Knowledge Quest Blog

Terri Johnson is the creator of Knowledge Quest maps and timelines. Her mission for the company is to help make the teaching and learning of history and geography enjoyable for both teacher and students. Terri and Knowledge Quest recently won the “Excellence in Education” award granted by The Old Schoolhouse magazine for best geography company of 2003 and 2004. Terri resides in Gresham, Oregon with her husband Todd and their four children whom she teaches at home.

Name:Terri Johnson

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Homeschooling, Curriculum Choices and Everyday Life!

I wanted to take a moment to describe to you a little bit about our family and what everyday homeschooling life is like at our house. This was published in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine in their Summer 2005 issue:

Greetings from the Johnson family! We feel privileged to share with you a small taste of our life and learning process here in rainy but beautiful Oregon. Todd and I have four children with one on the way – Nicole (11), Brady (9), Rachel (5) and Lydia (3). We have been schooling at home officially for 7 years, but in actuality, it began long before that.

In fact, it was our learn-at-home mentality that complicated the “normal” course of events where you are supposed to send your kids off to kindergarten at the tender age of five. One bright summer day, my 3 year old daughter asked me if I would teach her to read. I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured I could give it a try. I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. By the time she was four, she was reading chapter books and when she was five, she was reading on a fifth grade level. Well, I quickly found out that she was going to be bored to tears in a kindergarten class where the focus was on learning to read. I decided that we would homeschool until her peers caught up. Now I am not saying that my daughter is exceptionally bright (okay, she is!) – she is ahead in some subjects and a little behind in others – but I certainly did not want to place her in a situation where she would be quickly bored and easily distracted.

Two years later, when my son turned five, he begged me not to “send him off to school” and I was happy to oblige. I think it was at this time that I knew that this learning at home we were engaged in was not just a temporary thing – we were committed at least until high school and probably through graduation.

We have enjoyed using lots of different curricula and exploring different learning methods. We have settled on an eclectic literature-rich, Charlotte Masonish, classical homeschool approach. I think the book that helped me most in setting a course for the children’s learning is The Well-Trained Mind, by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. I re-read this volume every summer and get a road map laid out for where we are going in the upcoming school year.

Here is what an ideal day looks like at the Johnson house (I use the word ideal instead of typical because typical is so hard to define, where as ideal is laid out in my lesson plan book!). We begin our day with preschool. During this time, we sit in a circle on the living room floor and sing songs, count, rhyme, stretch, and do exercises. When preschool is over, the two little ones grab an activity from their school box and work at this project at the kitchen table. The activities are organized into zip-loc bags and contain anything from bead sorting to simple phonics activities, puzzles to cutting out shapes. There are lots of great art projects for them to work on as well. At this time, the two older kids grab their math books – we use Singapore Math – and we all sit at the table together, working through lessons and helping each other with the problems that arise.

Next comes language arts – we use Rod and Staff grammar on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Spelling Workout on Tuesdays and Thursdays (we are going to try switching over to Spelling Power this next year). While the older kids work independently, I grab my five-year-old and we do a reading lesson. We are using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, by Jessie Wise.

When they are finished with grammar, the kids read a chapter in Story of the World and my son narrates from it, while my daughter outlines a section in the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia. We love history, but we are rather hit and miss when it comes to history projects. Sometimes we create salt-dough maps, or make weapons from the time period (out of wood, not metal!). One thing we nearly always do when we finish a unit is have a themed meal. We have had a roman feast, a great explorer’s meal at sea, a pilgrim supper and 49er food eaten out of a tin. We are thrilled to have found out about Hands and Hearts History Discovery Kits this year as I think it will help me to do more hands-on history projects with the kids this next year.

We connect our geography lessons to history. Several years ago, I was weekly searching the internet for maps that would show the landscape of the time period we were studying. I found this extremely difficult as nearly all maps contained current political boundary divisions. So I decided to draw some myself for the kids to color while I was reading their history chapters to them. As it has turned out, this has become our family business. We create and produce Knowledge Quest maps and use these with our own children as well. They also now help with the business by doing data entry, packing orders and sending out catalogs.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we do science. This spring we are studying astronomy and it has been cloudy since our unit has begun and therefore we have not been able to chart anything in our nighttime skies. While we wait for the skies to clear, we have been enjoying the Moody Science Classics DVDs from Vision Forum. We have decided to use Apologia science curriculum for our oldest this next year and we'll study some chemistry with the younger ones - mostly fun experiments!

To round out our school day, the children spend at least three-quarters of an hour practicing the piano and another half hour in independent Spanish instruction. We use Rosetta Stone computer software and they are allowed to take the laptop up to their rooms and have some afternoon quiet time. Once these subjects are finished, they are free for the rest of the afternoon. This gives them incentive (ideally!) to finish up their school work quickly.

After dinner, Todd leads us in a family devotional time and then he reads to the kids – picture books for the younger ones and historical novels for the older ones. Then all are tucked in and the house is quiet for just a little while before we start all over again.

I feel privileged to teach my own children. I feel like we are closer as a family as a result and that God has blessed us with this opportunity. This is truly an educational and relational journey we are on and although we strive to see the big picture, we realize that we can only take one day at a time.

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