Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Year In Review: Family Studies (2015 - 2016)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of our Family Studies.

Subjects We Study as a Family

In our family studies, we tackle subjects together at set times during the day.  Some of my children will have additional readings or work in these areas, and some will do all their work in this area with the family.  Our family studies include:

  • Bible  
  • Natural History and Nature Lore
  • California History
  • Lives of Saints
  • Picture Study
  • Hymns
  • Poetry
  • Plutarch
  • Shakespeare (we studied Shakespeare with a group of other families in the fall and spring)
  • Drawing Practice
  • Memory work
  • Literature 
  • Nature Study and Journaling
  • Composer Study

They should also include singing instruction and folk songs, but those didn't end up in the schedule this year.

For composer study we read a composer biography, did part of the Baroque SQUILT guide, and studied Handel's Messiah during Advent.  I read the biography during our lunch time read-aloud session, the SQUILT study was done during morning time, and the Messiah was studied during evening time.  Composer study is a subject I've long had a hard time figuring out how to implement in our family and where to put in our day.  It didn't work particularly well in any of those blocks, so one of my tasks over the summer to try and figure out another place to put it.

Morning Time

As we did last year, we started our day with Morning Time at 8:30.  After the first term, Morning Time was simplified and shortened to create a little more breathing room in the schedule.  In our Morning Time we would:

  • Sing a hymn (some of the time *ahem* this was something I was good at forgetting)
  • Read something about the day's saint (if there was one) and discuss
  • Read, narrate, and sometimes look up maps or commentary for the Mass Readings of the day
  • Take turns praying for various intentions
  • Read a few poems
  • Do our memory work for the day (we're still using the review system as I described in last year's post


For poetry this year we read Alfred Lord Tennyson in Term 1, Emily Dickinson in Term 2, and the Sonnets of Shakespeare (as selected by Ambleside Online) in Term 3.  For Tennyson and Dickinson I followed the three poem format where I would read each poem three times over a three day period.  For Shakespeare's sonnets, I read each sonnet a couple times each day for a week, then we discussed what we thought it meant at the end of the week.

Weekly Work

I lessened our weekly work schedule and only scheduled this twice a week.  We had one 20 min session once a week for picture study, and then I blocked off about an hour and a half for nature study and journaling on Thursday mornings.  We also had a monthly nature study outing on a Monday afternoon where we did nature journaling as well.  Really, this isn't quite long enough, but it was more than last year and somewhat sufficient.  

I found it worked well to have my older two, who are 14 and 10, walk down to the creek right after morning time.  They would make some observations and measure the flow of the creek, then perhaps collect a specimen or two for sketching.  Meanwhile I worked on plants or trees near the house with my 7 year old while keeping an eye on the younger two.  Nathan and I would start on our nature journal entries and be mostly completed by the time Gregory and Emma came back, and while they worked on their entries I would be doing reading practice or copywork with Nathan.  

This sounds a little scattered, but it separated Nathan and Gregory, which helped them to both be more observant and interested in the world around them and it kept me from having to haul small children up and down hills.

Picture Study Selections

  • Term 1 - Rodin
  • Term 2 - Degas
  • Term 3 - Hans Holbein the Younger
Of the three, Rodin was the favorite.  It probably helped that we got to go and visit the Rodin Sculpture Gallery and Museum at Stanford University so we could see many of his works in person.  

Lunch Time Reading

I moved last year's mid-morning read aloud to lunch to be a little more time efficient, and the change worked well.  I would either eat beforehand (if I was particularly on top of things that day - this didn't happen often!) or I would eat a bit while the kids recapped the last reading and then more while they narrated.  An unexpected bonus of this was that it encouraged my older kids to be more helpful with the youngers.  If there was a problem, they were expected to hop up and clean up a spill, get a refill or seconds, or help clean up a younger child so I could keep reading.  Previously that had always been my job, and I think practicing this sort of responsiveness to other people's needs has been good for them.

I use the app Reminders, as described in this post, to handle what we're reading on a given day.  The main change I've made is that I allow the child of the day to pick what we're reading off of whatever is currently available on the list.  A book cannot be picked again until a selection from all the books have been read.  With five kids, it works very nicely to delegate a child per day.  This child gets to light the prayer candle, pick the lunch reading, lead the Divine Mercy chaplet (if old enough) and do other little things on their day.  And it is extremely cute to hear my two year old pick Plutarch for the read aloud! 

In our rotation, we had six books.  Four or five would have been better, but I had trouble restraining myself.  We started the year with seven which was definitely too many.

Books in Our Rotation

Evening Time

We added in a more robust evening time this year, scheduling about an hour in a half in the evening on most nights for various activities.  On some weeks we hit our plan almost every night, and on other weeks we would only pray and perhaps read a few pages from a read aloud.  Our biggest impediments were parental fatigue or getting dinner on the table late.   

General Flow:

  • 6:45 p.m. - I take the littles - Justin (4) and Hannah (2) - and get them ready for bed while bigger kids (14, 10, and 7) finish cleaning up from dinner, get ready for bed, then read from their free reading shelf.  
  • 7:00 -  Nathan (7) would come up to listen to stories with the younger ones while the bigger kids would continue to read.  I would read nursery rhymes, poetry, and perhaps a picture book.
  • 7:10 - Gregory (10) would often wander up for fairy tales, then listen to the Bible story, Scripture reading, and short missal reading.  
  • 7:30 - I would pray with the littles and get them in bed, while Nathan and Gregory would go back downstairs and my husband would read to them.
  • 7:40-ish - Matt and I would pray with the older kids, then we would do an evening activity - Monday - Great Courses lecture, Tues, Thurs, Sat - Drawing Practice, Fri and Sunday - Game (I don't think we had a single week where we actually did all of these - this is the ideal)
  • 8:15-ish - I would read out loud from another literature selection
  • 8:30-ish - Bedtime for the kids (and generally my husband)

Books Read and Materials Used:


And in case you're wondering, here's some of our family study favorites from the year:


  1. hm, very interesting, thanks for sharing

  2. Thank you for this! You're giving me some things to think about. One thing I have had in mind is to move some of our family items to the evening -- and even some individual things too. For the past couple months, the learning-to-read kids (right now, Cate and Xavier, but Bridget just got added to the list by request ;)) have been bringing me their books for reading practice right after dinner while the Big Kids are doing dishes and such. To be honest, this is not the easiest time to do reading practice. It isn't my favorite activity, and it's hitting at a time when I'm fairly tired (that 5-6pm hour is hard for me). BUT I will admit that it's happening far more often in that time slot than it was during the school day -- I am also not good at reading practice when interruptions are happening. So the evening has become a nice time slot for...well, something. Either reading practice or something else! Anyway, I'm looking now at how our evenings might look, while also keeping in mind that I can't schedule them too strictly -- I am out a couple evenings a week usually, and sometimes have videochats and other activities that I want to be able to say yes to since my husband is there to run interference. But on days that I happen to be home, it's nice to have a more formal routine. Thinking... :)

    I also liked your lunchtime plan. My goal this year is to use lunchtime more enjoyably/effectively now that baby joins us in his high chair during lunch. :)

    1. Yes, having the baby joining the table in the high chair makes such a difference, doesn't it!

      I still sometimes feel like it is too much to try and stretch these things into the evening... but it is getting easier. I think this year I will probably be moving a little scheduled material to the evening, just because I have more confidence that it will actually happen on a regular basis! I was a little nervous to do that this year, because I wasn't sure it was actually going to get done.

  3. Just reading this on the go. I hope to re-visit and ponder some of your plans. Evenings I am *done* and effectually only do a read-aloud - and that is not always possible because of whatever schedule we've had that day. I do need the reminder that less can be more in our Morning Time. I tend to try to do too much as well and now am experiencing a bit of burnout. Bleh. I appreciate your thoughts and look forward to coming back here to review some things soon!

    1. I have definitely been that place where I'm just done in the evening! There are nights when I get littles in bed, pray with the bigger kids and then head to bed myself. I have found that it has gotten a little easier over time though... but there are still evenings when I feel like I need to gird my loins and prepare for battle - not to battle the kids, but my own fatigue and desire for stillness.