This week we take a peek into the homeschooling environment of Elisabeth of McHomeschool. The overall impression I get from her is that she is realistic, honest, determined and doesn't get fazed by all the unneeded extras...and maybe that's what makes for a successful homeschool. I also enjoyed learning how she has created a space that works for her family now and will continue to grow as her youngest children join in. Her homeschooling space is clean, organized and inviting. I hope you enjoy her home tour as much as I did. Enjoy!
Tell me about yourself...
I am Elisabeth. I love Jesus, homeschooling my kids, running, and desserts (also why I run...). My wonderful husband and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage in October. He was homeschooled as a child so my children are second generation homeschoolers but not through me! Homeschooling was actually my idea and is my "thing" but my husband is incredibly patient and supportive. I blog and can also be found on Instagram.
I am not a trained guide nor am I a teacher by training. I've worked at the same life sciences consulting firm for more than 10 years (first full-time, now part-time). So my "day job" is in the healthcare business.
How old are your children?
C is my oldest and she is 7. She would be in first grade in a US elementary school and has been homeschooled for the last 2 years. D is 5 and will begin homeschooling with us in the fall which is when she'd be enrolled in traditional Kindergarten here in the US. R is almost 3 and he is our wild funny man. D and R attend a play-based preschool. Something that makes us a little unusual as homeschoolers is choosing to focus on elementary vs. beginning in preschool.
We had intended to homeschool from the beginning but I needed to continue to work full-time when C was preschool age. I've continued to work part time as we begun homeschooling elementary and it works really well for us. I also feel that focusing on elementary plays more to my strengths and patience level than having all of the children at home full-time. I only point this out to say that even if your original plan for homeschooling didn't work out, you can be successful starting a little later!
Reference and History Shelves
When did you first learn about Montessori?
I was a Montessori child almost 30 years ago! I attended a Montessori school from K-5th grade and it was a wonderful formative experience for me. Knowing that, I knew that I'd want to incorporate aspects of Montessori into our home.
How have you created a Prepared Environment in your home?
We've focused on three main areas of our home: kitchen, bathroom, and "school room" (really just a landing at the top of our floors to the second story). In the kitchen/bathroom, we've designed these for our children to participate in self-care. This means we have tools that fit their hands, things grouped and accessible to them (toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc), and stools for them to access things that are kept up high. We haven't taken the step of physically modifying any of our homes (building things in) because we've moved 3 times in the last 6 years and it just wasn't practical!
Our "school room"/homeschool space is a landing at the top of the stairs on the second floor of our home. It's an extremely personal choice for homeschoolers whether they want a separate "school only" area or for it to be integrated into their home. For our family, we like having the dedicated space because it helps us delineate school time as different from the rest of our time; we do have "school rules" that we wrote together and the expectations for behavior are different in our school space than in the rest of the house. An example of a different rule is that in our play space (really the rest of the house), anything is "fair game" to grab and play; in our school room, you must have a lesson on a material before you begin using it.
Racks and Tubes
What are your top 3 activities to do with C or watch her do?
Right now, my daughter is absolutely loving Test Tube Division (also called "Racks and Tubes"...see above photo). This brilliant material is so enjoyable for children and so masterfully teaches the concept of division from concrete all the way to abstract.
We've also been creating our own "pin maps" of different ecological cycles. I created a "Rock Cycle" pinning activity for her and then she created her own for the water cycle. She really enjoyed drawing the cycle and then creating the "flags" to pin (see photo below).
She also loves any science experiments that we do. We recently did an experiment where you put out a flame with carbon dioxide gas (created from baking soda + vinegar) and she was fascinated. She showed the experiment to our entire family and presented it to a group of friends at coop the next week.
DIY Water Cycle
How do you deal with toy/activity/material storage and rotation?
Like most homeschoolers, I struggle with having enough space to have our materials out and accessible. One example is our bead "cabinet", it is mounted on the wall because we don't have room for a large cabinet but it's also too high for the children to reach it easily because we also needed to utilize the space under it (which houses primary reading materials for my 5 year old). This is ok for us because I'm always available to help get the material down and help her. It's not ideal but a good tradeoff in our space.
I am challenged to think about how to have enough things out and keep our space neat. I find that materials often "migrate" out of storage for a few weeks before we need to put some things back. I've tried to turn this into a discussion with my daughter so that she helps me make the choices over what things to keep on our shelves. We meet and discuss the upcoming week each week so I show her my plan, she gives feedback and we modify based on her feedback, and then we can determine what things need to be put away temporarily.
I also have moved away from "themed" work because it's too hard for me to rotate and keep up. I love looking at all the mamas online who have weekly holiday/seasonal themes; I want to be that mom but I just can't do it! I find it hard enough to keep the critical material on the shelves that she needs for "everyday" work so I've had to let them themed work go.
What is your favourite part of your child’s play/work space?
I love our windows and our low couch; this reading area is very cozy and we often sit together with our history read-alouds or encyclopedias open on our laps. We get nice natural light here in the mornings for school. We also have a screened porch that I'd like to use more in the coming warm months.
What benefits have you found in implementing the Montessori philosophy in your home?
My children are extremely independent about self-care/self-preparation for activities. This means that I can give minimal guidance and they can get ready for school, homeschool coop, soccer or swim practice. They understand how to work through a list (pictures for non-readers) and take responsibility for their things.
Also, they know how to clean up messes when they make them. They feel empowered to run and get a dustpan or a dishcloth if something spills.
Real talk: It's not always perfect (not even close) but whenever I've invested the time in teaching my children to do something themselves, it's been hugely beneficial.
How do you help foster independence in your children?
I really try (and sometimes I have to literally sit on my hands) to not jump in when they're doing something that I know they can do. It can be a real challenge and I forgive myself when I mess up and jump in too soon. I also try and prep my children if I need to do something for them because we're time constrained. Sometimes it feels overwhelming to say "let children do everything themselves!" I would highly advocate letting children do things themselves in a way that works for your family. So you don't have to start letting them make breakfast initially for every morning...pick ONE morning (maybe a weekend or day off) and let them start.
Language, Science and Geography Shelves
Tell me about your home schooling journey. What benefits have you noticed? Any bumps along the way?
A real benefit for us has been the amount of sleep and free time my children have. In our area, unfortunately, elementary schools starts very early in the day (at or around 8 AM) and then extracurriculars like soccer or swimming are after work hours (so 5:30-7:30). It's been my observation that my children need more sleep than they would otherwise be able to get if they went to traditional school. I often see the school bus drive by when my children are still asleep. And it's allowed us to participate in many extracurriculars because I know they get plenty of sleep and free time. My children are able to be active in swimming, soccer, and dance and still get plenty of play time. That's not to say homeschooling is the only way to educate your children (I absolutely don't believe that!) but just that our ability to participate in things outside school would look different if we attended traditional schools.
Bumps along the way... There don't seem to be many homeschoolers doing Montessori at an elementary level. I am not sure what upper elementary will look like for us because I am not trained and haven't seen it done. So, I worry about whether I'm preparing my children enough and what curriculum we will transition to when we finish up each curriculum strand. I think these are very standard worries for homeschooling parents so I try not to dwell on them but it does sometimes worry me.
What advice would you have for parents interested in homeschooling?
I would strongly consider your goals for your homeschool ("define your 'Why'") before you start and then think about how to meet that goal for your family. It is SO easy to look at social media with highly curated posts of beautiful homeschool work/homeschool rooms and feel so overwhelmed and forget that it likely took years of work for it to look that way. Or that that family looks different than yours with different numbers and ages and interests. Or that they're running a small business and therefore marketing their materials.
It is hard to remember to think outside the box and make choices for YOUR family, especially when you're starting out. I still often have to step away from social media and think, "do I really NEED that to meet our goals? Or is it just nice to look at?" I find I'm more able to stick to my goals and my budget if I think how to meet the specific needs of our family and children rather than what looks nice.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I'd love to chat with other elementary Montessori homeschoolers. Please let me know how to follow you and encourage you on social media channels!
To learn more about Elisabeth, and follow along on her homeschooling journey, check out her blog (https://mchomeschoolblog.wordpress.com/) and Instagram account (@mchomeschool)!