn Along once and I bought it and both my husband and I have learned so much just from reading it. We had a copy of CCC but found in dry and uninspiring.
      We use Faith and Life, and this year I also bought “Step by Step” and “Footprints in Faith” from CHC to use as a Monday morning refresher on the Sunday readings.
      In the last few years our biggest emphasis has been on LENT & ADVENT as seasons of the Church as opposed to popular culture. Going to Mass, finding a way for each child to be involved – Altar Servers.
      Also a big difference in our home came after reading Little Oratory and creating a home altar.
      Growing up in NZ we did not celebrate Feast Days like some celebrate them here, so often we do not have anything special/different on a feast day.
      I find myself turned off by the Sunday School offerings at my local Parish where they spend a lot of time teaching that Gods loves you even if your parents are divorced and not much time on what is special about being Catholic.
      I started homeschooling using all CHC materials. and over the last 2-3 years I have used other things for some subjects. I do like the CHC grammer and cursive workbooks. I also like their history series, we should all know more about the good things the Church has done through out the years to shape society, I personally did not know anything about the church’s history in the USA until after I started homeschooling my kids.
      One thing that our family does every year that we love to do. In Maine there is a yearly Priests retreat, we make it a priority to attend one of the Masses during the retreat. Most, if not all, of the Priests in our Diocese will be at the Mass and it gives a much wider perspective to the kids. Also usually the Bishop’s homily one day is directed to the assembled priests and refers to their vocation. I have found the homily’s to be inspiring about my own vocation, and hope that my kids are also feeling it talk to them about their future vocations – whatever they may be.

  13. I have had a hard time with the math curriculum I chose this last year. Our daughter is doing well but our son is not keeping up and discouraged. So is this mama! I was turned on to Math Lessons For A Living Education and have heard so many wonderful things! She uses the Charlotte Mason approach.
    Also, the books(book printable versions) are being offered free right now!! I am encouraged to begin this with our son next year. Looking forward to a simple year, especially with our sixth baby on the way!

    • Thanks so much for sharing that! At first glance, I really like the look and sound of it. I’m definitely going to download and take a more in depth look!!

      • Great! From the reviews I’ve read it is a wonderful math curriculum that is no boring, but with the stories involved with each lesson, it grabs the child’s attention. The child is not overloaded with facts, yet they are very confident in math by the end. Our son needs this confidence booster. Math is so boring and he is just not interested. From what I read in the downloadable version it looks perfect for our family. Praying that it “really” is a good fit.

    • Thank you for this idea Julia! I will definitely look into it.

  14. A friend suggested Mammoth Math when we hit a wall during the division booklet in another program. It was wonderful. Great for them to see the visual of 15 bananas divided into 3 groups, and not just numbers on a page staring back at them.

    I have some learning issues in our household so I’ve used many different books in all subjects to try and find the best fit. We have used Math U See for the most part, and use Teaching Textbooks for the high school level. But I’ve been toying with the idea of this Life of Fred series. I don’t know enough about it, though, and it hasn’t been around long enough yet for me to bite the bullet and spend the money on it. I’d appreciate anyone’s comments re using it with dyslexic children who struggle in math. Because it’s all reading, I’d have to do it aloud so I’m already questioning that part. But I keep hearing good things about it. Also, my other question is, can one just jump in at a certain book level?

    • We are just getting into Life of Fred and LOVE it over here. If you look on the author’s website you will find many of the answers to your questions in regards to what level to begin with. I believe he recommends most students start from the beginning, unless they are quite a bit older (past 5th grade??). I don’t have experience with dyslexic children so I’m sorry I can’t comment on how that might work. But I will say that these books are definitely more geared towards highly verbal children, as they are quite quirky and contain a lot of other random information in them. We find that it’s not quite enough to use Life of Fred on its own, but rather we use it in combination with Math Mammoth as well 🙂 I would just order the first book and give it a try! It’s really easy to resell it as they are non-consumable. All the best to you and I hope you find something that works for you and your students.

      • Thanks Katie!
        I’m happy to hear you are liking this program in conjunction with Mammoth Math. I am planning on using Mammoth for one of my children and will definitely look into Life of Fred to go along with it (yes, we’re in need of starting it for an older child).

  15. I have a bachelor’s in elementary education and have worked with kids in a formal school setting. No matter what you do, some kids just don’t have good handwriting. When I used to teach it (specifically cursive to 4th and 5th graders), I would teach them the reasons behind cursive (i.e., the history of cursive) and told them they would eventually develop their own handwriting style, usually as a combination of both printing and cursive. I would also teach them why it was important to learn how to read it (especially in the context of old formal documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as well as old family bibles).

  16. I am going to look in to those cursive workbooks. We use mostly waldorf resources but are finding we need new math programs. I need something less mama intensive. Love these homeschooling posts!

  17. Gwendolyn says:

    I love those Pictures in Cursive workbooks. I’m tempted to buy one for myself. My mother has absolutely beautiful penmanship and I can occasionally write pretty, but I usually have to have a fine tip pen and a steady hand. Thanks for sharing about your Homeschooling and how you accomplish it. Ginny, I’ve still got your note from your sister with her beautiful handwriting as well. You probably write just like her.

  18. LOF… Some kids love it. Katie learned more physics and economics than pre-algebra. He is exceedingly scattered. There is no scope and sequence, but for some non-linear babies, that is a great fit. My kids love it. One hates it. She learned fractions and on the same page sigma series. It frustrated her, so I found something she likes. As my friend and homeschool mom of ten says, “I have more math curriculum going than kids in my house!” :).

  19. Thank you for connecting me with the cursive books. I love the art connection, but I have using the Kolbe handwiting books which were all that I could find with really writing that made sense to read. Not just pages of J’s. My kids think the rules that HWOT uses.. The helicopter etc are silly and don’t respond to it. So! This will be a great cheap swap! I wish I had seen it at IHM. I was selling Nancy Larson Science.


  20. I’m looking at Math curricula at the moment. My eldest isn’t doing well at all, at the moment, with the choices I made. Would you say MM is spiral or mastery?

  21. Thank you for writing about this! I am going to embark on my first year of homeschooling this year after a year of my oldest attended public school. We are finishing military time and I thought it would wise to homeschool as we go through such a big change and 2 moves before settling in our forever homestead. I had 2 questions for you. How do you manage the little ones who aren’t schooling yet? I have 2 younger ones and I am a little intimidated by managing everyone while teaching. And how is the homeschooling community in Virginia? My husband is applying for a job that would put us near fredericksburg. Gosh, sorry so many questions! I read several blogs where the mama’s homeschool and I am inspired!

    • There is a very big homeschooling community in northern Virginia, and Fredericksburg is great! As far as my little ones go, that is always the big challenge! What I have had the most success with is giving them something to do alongside us at the table, art or other busy work–play dough, stickers, scissors, that sort of thing. Sometimes they occupy themselves with books or other activities in another room or I will set them up with something on the back porch while I am working with the other kids in the adjacent kitchen. I also have older children that I sometimes ask to help with the younger ones for brief periods, and if I was a better planner I might have scheduled shifts for each of them. I have found that it is really important to stay super flexible, and always expect that the day probably won’t go as planned. There are always lots of interruptions, and that is just the nature of homeschooling with young children!

I love to hear from you!