So excited to have KT Brison share her eclectic homeschool approach today. KT is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
Read on to find out more about her eclectic homeschool approach, including schedules, routine, and how she writes her own curricula.
1 – Briefly tell us about you and your family. Where do you live? How many children do you have and what ages?
I have 3 boys. My oldest, who is 23, graduated from public school–something I really regret. He is doing great, but I wish I had known then what I know now about homeschool. My middle boy is 13, and my youngest is 11. I started homeschooling them after they completed 2nd grade and kindergarten in public school. We live on a farm in southern Indiana with roughly 53 acres of woods on it. Nature study is a big part of our homeschool because it’s right in our backyard!
2 – How long have you been homeschooling?
We are in our 6th year of homeschooling. I didn’t pull the boys from public school because of any drama, we just decided as a family that it was something we wanted to try. I had been working as a children’s librarian and got to know many homeschooling families in our county, and I was so impressed with how mature, well-spoken, and intelligent all those homeschooled kids seemed. The natural response was to try it myself and I am more pleased with the outcome than I even expected to be. I have never been more grateful for any other decision.
3- Tell us briefly about your eclectic homeschool approach.
Our approach is pretty eclectic, with a strong literature base. Over the years, I’ve used Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Delight-directed, Unit Study, Traditional/Textbook… Every year we do a little of all of it. When we first started I had only my own public school education to go by, so we had a strict schedule and used a fair amount of texts. However, our local schools had canceled their music and art classes, so I wanted to make them an important part of our days. I included crafts, projects, and experiments in almost every subject, and I continue to do that to this day.
I’ve since let go of that ‘public school’ mentality and changed things up. I learned to leave the textbooks behind and make learning even more fun. One of my favorite learning experiences to date was US geography 2 years ago. I literally ordered a travel guide from Every State over the preceding spring and summer. Instead of memorizing a map, we made a scrapbook of the United States. The littles picked photos from the travel guides and pasted them into a notebooking scrapbook along with information about the state. It helped cement each state in their minds so much better than just studying maps would have!
You can read about it here.
One of the most important things we do each day is read aloud together. I have always picked books that are a little ahead of them for us to read together so I can stop and explain new concepts to them and they can ask questions (like “What does that mean?” I used to get that A Lot). The result is that now they rarely have to ask about the meaning of a word and they’re as capable of reading Dickens as they are Riordan. I don’t think there’s anything more important to a child’s education than being well-read. Making sure they get a daily dose of Story means they have learned at least something–be it historical, practical, or language related.
I come up with our entire curriculum myself, which is a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I use wonderful books, blogs, and websites to research our topics then put together a class based on that research. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep doing it once they’re in high school, but I love the challenge so I’m going to try. I’ve never-never-ever bought a curriculum, and I hope to never do so. I don’t have anything at all against purchased curriculum, it’s just more fun for me this way. One of the funniest things I do is write novel studies for the books we’re reading. Because I don’t have anything else to do on a given day. You can see some of them here.
We do a lot of field trips and hands-on learning. Everything is possible and nothing is too weird for our homeschool. As a family, we are knowledge-seekers and education-lovers, so a homeschool moment might pop up anywhere. Needless to say, a lot of people think we’re weird.
Because we are.
4 – Year-round homeschooling or traditional calendar homeschooling?
We pretty much homeschool year round, taking 7 weeks during the hottest part of our summers to do a science concentration. It started out as a test run before our first ‘real year’ of homeschooling and it stuck. We get two weeks off for both Christmas and Thanksgiving, a week in February when winter is dreariest, and another break in April for spring. We love the freedom of having extra days to take during the winter when we are feeling less motivated.
Having summer school is one of the funnest parts of our year. We forgo the classroom, heading outside to explore science and nature. One summer we schooled the entire 7 weeks on a blanket beside our meadow so we could observe dragonflies, butterflies, and birds while we learned about them.
I have never had a desire not to homeschool during summer. For my littles, it is a time when the learning is a little less structured and they are even freer to follow rabbit trails. Our homeschool would not be the same without it.
5 – Tell us about your homeschooling routine.
Our routine depends on the time of year. In summer, we wake up, do our farm chores, then settle at the dining table for breakfast and to read a chapter aloud together. I generally pick classics for summer we’ve read Watership Down, Black Beauty, and The Wind in the Willows (among others) for our summer book. Once breakfast is done, we decide whether to stay at the dining table or move outside for class.
Because we basically only do science during summer, it ends up being a long class–at least a couple of hours. We read, discuss, explore, do an experiment and/or project, and journal about what we’ve learned. (My boys haven’t figured out yet that this means they aren’t Only doing science, and my hope is they never will!)
During the ‘regular’ school year, things are much different. We wake up and do our farm chores because those never go away, then we have breakfast and head to our homeschool classroom.
This time of year is much more structured for us. I like to have math and language daily, so we generally start with that. However, the rest of the day is up for grabs. I am an organizer and a scheduler, so I set aside a specific time for each subject, but rabbit trails often mean we school for a lot longer than planned. I’m okay with that as long as I’m following a basic outline. Here’s how that can look:
I change things every year. In the pic above, you can see that we didn’t do every subject every day that year. Some years we absolutely do every subject every day. I like for our homeschooling to be fluid… When I see something that will help my boys learn, I add it in. Which means the look of the thing completely changes from year to year. But that’s the beauty of homeschool, isn’t it? It never has to look like anyone else’s school, not even your own.
No matter what year it is, we generally homeschool in the morning from 8 am till 12:30 or 1. We are all morning people, so our brains are firing at that time of day and the Littles are less likely to zone out. And since we don’t have to spend any time lining up for bathroom breaks or moving from class to class, everything we need to learn fits into that time frame. Afternoons are for fun. Sometimes we do a project together, but often we go our separate ways. 4-5 hours of staring at each other is enough for one day, apparently. We reconnect at dinner time and usually spend our evenings watching a movie together or playing board games.
6 – Complete the sentence: Our homeschooling happens mostly at…
Again, it depends on the time of year. Because we have 60 acres to run on, when the weather is good (and sometimes even when it isn’t) school can happen outside. Summer finds us at the dining table more often than not. September-May you can usually spot us in our homeschool classroom, though these boys have already outgrown me and are quickly outgrowing the small classroom.
Shelves in the classroom and a large desk shared by the boys mean we have our books at our fingertips and plenty of room to spread out for projects and crafts. In the beginning, having a specified room helped the boys transition from public school to homeschool. Now I like having a room where all our supplies are right there with us.
Plus, if we make a mess and forget to clean it up, no one but us can see it. Win!
7 – What have you picked for your curriculum next year?
Since I don’t purchase curriculum, this is a tricky one to answer. My boys are only two years apart, so the only subject they do entirely independent of each other these days is math. We use Saxon books for math without fail. Until last year, they did English separately, but now that Littlest has learned the ropes, they even do that together. The only exceptions I make is that I expect more detail and longer answers/papers from Middle.
How do I do this without buying a curriculum? The short answer is A Whole Lot of Planning.
I generally start with picking novels to read together for the year. I make a long list, then cut it down to fit in a chapter a day for the year. This year my long list looks like this:
- Tom Sawyer
- Huck Fin
- Animal Farm
- Ruby Holler
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- Number the Stars
- David Copperfield
- Great Expectations
- The Jungle Book
- Treasure Island
- Moon Over Manifest
- Fahrenheit 451
- The Halloween Tree
- Brave New World
Once I’ve narrowed down the books, I start writing novel studies for them. They include vocabulary, reading comp questions, and activities we can do to go with each chapter.
Yes. It is exhausting. But worth it.
We are doing an Africa unit study this year to learn about the history, geography, art, animals, and topography of Africa. Much like the scrapbooks did for US geography, doing a unit study like this helps cement the countries of Africa in their heads. I am writing this up myself, so I’m making sure it covers all the subjects already mentioned plus music and gardens and whatever else strikes my fancy. We did the same for Asia last year and the Littles told me Every Single Day how fun school was. So yeah, Of Course I’m doing that again!
Sometimes we pick up college texts and work from them. This year our college foray is a biology book that we used several times last year to find details about things we picked up from other sources. We loved the book so much that we decided to read it cover-to-cover for science this year. So yeah, I’ll have to come up with projects to go with that, too.
I mean, I’m not too busy.
8 – List 3 books about homeschooling that really impacted you.
The truth is, I have never read a book specifically about homeschooling. I learned everything I know from college courses in education and child development, local families, or the amazing online homeschool community that has grown so great in the last several years.
But there are books that have helped my journey and I will share them with you.
E.D. Hirsch, Jr’s series What Your ____ Grader Needs to Know series covers kindergarten through 6th grade and is separated into sections by subject. When I first started out and had no idea how to approach this thing, those books gave me great places to jump off from, especially since I was making up our curriculum from the very beginning. Though they have a common core focus (of which I am not a fan), they give a detailed idea of what each grade should be learning, which helped me plan lessons. I never taught every single thing in each book, but I loved having them to refer to while I planned our year.
Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study is a beautiful read and really helped me plan our nature studies for the first few years. Nature study is a great way to do science with very young littles or when you are first starting out as a homeschooler, because it takes little to no prep or effort and there are so many fascinating things to discover in nature. It never gets old. We still do nature study every year, one way or another.
Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys is chock full of amazing ideas, projects, and reading suggestions that cover every kind of science, military history, practical survival, and just plain fun stuff. I have pulled more from this book for hands-on schooling than I can tell you.
9 – Your family is going on an unplanned trip, not much time to pack, you must homeschool the kids while traveling and you can only take 5 of your homeschooling resources/books with you. What would you take?
The most important thing would be my laptop. I take that to the storm cellar with me during tornado warnings. Because all this planning I do myself? 99% of it is on my laptop or a flash drive. Losing it or not having it would mean starting over. And ugh, I Never want to have to do that!
Next, would be whatever chapter book we’re reading aloud. I am a firm believer that reading is the best way to an education, and the most important part of our school day is reading together and discussing what’s happening in the book. I love reading historical novels with the Littles, or novels set in other countries or that concern different lifestyles. There is no better way to learn about something than to read about it in a story.
Our nature study bag would come next because it’s full of pencils, colored pencils, journals, paper, and all the things we need to have a class in anything. Plus, it contains our field guides, and you can pull a great science lesson out of any one of those in about 1/2 a second.
Other than that, all we need are the boys’ brains and our imaginations. There’s always something new to learn, wherever we are, so we can turn just about anything into a lesson.
10 – If you had the chance to start homeschooling all over again today with the knowledge and experience you have now, what would you do differently?
I would leave traditional schooling behind more quickly and concentrate sooner on recognizing the boys’ learning styles. Making education fun And easy for them is my goal now. Back when we started I worried an awful lot about making sure they were learning what the kids their ages in public school were learning. Now their public school friends tend to say, “We haven’t even heard of that!” when the Littles talk about school. It’s hard to make them stop acting so proud when they know about something their friends don’t, but I try.
I would also relax a lot more–I was wound tight for the first 2 years and went completely bonkers if we got off schedule. I wanted so much to get it right that I put all sorts of unnecessary pressure on myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still pressure myself–I want this thing to be perfect for them–but I can recognize now that a rabbit trail is often better to follow than to cut short in the name of schedule.
Because they want to know everything. They are sooo like their mama.
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