This is the last instalment of the series on how I did homeschooling. I will describe briefly what we did for the kindergarten years.
At the beginning of what would technically be his K1 year, he was already almost ready for P1. After two years of homeschooling, he could read fairly well in English and Chinese and he could do simple addition and subtraction, and had a pretty good maths sense. The only thing missing was Hanyu Pinyin, which I was planning to leave until the last 6 months before he entered P1.
To be honest, the 4 year old stage was a bit of a drag because by then I had already introduced all the elementary stuff like alphabets, numbers, pre-learning, pre-writing skills. He learned very quickly but to move on would be too fast too much for him at that age. So we went really slow and enjoyed all kinds of books and activities.
The two years after that – 5 & 6 year old – involved more “real” learning, by which I mean really getting him ready for Primary 1.
The K1 & K2 years were a lot more book based than the years before. I used a lot of workbooks and textbooks but those were mainly teaching guides and not so much books that he actually had to write in. In other words, the books were mine! I very much preferred ready-made curriculum so that I didn’t have to waste my time creating, collating and printing stuff. I did a bit of reading and was very attracted to the classical education way of teaching. Susan Wise Bauer’s “The Well-Trained Mind” was a book I chanced upon in the library and that became my ‘bible’ for homeschooling. I did not following everything but adopted some aspects of it and used it as a guide. At the end of the day, we were still bound by the requirements of the local education system so a heavily history-based curriculum was not going to work here.
Now that #3 was reading well, we started on Grammar. I have always felt that I did not have a very good foundation in English grammar because I belonged to the generation that was taught grammar the very ‘meaningless’ way. (You probably have noticed numerous grammar errors in my writing.) Thankfully we were still taught grammar though! The generation after mine basically went through the ‘learn by osmosis’ era and had even worse grammar foundation. Fortunately, they reversed the trend subsequently and grammar is now being taught in school again.
So I was determined to make sure that #3 would have a good foundation. I used First Language Lesson as a text. As a start, I wanted him to have a very good grasp of the parts of speech and how they relate to each other in a sentence.
He breezed through Book 1 & 2 within the first year and we went on to Book 3 & 4 in the second year. We even had time to venture into Grammarland for a bit. Grammarland is free and you can also find free worksheets for it. Just Google.
I was not expecting him to write short stories or essays. The ‘writing’ we did was unconventional compared to the traditional understanding of it here. I basically went through Writing With Ease (Workbook) with him. He learned copywork and dictation through it. More importantly, he also learned to summarise. We finished Book 1 and 2 and was in the middle of Book 3 when he went to P1. For this, we went though very very slowly. If you wish to find out more about this programme, read up Susan Wise Bauer’s book, The Complete Writer : Writing with Ease.
I have written about Spelling in my review for All About Spelling, so I shall not elaborate too much here. When I realised that it made no sense for me to give him a list of words to learn, and the same me to help him learn that list of words and the same me to test him after that, I knew I had to do something different. Looking at my #1 & #2, I also had an inkling that this ‘learn a list of words a week’ approach was not going to produce a good speller. Hence, I decided to invest in All About Spelling to teach the SKILL of spelling words.
Now that he could read, he really read – a lot. I have a bookworm of a son in him. To this day, his favourite thing to do is still to read. I never thought the day would come when I actually have to tell my kids to stop reading. I never thought there would be a day I would actually ban reading as a punishment. So reading, by this time, was really on auto-pilot. All I had to do was to supply the books. He read all kinds of things. I made it a point to buy what I called ‘fact books’ – E.g. books on animals, human body, space, plants, history, culture, etc. #3 learned all kinds of things just through his own reading of these books, which was like striking lottery for me because I did not have to specifically teach him these things! He could self-learn!
Audio book was still very much loved by #3 and my other two boys. Remember the days when people did not have TV, or when TV programme did not run 24/7 but only after certain hours? I remember my grandma listening to radio programmes during the day, and her favourite was day time radio drama in Cantonese. It was like day time soap opera except on radio. Well, instead of watching TV, the kids listened to audiobooks. Very much like how my grandma listened to radio drama. To this day, my kids still listen to audiobooks a lot. #3 would pick out a CD and listen to it while he has his lunch. When he plays with toys, some audiobook will be playing in the background. They listen to audiobooks just before bedtime.
Still using Siwukuaidu as the main spine, we continued on with accumulating more and more ‘sight words’. We still read a lot of books and through reading books, #3 picked up more characters that were not in the Siwukuaidu books. He could read P1-2 level textbooks by this time. Instead of always me reading to him, I also got him to read aloud. This is very important to instil a good feel of the language (语感).
I adopted the Writing with Ease principle of narration for Chinese. I would read a book for him and get him to narrate the story back to me in Chinese. I would ask him questions about the story and he had to answer my questions in Chinese. We started very slowly and very simply. This was to encourage/force him to think in the language and use it because we simply did not speak Mandarin at home so he had no chance of using the language otherwise.
I started introducing writing to him because he would need to know how to write simple high frequency words by the time he went to P1. To kill two birds with one stone, I got him to do 习字 (Chinese character writing practice) using the Siwukuaidu books. By this time, he was on Book 4 or 5 of the series. Some of the characters in the earlier books were forgotten. Thankfully, not a lot of it. I got him to start with writing the characters in Book 1, as a form of revision. Also, he would be able to write sentences after a while because Siwukuaidu introduced characters that would be used to form sentences very early on (not random characters or based on topics). Again, this is ‘learning within context’ which is more meaningful. As for the specifics of how I designed our 习字 practice, you can read the details here.
– Reading Pen
Emoti Reading Pen played a very important role in his Chinese learning. You can read more about it here.
– Hanyu Pinyin
I left Hanyu Pinyin to the very last minute. I don’t place a lot of emphasis on it and only taught him enough get by. I know that he would be spending the first half of his P1 year doing Hanyu Pinyin in school so as long as he had a decent grasp of it before P1, that would be enough. It did not take a lot of time to cover that. Read this for more details about how we did Hanyu Pinyin.
Towards the end of the 4-year-old year, I found Early Bird Mathematics from Marshall Cavendish, which was meant for kindergarteners and based on the CPA concept. It came in two volumes and we started on Book 1 as soon as I got the book. In this K1 year, we continued with this book. Very colourful. Very easy. He breezed through the two volumes very quickly.
I used Developing Number Concepts by Kathy Richardson a lot in conjunction with Early Bird Mathematics to teach him all the basic concepts using manipulatives. There are 3 volumes altogether. I also started using the Primary 1 textbook as a guide to teach him all that he needed to know in the primary school curriculum. For workbook exercises, we used Visible Thinking Maths. There are certain things in maths that drilling is needed. Multiplication tables is one of them. Understanding Place Value is a very important foundation so more practice is needed. We supplemented with Mammoth Math (which I bought earlier for the older boys when they needed the practice). I bought the ebooks via Currclick.
By the end of his K2 year, he was already starting on Primary 2 syllabus. I did not accelerate him or anything. It was just that he was learning fast and there was no reason why he should be held back because of his age. So we just went according to his pace. Now that he is in Primary 3, he is still 1 year ahead in maths because we have been continuing with his learning at home.
Science was, unfortunately, rather haphazard. I tried to use Building Foundation of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) by Bernard J. Nebel. I did to a certain extent but Science was always pushed aside in favour of other things. I guess I just didn’t have it in me to teach science at this stage. Not that I am not good in the subject. Knowing it and teaching it are quite different things. We did do a major one on Animal Classification. I made sure #3 understood the need for classification and how it was done. This is actually a rather broad topic for K level because not only the kid has to be able to understand attributes and grouping things by attributes, the kid needs to learn and remember the different attributes of different classes of animals. Yet, before reaching animals, the kids needs to understand everything in this world can be broken down first into Living vs Non-living things, which means the kid must first understand what are the attributes of a living thing. This is almost like an entire P3 science syllabus in itself. Taxonomy is a topic that can be very complex yet has to be made simple for a K level kid to understand.
BFSU has a kind of flowchart where you follow so that one topic flows to the next in a logical manner. We managed to cover, apart from classification, matter and sound, and briefly touched on other things, but if I were to seriously follow it, it would take a lot of time, covering a lot of things. In and of itself, I think BFSU is a pretty good guide to use. The author even has his own forum where parents can actually participate and ask questions and he sometimes will personally answer the queries himself.
Mainly, #3 picked up knowledge on science through his own reading. I tried to get him books that explain things at a level that he could understand. E.g. he really loved Sam Science at one time.
Anyway, I was not too bothered about Science because he did not really need to be prepared for it for P1. I only needed to make sure he knew basic stuff like plants and animals and human body and I try to do it ‘live’ by talking about it with him when we go to the zoo, or parks or through things we do daily.
Yes, history! I wanted to do history with #3 because it would be something he would never get to do unless he took up history as a main subject in Secondary school and above. I felt that it was important for us to at least have a basic understanding of how our world came to be what it is today. So, like reading stories, we did history using Story of the World. As part of the fun, we did lapbooks on some major ancient civilisations, e.g. Mesopotamia and Egypt. We did not manage to cover as much as I would like to but we had fun. At one time, thanks to Percy Jackson, even the older boys were crazy over Greek civilisation. Whenever there were interesting exhibitions at the museum, having some elementary knowledge of these ancient civilisation made things so much more interesting. I remember bringing the kids to see the Egyptian exhibition at the Art Science Museum and one on Pompeii at the National Museum. Story of the World comes in 4 volumes and they are easy to read, just like story books. As for the lapbooks, I got ready-made materials from Hands of a Child through Currclick
I am kidding. We did not do geography. It would be just too much to do. But I did buy a huge world map to hang on the wall. At least the kids, all three of them and not just #3, could have a good visual about where the countries are, their size, and the capitals of each country.
Art & Music
These were all farmed out to external classes. We eventually stopped art class when we felt that #3 had enough of it. But he continued with violin lessons to this day.
How Much Time We Spent on Homeschooling?!
This may sound like we did a lot of things but we really did not spend all day, every day studying. In fact, “lesson” only took place 3-4 days a week. One of the weekdays was our ‘Field Trip Day’ when we would go to places like the zoo or park or museum. Weekends we did no lessons. During the June and December school holidays, everything came to a stop because the older brothers were around to play with him!
Each day, we spent only about 1-2 hours on lesson, depending on what we were doing. Craft and hands-on stuff would take more time. Every day, we would spend 1 hour outdoors, just playing at the park or playground right next to our flat. Time for violin practice was not counted into the equation.
I guess we could achieve more with less time because homeschooling really wastes a lot less time than going to school! Time is not wasted on queueing up, getting the class in order, taking turns, dealing with misbehaviour, break time, and so on. So trust me when I say it was really no rush and no stress. In fact, it was quite a lot of fun! So much fun we were sorry when he had to go to primary school.