Today Hannah and I sat down and made a supply list for our (between us) four youngest children's school days together.
To recap, our family co-schools with Hannah's family on Tuesdays, and with Hannah's and usually Melissa's family on Thursdays. Partway through last year Hannah and I completely revamped our school schedules to sync them together, so that on T-Th we were working together on the same subjects, more or less, and the stuff we couldn't do well together we segregated to the other days of the week.
(Meanwhile Hannah and Melissa set up other days to work together for their two families. It's a weird sort of three-family co-schooling thing we've got going. But it's working pretty well now, fantastically well compared to before when we weren't sync'ed together.)
Hannah's and my oldest boys, who are both fourth graders, are pretty much scheduled out for the rest of the "school year." We have a few vague plans -- When we get to the end of the second level of the writing curriculum, how about we have them do a subject report with library research, and take however long that takes, before we go on to begin the next book? -- but mostly we know what they're up to. I run world history, American history, and Latin. Hannah runs English grammar and composition. We are chugging forward through curricula and book lists, and it's all pretty much worked out at least till mid-June.
The younger children are harder to fit together, maybe because of a slight age mismatch. Our middle boys are an "old" kindergartener and an "old" first grader. They're not too far apart in reading skill, i.e., "can read many sentences with help, not much independently yet;" but there's a big gap in attention to detail and ability to sit and work for a while. Our youngests, both girls, are still wider apart; Hannah's girl will be 5 soon and so is nearly ready for kindergarten-level stuff, but mine has only just turned 3. They play together beautifully, but will they be able to work together? Or will Hannah's youngest, the 5yo girl, wind up being the natural schoolmate of my middle child, the 6yo boy? How will that work? Maybe we will be doing some cross-pairing from time to time. We are experimenting right now with teaching an early-childhood music theory curriculum to the younger four as a group, and seeing what happens.
Despite not being exactly sure how to put it all together, a year or so of working together like this has made it easier for us to identify "stuff" that will probably work for us. So we really enjoyed sitting down with the Rainbow Resource catalog and picking out some things we can do with each group of children.
The middle boys have been learning about common Eastern mammals via the Burgess Animal Book for Children, and coloring pages and doing narrations about what they've learned. When they finish that book, we've decided to spend some time working on birds -- not an exhaustive study, but focusing on the dozen to twenty species they might actually see in the backyard. We'll use the Burgess Bird Book for text, and the Peterson Field Guide Color-in Book for coloring pages (with attention to correct coloring -- it matters more with birds than with bobcats), and the Cornell Ornithology Lab site for birdsong. And spend several sessions on each bird. And use it as a starting point to jump into the Usborne First Book of Nature, bird section, for generic bird anatomy and lifecycle and stuff, and see where that takes us, through the winter I hope. We also hope to dabble in the activity suggestions in One Small Square: Backyard, which has a couple of winter activities, but mostly we would gear up for that in the spring.
As for the younger girls, Hannah will probably take the lead in their adventure together, since she's got a child who's approaching Real School Age, and mine is only a preschooler tagging along. Still, my 3yo's "first exposures" to things like letter formation and number theory can happen alongside a kindergartener's "firm grounding in the basics." They love to do worksheets together (to my MJ, "schoolwork" = "Mommy sits and does a worksheet with me, or better, ten worksheets in a row"), and so we identified some books that they can do together (because the nice thing about worksheet books is that they are easy to tote and easy to pull out the instant the girls come clamoring to us, "We want to do our schoolwork!") We think we'll teach them how to use the telephone in the coming months, and to remember a parent's phone number and their addresses. We found a great prewriting worksheet book that incorporates nursery rhymes -- memory work! -- along with practice with the basic handwriting strokes and shapes. And we've got some old Charlotte-Mason-y tricks in our bag from when our older kids were younger... a listen-and-parrot Spanish phrase curriculum that they might like, Aesop's Fables to hear and narrate back, a stash of art prints to show and talk about. When we were done with our list, we were satisfied that the stuff we had would make part of a proper kindergarten curriculum for Hannah's 5yo, while still allowing my 3yo to join in fully as much as she wants.
Hannah and I enjoyed the work session so much, we didn't even notice that we had forgotten to have our "schoolwork's done, pour a cup of tea and sit down" ritual. That's something we don't miss much -- it was one of the things we resolved to make time for, way back when we revamped our awful schedule so we would enjoy life more, and enjoy the kids more, including each other's kids.
Which just goes to show what inveterate curriculum geeks we both are. Which is one of the reasons why it works so well, I think.