What Worked & What Didn’t for Our Elementary Kids

posted in: homeschooler 5

So in my last post I shared what did and didn’t work for my middle school boys, and today it’s all about my elementary middle kids.

This last year I had a precocious (in all but handwriting) first grader and a third grader. Next year will mostly be a continuation, because now on my third and fourth time teaching this age, I have pared down to what matters, figured out what works, and become more consistent.

Even so, it’s helpful to figure out what’s not a good fit for this set of kids and this season, and also focus on the key practices that are worth doubling down on next year.

What worked in our homeschool for the elementary kids this year.

Monday Meetings made our weeks.

Mondays after Morning Time, I touched base with each of my students. If I needed to look over work or get something rolling, this is when it happened.

It seemed like something I did for the older students, and then only did a little tag-along meeting afterward for the middle set, but I noticed they ate it up and were always sad and disappointed when I cancelled on them.

Their checklists don’t need adjustment or updating and they aren’t independent work, so they don’t really need a Monday Meeting. But it provided that connection point where we could sit together with some special time (even if it was only 5 minutes), go over their checklists and my expectations, and look at the calendar for the upcoming week (their favorite part).

Since making connections is not my specialty, I need to run with what I’ve got going here.

Moving forward: Monday Meetings are a priority practice.

Classes with friends create consistency.

This spring we completed our third year of Elementary Lessons with friends. This is my secret to consistency and pulling into “lesson mode” even if I don’t feel like it or don’t want to. Not only are my kids depending on me to pull my act together and get started, other people’s kids are, too – and they’re showing up at my door.

On top of that, the kids have friends learning the same things, doing the same things, and that is good for them.

Plus, I’ve found that group narrations are way easier to get rolling.

Moving forward: Elementary Lessons will continue on into its fourth year – some graduating, some starting, but still holding steady and strong.

Studied dictation was efficient and effective.

I have a student who is not a natural speller. She has not logged the same hours with words as the others, and it shows.

In her second grade year we used Sequential Spelling, which helped me get my older two boys just over the last stretch of phonics, really – with prefixes and suffixes and putting phonics knowledge into practice with pen and paper.

It didn’t seem to be doing much for this child, and I saw a few blog posts around about studied dictation, so I decided to give it a shot. It made sense. It seemed like what this child needed was to pay attention – even briefly – to the way the words look on the page.

So I bought Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason so that I would have sentences at the ready, and each week (during that Monday Meeting) I would hand-copy one into her spiral notebook 3 times, twice in print and once in cursive. She copied it once a day, practicing any words she thought might be tricky (her discretion) by copying them three more times on the same page. On the third day, we’d turn the page and I’d dictate the sentence to her. If she spelled everything correctly, we did another one (and I’d choose a shorter, easier one and only do it two days to finish out the week). If she missed some words, we kept practicing and tried again on Friday or Monday.

It’s hard to say for sure, but I do think her spelling is improving – she’s spending some time really looking at words, and that is paying off more than the copying or dictation itself – those are means to the end. In any case, it’s super efficient, which also makes me love it. It’s handwriting & spelling & writing (because the sentences are well chosen) all in 5 minutes a day.

Moving forward: I will continue with studied dictation, and start the second grader with it, also.

What did not work for the elementary kids this year.

Coloring during Morning Time was distracting for all.

It seemed like a good idea to let the kids’ hands be busy while we did Morning Time, but it was distracting and also stalling.

With the binders plus everyone’s coloring supplies, the table was crowded, and people were in each other’s space and business. Attention was not aided by this coloring. They did not sing if they were coloring, even if they knew the song. They lost their place in the binder because they weren’t paying attention.

The coloring page appeared to be a vehicle into another world. Great in the afternoon, not so great during Morning Time. This wasn’t the case for all the children, of course, but for some. Those who weren’t transported by it were spending too much energy managing their stuff and the people around them to pay attention to what we were supposed to be doing.


Moving forward: No drawing, no coloring, but a shorter and simpler Morning Time that keeps everyone engaged and turning pages and participating.

My middle set needs more encouragement to read.

I’ve never assigned extra reading beyond the history or science spine (which we read aloud anyway in Elementary Lessons now). I’ve never said “You have to read an hour a day.” I’ve not made reading a prerequisite to some other activity.

I haven’t had to. For my older two, doing so would have interfered with their own reading habits and relationships they were already forming naturally. I buy books, recommend books, strew books, but haven’t assigned them.

My middle two need a bit more structure. They both do read, but it’s not the default setting like it was before. Part of this is personality, but another part of this is that they have more friends, and neighborhood friends at that, and their own default setting is to be playing (often outdoors) with friends. That’s a wonderful blessing, but it means whereas I had to go out of my way to facilitate friend time for my older two, now I need to go out of my way to facilitate reading time.

Moving forward: At least three days a week we’ll institute a quiet reading hour after lunch – for myself also!

Look back before moving forward: do a homeschool audit.

### Download the free homeschool audit and use this year's experience to make next year better.

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5 Responses

  1. Kortney Garrison
    | Reply

    This year’s homeschool audit helped me to see just how much we got through this year. I had been feeling like we didn’t do enough–the perennial homeschool fear. But seeing the list eased that. We’ve developed a good framework that keeps us moving forward. Thanks for helping me see that!

    • Melissa Greene
      | Reply

      Oh Kortney, I agree! In the past, when I think I’ve fallen short, I look back to see how to move forward and am always surprised by how much we really did accomplish. It’s been one of the many positives of blogging through our homeschool journey as well as paper keeping. I have pictures and words :)

  2. Lisa A
    | Reply

    Hi Mystie! Thank you for sharing how your year went with both the older and younger sets. It’s been helpful, especially as I am in the midst of doing my own audit here. I wanted to ask you about your memory binders -if you’re still using them and how they’re working out? I was going to comment on that post, but it’s an older one and comments aren’t available. Thanks for any tips you have!

  3. Colleen
    | Reply

    Hi Mystie,
    I really enjoyed this post. Three things I want to comment on, one from another recent post of yours.
    I LOVE the look – hug – laugh I’m so stealing that. I frequently tell myself that I need to have better interactions and I think that phrase or initial (LHL) will do it!
    As stated above making connections or interactions is not something I excel at, so I think the the Monday Meeting is a great idea. I hope that I can implement it.
    Lastly, I want to ask about the spiral notebook that your daughter is using for spelling. Is this notebook something she uses for all subjects or is it just for spelling. I’m curious as I have a boy who I think would loose more than one notebook, but trying to find his spot would also be a challenge. He used one last year for the first time, but I had to be close at hand or it didn’t get done. Thanks

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      She had one notebook for spelling, and it lived in the same container as her clipboard (everyone’s clipboards) which lives on a bookshelf in our open kitchen area – so it’s super convenient to grab and I was usually the one to put it back in the right place. :) She did have one other notebook for our Elementary Lessons time. So, 2 spiral notebooks. I use post-it flags as bookmarks to make it easy to find the right spot in our notebooks. :)

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