Curriculum Review: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind Level 1

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level One

I want to share with you a book we are enjoying as an addition to our first-grade curriculum. First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level One is geared toward first-grade students. Although our current curriculum is very well-rounded and covers a good bit of language arts, I wanted to add in something gentle to touch on grammar skills and give my children more opportunities to develop language skills from a classical approach. Each lesson is short and concise and takes about 10-15 minutes, and I only add them in 2-3 times a week. Copywork, narration, picture study, and other classical techniques are used in this curriculum to develop language abilities.

The lessons are super easy for a parent to open and teach, as they lead the instructor step-by-step through the simple oral and written assignments that build reading, writing, spelling, storytelling, and comprehension skills. The guide includes 100 lessons to teach basic grammar skills such as nouns, verbs, punctuation, and capitalization. They will also memorize 12 poems and study many great pieces of art. They will be given the opportunity to practice oral narration and the beginning stages of written narration. 

This book has been a great fit for our home education and we will likely move to Level Two when we finish. I will say that some of the lessons are repetitive, so I meshed a few together here and there. The lesson presentation is incredibly detailed and is written in script form that tells the teacher exactly what to say and when to have children repeat things. At certain points, I found this too structured and controlled, so I just adapted it when needed. If you are looking for something light to gently introduce language skills from a classical approach, I recommend taking a look at this book. 

If you want to take a peek inside the curriculum check out this IGTV video where I go more in-depth.

Dear New Homeschool Mom: 5 Things I’d Like to Tell You as You Begin This Journey

New homeschool mama, you have been on my heart lately. 

You have just made such a weighty decision for your family, for your children, for you. You have taken the leap into being a home-educating family. You probably feel the full spectrum of emotions, from anxious and overwhelmed to excited for what’s to unfold. While I am only a few years in, I do have some words of wisdom to share that I hope will bring you peace and help light the new path that you are starting to walk down. 

While I may not be able to sit across my dining room table with each of you reading this with books spread out while we sip hot lattes, let’s try to imagine we are. This is what I would say to you.

You have what it takes.

The mere fact that you have made this choice displays that you are brave and that your heart is for your child to succeed. You do not need a teaching education or background to teach your child at home. You do not need all the fancy wooden educational materials or an Instagram-worthy classroom in your home. What you need is what you already have. You are the most qualified person in the world to teach your child because you have a mama’s love and a desire to see your child love learning. 

Let enough be enough.

Start simple. With so many amazing options out there on blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram, it can be easy to compare your lessons and curriculum choices to every other and feel the need to keep changing and adding more. You can start to worry if what you are doing is enough. You may want to scratch it all and start over. While there is the freedom to evaluate what isn’t working for your child, that’s not what I am referring to. I’m talking about looking around at everything else and having a serious case of FOMO until you jam pack your planner so tight that you choke out peace and joy in your home education. Your goal as a homeschool mom should not be to read every good book, use every neat printable, and teach every fact about every subject. Instead, your goal should be to offer your child inspiring opportunities to discover their own passion for learning, and usually, that means less is more.

Relationships are the foundation.

No one on Earth knows your child like you do. If that isn’t true, it soon will be as you walk down this road together. Home education means you are together a lot! Having all that time together with your children gives you the opportunity to form a close relationship with each one of them. Take the time to get to know their learning styles, their personalities, and to create special moments with them that will bond you closer and create memories. I’m talking about spontaneous dance parties, cozy read-aloud time, and silly games played around the table. That bond is built during nature walks, while you walk hand-in-hand and chat about the praying mantis you found or while mixing muffin batter over hot tea and stories. A deep relationship with you is far more valuable to their education than all the shiny curriculum and resources money can buy. That connection is the foundation and the rest will be built on that. As a new homeschool family, I recommend easing into lessons and focusing on the relationship first. That will make the new teacher-mom role that you are stepping into much easier for everyone to adapt to.

Home culture matters more than curriculum choice.

The culture and atmosphere of your home matters more to your child’s education than the curriculum you choose and how effectively you check all the boxes. Children soak up everything that they are exposed to from the minute they wake until the minute they fall asleep. If a home and family culture is full of strife, clutter, stress, busyness, shallow stories, bad habits, and hours in front of screens, that is what the children will soak up and produce, no matter what they are presented with at “school time.” Their entire day is education, not just the hours spent with books at the table. Learning happens when they observe how you interact with strangers and your spouse, solve problems, do house projects, and as they see what you value and how you steward your time. Learning is in the rhythms of your days including personal and home care, teamwork, and discipleship.  Your job as a home educator is to create an atmosphere of creativity, beauty, truth, knowledge, stories, and good character. This is done by being intentional about what is offered in their space and in the way their days are planned out. Children need time and space to thrive. As easy as it sounds, I have found that the best way to offer my children room to seek out learning on their own is by slowing down, simplifying their schedules, surrounding them with richness and beauty, and letting them be bored. You will be amazed at what your children come up with to discover, create, and learn when there is time to do so.  

You will be amazed at what your children come up with to discover, create, and learn when there is time to do so.  

You are free!

There is so much freedom in homeschooling, which is one of my biggest reasons for choosing this path. Don’t try to recreate a classroom setting and the way things are done for a room full of children for your one or small group of children at home.

You have the freedom of environment.

We have done lessons on the couch, on a blanket in the yard, in the car, and at a campsite. You can even scratch the formal lessons and spend the day at a nature preserve, serving in your community, or at museum and it’s still school.

You have the freedom of time.

Is your child struggling to get a math concept that “should” be covered in 2 days? Take two weeks! Want to move your formal lessons to the afternoons for a season so that you can go on morning adventures? Go for it. Want to school year-round so you can take vacations whenever you want or take off a month at Christmas? Why not? Time is your friend when you are a homeschool family. Make it work to your advantage.

You have the freedom of content.

Is faith important to you? You can make that the foundation of your children’s education. Is one of your children interested in a certain animal? Head to the library and create a unit study on it. You even have the freedom to ditch worksheets and do all of your learning through games and hands-on activities if you wanted to. You can adapt everything to your child’s interests, learning style, and development. Is your first grade child reading at a 3rd grade level? Ditch the first grade readers and move along. Same goes if they are reading later than their peers or needing more review in math for another school year. There is no “behind” as long as they’re being challenged and making progress.

There is so much more bubbling up inside of me to tell you, but this is a good start. This is a whole new chapter for your family. There will be tough days. Your kids will resist you and you will have days where you scramble and fail. It is okay! This is a new journey that you are all on together. If you commit to this lifestyle, I promise that the good outweighs the difficult. You will feel more bonded to your children than ever as you laugh together over a good book or discover nature together. You will see the lightbulb go off when your child makes a learning connection and it will all be worth it. You got this, mama. 

How to Make a DIY Wall-Size Chalkboard

DIY Wall-size chalkboard

One of my dreams since before I was even married was to one day have a huge chalkboard on the wall behind my dining room table. I envisioned my future home with a long farmhouse table with little curly-headed creative children filling every chair. I had been inside a few families’ homes where it was evident that the days spent there were full of creating and learning from the moment you stepped in the door. I imagined my future family life being similar. I pictured watercolors and living books spread out, every child giving me their full attention and hanging onto every word I said as I led our lesson time. I am an idealist by nature, clearly. 

Fast-forward ten years or so and much of my vision is coming true before my eyes. I’ve got my family and my farmhouse table and the seats are filling up with wide-eyed imaginative children. While I can’t say that our school times are as unrealistically magical as I imagined, they are so full and rich even on the most chaotic of days and I am so thankful.

All I have been needing is my big ol’ chalkboard! I had been holding out to create the “perfect” classroom space until we built our dream home, but when those plans got put on hold and we moved back into our previous house, I decided to just go for it. I was shocked to learn how inexpensive and simple it was to create. I had some of the supplies already, so I was able to make our board for under $25! We have now had it for about six months and we use it almost every day! 

DIY school chalkboard

Here is how you can make yours:

Supplies

  • A piece of smooth hardboard, cut to the desired size. My husband picked up a piece from Lowe’s that was already a great size for our wall. Our piece is about 4 feet by 8 feet and was $9! If you wanted it smaller, you could ask for them to cut it for you in the store. You can really turn any smooth surface into a chalkboard, but if you are looking for something large, inexpensive, and thin to hang, this is a great option.
  • Foam paint roller, tray, and handle. I used some I had lying around, but if you don’t have any of these, you could buy one here.  
  • Broomstick (optional). I unscrewed my broom head and screwed the roller on the end of it so I could lay the board flat and paint it from standing up. This is optional, but was easiest for me since I was pretty largely pregnant when I made it! 
  • Dry, lint-free rags. You will need a couple of clean dry rags to clean your board and for the curing process. Try to find one that won’t leave lint behind. I have and love these for my kitchen, so I used them for this as well.
  • Chalkboard paint. You want to get a can of paint, not the spray. I used Rust-Oleum and have been very pleased. I didn’t need the whole can for my large board. Here is the one I bought.  
  • A bunch of cheap white chalk. You are going to need this chalk to condition the board. You need something that creates dust! Don’t get the fancy wax-type chalk. Here’s the one I use for conditioning and also writing. 

How to create your chalkboard

Clean your hardboard.

Get a rag damp and wipe the board down. You want to make sure to get rid of all of the dust. Once the board is completely clean and dry from wiping, start painting! I laid my board on the ground and painted from a standing position, using a broomstick to extend my roller. I did 3 coats on my board and it was more than covered well. Let dry completely before each coat and before moving to the next step, following the drying time guidelines on the can.

Condition your board

To ensure ghosting doesn’t happen after you clean off what you have written, you need to create a chalk foundation on your board. Do not skip this step or you will regret it!

  1. Take a piece of white chalk and rub the entire surface vertically ensuring the board is covered. Use the side of the chalk rather than the tip.
  1. Once again, using the side of a piece of white chalk, rub the entire surface horizontally making sure the entire board is covered.
  1. Using a rag, work the chalk dust into all the nooks and crannies of the surface by wiping it in a circular motion all over the board. Once you have finished the entire board you can clean it with a wet rag and your board is all set to go!

Hang your chalkboard.

My husband used anchors and black screws and just screwed it around the edges right into the wall. Another option would be to frame it out and attach picture hangers to the back to hang it. 

DIY homeschool chalkboard

A few additional tips:

I don’t recommend using chalk markers or wax-like chalk on your board. I have had the best luck with the good ol’ inexpensive dusty chalk. I buy this one on Amazon.

If you use this tutorial to create your own chalkboard, please share it with me on Instagram. I would love to see how it looks in your home!