First Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices

FIRST GRADE! This is when it really begins! My oldest is six and a half and everyday I say to myself she’s so old and grown up!


I am super excited to share our curriculum choices. So I’m just going to get to it.

Here it is, are you ready? … Ambleside Online.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. Even though I’m a planner type person- I love to plan out my year in advance and love to spend hours upon hours creating my own planner book, and writing down everything we’re going to do, and making it all look so fabulous on paper – I’ve decided that I don’t have to “do it all.” In fact, it’s probably best that I don’t spend countless hours deciding on my booklist or figuring out what every 15 minutes of the day will look like. Been there. Done that. (Yes, already. Remember, I’m a planner type person.)

I’ve learned that even when I plan everything out until it’s “perfect,” life doesn’t allow for that. So, I’ve allowed for flexibility in my plans and I don’t expect that the plans laid out in my neat little planner book will be completed when it says they will. I’m okay with that and I’m not stressing. And, I think that using Ambleside Online really helps with that flexibility.

If you’re not sure of what Ambleside Online is all about, no worries, I didn’t really know the beauty of this curriculum until I took a closer look. But, in short, we are doing Year 1 this school year. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use or navigate the website this is a really great explanation from the Advisory Board on their blog.

What’s included in Ambleside Online? Is it enough? Is it everything you need?


It explains what to add in where, like math and phonics, but yes, it is everything you need.

Yes, it is enough. Trust the process and you will surely see your children thrive.

What’s “included” is a list of reading assignments in Bible, History, Natural History, Literature, and Poetry. The really cool thing about this is that you can get most of your books online, for free. The schedule has the following listed as weekly work: Nature Study, Picture study, Composer study, Timeline, Mapping, Geography, Recitation, Folksong, Hymn, and Handicrafts. Everyday you do short (10-15 minutes) lessons in math, phonics, copywork, and foreign language. This is not provided by Ambleside but they make suggestions for you to use and all of their suggestions are Charlotte Mason friendly.

Here is what we chose for daily work (these are probably not listed as any suggestions on the Ambleside site, but I was already using some of this last year for Kindergarten):

Math: Singapore Primary Math 1a and 1b US edition. This is a mastery approach to learning math versus the spiral approach. We are liking this very much so far.

Phonics: Logic of English Foundations I don’t use this program in entirety any more but I do love that it is thorough in teaching all the phonograms and spelling rules. I omit the handwriting (because we do copywork), and some of the reading practice (because I ask Elle to read to me from an early reader book every day). I teach the phonograms, we do the games, and we use the spelling lists. But only 10 to 15 minutes each day, so we usually don’t get through a whole Logic of English lesson in one day.

Copywork: I currently use Patriotic Penmanship, grade 1. Each lesson is intended for a week, and it’s the perfect amount of writing for a 6 year old. I love that they are copying Bible scripture or quotes from famous historical figures or lines from classic literature.


Foreign Language: This term I decided not to introduce foreign language. Once we get into a better rhythm and habit of doing school I will add in a foreign language. I am taking this time to find a good source. We will be learning Italian because my husband’s father’s family is Italian and it’ll be a fun language with which to start. I’m hoping Cherrydale Press, a company who teaches foreign language the Charlotte Mason way, will release an Italian version soon.  If you all know a great resource – please share! 🙂

Logic: This is not Charlotte Mason, but it is something my husband and I feel is important that our children learn critical thinking skills. Again, we do short lessons so this typically is 5 to 10 minutes. Right now we are using Lollipop Logic Book 2. I have already purchased a couple of other books to mix it up. Primarily Logic and Logic Safari. Elle is enjoying the Lollipop Logic so in the future I may get book 3.

We are on week twelve of Year One in Ambleside and I am grateful for the booklist already completed and scheduled for me. The work of the Ambleside ladies is truly a blessing. The decision fatigue is absolute minimal, which is a win in my book. We are sailing along and enjoying the ride.



What I Have Learned: Meal Planning and Putting it to Paper

I have struggled with this whole meal planning business off and on. I have come to realize that meal planning just doesn’t happen. It is something I have to work hard at doing. It has to be purposeful, intentional.

MP paper

The classic method of pen and paper is usually what works best. I can jot down an idea, scribble it out, move it to another day with an arrow. It’s just easier to “think” when writing, opposed to using a calendar on the computer or some meal planning service. Now, I have used Plan to Eat and liked it but it hasn’t been a consistent tool for me. If you are more of a computer organizer I’d highly recommend checking them out (I am not an affiliate, just a mom who is speaking from her own experience). Plan to Eat is pretty user friendly and especially after you build your recipes. I think the best part was that it automatically created a grocery list based off your meal plan. And you can delete items you know you already have so that you only get a list of what you need.

Anyway, like I said, pen and paper has proven to be a true friend when it comes to meal planning. I really enjoy using this two week schedule printable. It has spaces to include breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas. I typically shop on Tuesdays and occasionally I’ll go on Monday or Wednesday depending on the food situation or my schedule that week. So having the two week layout helps me to start my plan for the week on Tuesday and wrap around to the following Tuesday. I try to plan for 8 days because there is always a day I plan a meal and then when it’s time to make it I am not in the mood for cooking that meal. This way allows me a little wiggle room.

How do I know what meals to plan? Great question! I have found it helpful to come up with categories. My categories are Pasta/Grain, Asian, Traditional, Vegetarian, Mediterranean/ Middle East. You might think up Italian, Chicken, Pork, Soup/Stew/Crock pot/ Casserole, Skillet, Salad, Breakfast for Dinner, Pizza night, or even Cajun. My family likes to eat very different cuisines and they can be pretty particular about their food. I think that’s a big reason it has been such a challenge for me to plan. I also don’t want to feel obligated, nor do I have the time, to cook 7 days a week. That’s why you only see five categories.

Here are my categories and what they mean to me in more detail. Pasta/ Grain means cooking spaghetti, or pierogi, or gnocchi, or quinoa, or orzo and whatever sauce and veggies to go with it. Asian means a lot of different choices like Indian curry or Thai curry (and there are a bunch of curry ideas for both) or peanut satay chicken, or stir fry, or fried rice, or homemade Chinese food. My traditional category is cooking up a meat, veggie, and starch. So I might make a meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas. Or I’ll make herbed chicken thighs with roasted potatoes and green beans. Maybe I’ll make Jamaican jerk chicken breasts with sweet potatoes and broccoli. Fajitas, burgers, and Shepard’s Pie also fall into this category because they are a meat with a veggie and starch.

The vegetarian category is the most difficult because we are not fans of substitution type meals. No tofurkey burgers or lentil “meat”loaf for us. We like our veggies and want to eat more of them, definitely. But I haven’t found any “go-to” vegetarian recipes that aren’t curries. But nonetheless, here are some meal ideas I have listed: grilled cheese (actually – you have to try this Blueberry Balsamic grilled cheese from Amanda K. by the Bay) with butternut squash soup, mushroom and kale and wild rice casserole, red beans and rice. Not too inspiring but I guess we can work on that. And for the last of my categories I have Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food. I like to make a Greek salad with chicken, or tabbouleh and felafel, or spiced chicken kebabs.

I plan to cook five days a week and I plan a day of leftovers. Okay, so that is only six days, what about the last day? What do you do for a meal that day? Well, it all depends on my mood or what’s on the calendar. Usually, almost always, there is an event on the weekend – that serves food, or we go to my in-laws – and they prepare a meal, or we have enough leftovers to come up with something to eat, or I’ll make something “easy”, or we’ll get takeout. This is where you know you and your family’s style. For us, I try not to cook anything big on the weekends. This is the time I want to spend with my family, not spend time in the kitchen cooking (or cleaning). I know for some families it works best to make the big meals on the weekends and save the easy or quick stuff for during the week.

Now that we know our categories and we know how many days to plan to cook something you just plug it all in. Here was last week’s plan. I know that my hubby loves homemade pizza so that works for Tuesday. A family member has been staying with us for a while and agreed to cook Wednesday. Thursday’s plan is to cook Jambalaya (maybe the “Mediterranean” category will have to change to the “Other” category). Friday we’ll cook burgers and dogs since we have a bunch leftover from July 4th weekend. Saturday I can make a salad with grilled chicken. And Sunday will be soup and grilled cheese.

I had actually, for the first time, made a plan for two weeks out. My goal is to not go shopping again until the 21st. So for next week’s plan I have written down Leftovers on Monday, Chicken with sweet potatoes and a veggie on Tuesday, Tikka Masala on Wednesday, Teriaki stir fry on Thursday, homemade pizza on Friday, Leftovers on Saturday, Make a sauce and do spaghetti on Sunday and Monday we will try rice and beans.

So far writing it down on paper has been super helpful. Over the last few months I’ve been able to keep dinner on the table and there have been maybe 2 complaints. And when I say complaints it means that we ordered takeout when we really shouldn’t have and that the meal really was a dud. My hubby knows he can be a difficult customer and he has loved my cooking and loved that he can count on coming home to a yummy meal. My confidence has really grown since I decided to refuse to fail.

And now with a few months of weekly meal planning under my belt it’s time to try shopping every two weeks. Eventually I would like to go monthly. It’s a lofty goal, but I find that the more trips I make the more money I spend. It will also leave a little extra time in my week to go other places with the kiddos for nature walks or field trips or play dates.

Another trick I’ve learned about planning my meals is to write down on my master list (the list with the categories and meal ideas) any meals I’ve made that my family loves. Lately we are enjoying homemade pizza (with a copycat Uno’s Chicago pizza dough crust), Thai red curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, and I recently found this Jambalaya recipe that now will go into regular rotation – it’s super YUM and easy to make. And yes, my children eat all this spicy food, usually. 🙂

Writing down dinner plans have been priority to lunch and breakfast. As long as we have eggs, steel cut oats, cereal, and leftovers then everyone can eat breakfast. I’ll also go to our local bagel shop for “yesterday’s bagels,” a bag of seven for $2. Can’t beat that.

And for lunch, well, that’s the next part of meal planning that I need to learn to plan. I’ll get deli meat every so often for sandwiches or my hubby will eat leftovers or eat out. The kids and I will eat PB&J or chicken fingers or leftovers. Yeah, these meals need a little more love and care, but I’m happy that I have found what works for me. Good old pen and paper – and the discipline to use them.

What is your meal planning trick? How do you get it done?

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Top 5 Reasons to attend a Homeschool Convention

It’s that time of year… Homeschool Convention time! Yay! I have been looking forward to attending our nearby convention for the last few months.

homeschool convention

Here are my top five reasons why I attend:

1. Workshops/Lectures – Listening to the speakers, whether it’s the general session or a lecture I choose from the list, is always a great way to learn something new. I love that there are so many choices. Last year my husband and I even split up and attended a few of the classes on our own. Later, when we rejoined we shared our notes and had plenty to discuss.

2. Vendor Hall – Oh the joy of perusing curriculum! As a new homeschooling mom, I find it helpful to see all the different available choices. I like to touch and flip through all the books. It really helps to see if it is something that I may want to consider. Another great perk is that often the vendors will offer a “convention discount,” which is fabulous for the newer sets of curriculum you may not find at a used curriculum sale (like the Logic of English I have my eye on). Also for those materials that are one time use (like the notebooks that go along with Apologia’s young explorer series). Looking around last year allowed us to be introduced to Singapore Math. We had never heard of this approach so after returning home and doing some research we decided that we want to go this route for teaching math.

3. Restoration and Rejuvenation – We all get to that time of year where we want to give up; we loose our oomph. We begin to forget why we are homeschooling. I feel that the convention helps to restore my faith in my decision to homeschool. I feel so rejuvenated afterwards and I get into homeschool hyper mode. I begin researching everything I can. I start deciding on curriculum for the following year, not the upcoming year, but the next (told you – hyper mode). I read all I can get my hands on regarding methods and ideas. Then I’m looking for the perfect planner. I stay revitalized for a good couple of months. I’m sure as I become more seasoned as a homeschooling mom my excitement will wane much quicker. But for now, I am really looking forward to feeling that burst of homeschool excitement energy!

4. Meeting new friends – This is one place where you know that there are people who think the same as you – at least in the fact that they are choosing homeschool for their family too. It’s always fun to strike up a conversation: learning what other parents are doing and listening to their ideas. Maybe you’ll make a connection with someone and now you have a great resource or someone with whom to share your struggles and triumphs or even someone who lives nearby and you can plan field trips together.

5. Time away with my husband – The convention is a great excuse to get away. We use this time together as a mini vacation. We get to spend the whole day together! It’s also a great opportunity to discuss what’s next for our family in the way of home education.

So there you have it, my top 5 reasons to attend a homeschool convention. Can you tell I am super thrilled to go!?

Why do you go to the homeschool convention or what most excites you about going?

My Top 5 Reasons Why Playing is Learning

Playing is a big part of our day around here. We play all sorts of things like dinosaurs and baby dolls. I am all about pretending and using our imagination. It’s great! But aside from fun, playing has other wonderful benefits to our little people.

1. Speech development
Elle has been going to speech therapy since the beginning of the year. Playtime is a great time to naturally focus on the sounds on which she needs to work. For example, when we play babies Elle becomes Dr. Elle and we can /f/igure out i/f/ the baby has a /f/ever and what we need to do to /f/ix her booboo. Can you tell we are now working on the /f/ sound? I try to incorporate words that have the sound and as we have our conversation she repeats some of those words; it’s a great way to practice.
2. Vocabulary expansion
When we play together we talk a lot. And this is a fabulous time for me to add in “big” words. In fact the other week while playing dinosaurs I asked if the dinosaurs were going to battle. Elle immediately perked up and asked what battle meant. “It means to fight,” I told her. Since then I have heard her use that word several times in conversation, and she has correctly used the word.
3. Problem solving
One thing my kiddos love to pretend is being different animals. They also like to pretend being a scientist who is looking for a particular animal so they can observe or help the animal. This opens up the door to their creativity: how can we help the fox find its home? Let’s build a den! And there you have it, now we are figuring out how to build a fort and make it have the characteristics of a fox’s den. There are so many ways to incorporate this skill. Playing with blocks automatically puts this skill to use.
4. Modeling manners
Playing with my children gives me a chance not only to reinforce please and thank you but to show how to act or behave in different situations. If Elle is being the mommy and I am the daughter and my “mommy” doesn’t give me the candy I asked for, I don’t throw a fit. This is my opportunity to show her how to accept a negative response to her requests. Sometimes, I will behave badly and we later talk about why it’s not okay to behave in that way.
5. Learning something new
I love it when we come to a part in our game when it takes on a new direction, I can explain how something works. The other day while playing pet shop we eventually came to a point where we were learning how money is made. As the pet shop owner of 16 triceratops, I wanted to make sure that the purchaser of 6 triceratops had enough land and money to care for these creatures. I asked Elle “how do you make money?” She explained that she takes paper and cuts it into rectangles then draws on it to make her money. (I tried really hard not to laugh, she took my question so literal.) I proceeded to be upset that she would dare use counterfeit money and that I wouldn’t be able to sell her any animals. Then I took this as a learning opportunity and explained what counterfeit was and showed her a video from the mint so she could see how money is printed.
We have fun playing. We are learning while playing. And for this homeschool mom, learning when it doesn’t feel like learning is the absolute best.

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