Our Homeschool: What We’re Using This Year

Josh & Andy watching Jack work on his Spanish lessons.

Josh & Andy watching Jack work on his Spanish lessons.

I saw another mom write a post about what curriculum she was using this year for each of her kids. Her post was a sponsored post so she was getting a little something from at least some of the companies she mentioned. I thought it be fun to write a similar post, both for the sake of my weak memory and just in case you’re curious what we do during our class time. No sponsorship or endorsements here – just the products I chose to use after lots of research and weighing what I know about how my children learn best and how I teach best. I’d love to say I’ll write a post about why I chose each of these products, but we all know how well I follow through on promises like that. So, for now, here are the products and curriculum we are currently using:

ANDY (3rd grade):

Teacher Lead Courses:

Spelling: All About Spelling

Latin: Prima Latina: Intro to Christian Latin

Memory Work: CCM – a classical memory work program that covers 8 subject areas: Religion, Latin, History, Science, Math, Timeline, Geography, and Great Words.

Andy holding Soph while he puts his vocab words in ABC order. He likes to hold her to break up the monotony of tedious activities.

Andy holding Soph while he puts his vocab words in ABC order. He likes to hold her to break up the monotony of tedious activities.


English: English 3, Seton Press

Vocabulary: Vocabulary 3, Seton Press

Reading Comprehension: Reading 3, Seton Press

Reading: Faith and Freedom Readers and anything that piques his interest. We read a lot during the day. We also have family story time before bed, during which Josh reads from a chapter book to the family. Currently, we’re reading the Narnia series. We’re almost finished – we’re about halfway through the Voyage of the Dawn Treader – so it’s about time to start thinking about what we will read next.

Maps, Charts, Graphs Level C

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 3

Manners & Health

Computer lessons/programs:

Spanish: Rosetta Stone, Homeschool Edition

Math: Teaching Textbooks

Catechism: Faith and Life, Online Edition

Jack (2nd grade):

Teacher Lead Courses:

Spelling: All About Spelling

Latin: Prima Latina: Intro to Christian Latin

Memory Work: CCM – a classical memory work program that covers 8 subject areas: Religion, Latin, History, Science, Math, Timeline, Geography, and Great Words.

Jack showing off a picture he drew.

Jack showing off a picture he drew.

Sacrament Preparation: First Communion Catechism, New Catholic Picture Bible

Building Good Character: God Made Me to be Part of a Family


Math: Math 2, Seton Press

English: English 2, Seton Press

Reading: Faith and Freedom Readers and anything that piques his interest. We read a lot during the day. We also have family story time before bed, during which Josh reads from a chapter book to the family. Currently, we’re reading the Narnia series. We’re almost finished – we’re about halfway through the Voyage of the Dawn Treader – so it’s about time to start thinking about what we will read next.

Maps, Charts, Graphs Level B

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 3

Catechism: Religion 2, Seton Press

Computer lessons/programs:

Spanish: Rosetta Stone, Homeschool Edition

2014-05-06 09.28.17

Ben playing with the magnet set.

Ben: (pre-k)

Miscellaneous letter and number coloring sheets printed from the internet.

Any story he wants to hear.


Preschool Prep DVDs

The Real Mother Goose

God’s Rules for Me

Lots of puzzles, manipulatives, and other educational toys of the “Melissa & Doug” variety.

We’re also participating in two co-ops this year. The primary co-op uses the CCM material. Each week at co-op, the kids get a good introduction to the memory work for all 8 subjects, then we practice the memory work at home all week. They’ll also take an extra science class and an art class there.

Our second co-op is much more casual. Our primary purpose is allowing our kiddos to form faith-based friendships from a young age. The kiddos learn about virtues, memorize prayers, and have a lesson pertinent to where we are in the liturgical year. Then, they have lunch and play. I don’t know if the founder would appreciate this simplistic description, but it’s kind of like youth group for elementary kids.

So there you have it – a glimpse at our formal lessons for the year. It’s not uncommon that we’ll put everything on hold and wander off on some tangent, sometimes for a morning or sometimes for several weeks, but that’s the beauty of schooling year round. We have ample time to tackle all of the formal lessons listed above, but without feeling so much pressure that we can’t follow a whim to dig into a subject that we weren’t planning on covering. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, I LOVE homeschooling!



B is for Bath Time

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. To see all the posts in the series, click here


That's my mom bathing baby number 2 for me. I probably begged her to. But, judging by this picture, it seems I may have come by my poor baby-bathing skills honestly. ;)

That’s my mom bathing baby number 2 for me. I probably begged her to. But, judging by this picture, it seems I may have come by my poor baby-bathing skills honestly. ;)

Because I have 5 kids you might think that I must be an expert at all things baby. However, if you were to think that, you’d be wrong.

I’ve learned a lot in my 8 short years of parenting. There are some things that used to feel very foreign but have now become second nature to me. Despite that, there’s still a lot that I don’t do well and some things that still terrify me. One of those things is clipping tiny little finger nails. That job has been permanently assigned to my sweet husband because I simply can’t do it. Another is bath time, which, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to pass off to my husband.

Newborns are just so small and fragile and wiggly. Getting them wet on top of all that just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Not to mention, it is virtually impossible to keep them warm enough while they’re all wet.  They almost always end up crying, and, sometimes, so do I.

It all turned out well in the end. It usually does, I guess.

It all turned out well in the end. It usually does, I guess.

I’ve tried every method I can imagine. I’ve bathed them in the sink. In a variety of those plastic infant tubs. On infant shaped sponges in the bathtub. I’ve laid them on a towel on the counter and given them a sponge bath of sorts.

It’s all to no avail.

I simply do not feel confident bathing newborns.

I don’t think raising 100 kids would be able to change that.


Getting Hands-On

One of our (both mine and the kids’) main goals for this school year was to get more “hands-on.” Several years ago, when I first began envisioning our homeschool, it was incredibly hands on. Unfortunately, reality hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, this is one of the elements that weighed heavily on my decision to stop working outside the home. It seemed absurd that I was making the effort to homeschool, but my efforts were limited by what I was able to cram into a given day. My employment was governing my home life, and I simply couldn’t make peace with that. But I digress…

Where was I? Oh, yes, hands-on.

Step one was getting a few curriculum pieces that would make this transition easier. Since we were accustomed to primarily bookwork, I figured I needed a little inspiration to turn the tide. Catholic Heritage Curricula is where we found many of the books we were most excited about. I think they do a great job of bringing lessons to life through hands-on activities. As such, I get to integrate more of the hands-on learning I was longing for, but I don’t have to worry about getting too creative, since the lessons come with suggested activities and supply lists. We just did the cutest little “experiment” in Jack’s science class. He’s learning about seeds (Every seed is a baby plant!) so we soaked some beans and split them open. Lo and behold – there were little plant sprouts on the inside! So much fun!

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Step two, as suggested by Jack, was to add an art class. I am not artsy. I am not crafty. The thought of this made me cringe. Yet, he was insistent that he needed to take art. I looked through endless art books, hoping to find something I could work with. A lot of art books that I saw were geared more toward art appreciation – looking at and studying great works. While this certainly has merit, I knew what he meant. He wanted arts and crafts. He wanted to cut and glue and play with paint and glitter. Finally, I went back to one of the first books I looked at (and initially disregarded due to the certainty of very large messes) and bit the bullet. We became the proud owners of Art 1 for Young Catholics. This book offers several projects each month based on the liturgical year, and it is truly a gem! Even Andy, who initially declared that he would NOT be participating in art under any circumstances, loves the projects and activities. Today’s project was in honor of Mary’s assumption into Heaven and it came out oh-so-cute.

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I never have any trouble getting my kids to tune in when we’re doing catechetical lessons. Their sweet little hearts are truly eager to learn more and more about their faith. But when the kiddos discover that today’s lesson came with more than just stories and discussion, they were elated! We all had so much fun that I don’t even mind that my kitchen floor is covered in glitter.

To help make sense of our art project: Today is the feast of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you don’t know what that means, but would like to, visit here to learn about the feast in 12 little Q & As


Family Food Favorites

Andy snacking on chips and salsa last summer.

Andy snacking on chips and salsa last summer.

What Food Items are Staples at Your House?

Ok, so this isn’t really a frequently asked question. In fact, I’m not sure that anyone has ever asked me this. But, just for fun, I thought I’d make a list of the foods that are absolute necessities at our house. These are the things we use every week and really miss when we run out. I’ve noticed this list change over the years, so I thought it would be fun to track from time to time. While this list may not be exhaustive, here are some things that we currently have to have in our kitchen:

  1. Salsa. For snacks, for recipes, for everything.
  2. Peanut butter filled pretzels from Costco. It’s our go-to snack.
  3. Oranges. For juicing, for smoothies, for eating.
  4. An assortment of frozen fruit for smoothie making.
  5. Tomatoes. This is really only on mine and Jack’s lists, but we have to have them!
  6. Carnation Instant Breakfast. A quick snack for mommy when I feel like grazing, am too busy to eat a real meal, or need a quick chocolate fix. Also for chocolate milk for the kiddos and occasionally for milk shakes.
  7. Breakfast cereal of the extra unhealthy kid-friendly variety. They eat it around the clock!
  8. Louisiana Hot Sauce. For everything!
  9. Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning. For almost everything I cook.
  10. Bananas. Josh and I hate them, but thekids will eat a whole bunch of them in one sitting.
  11. Milk. We’re currently going through about a gallon a day. Most of it is served “white” too!
  12. Coffee and flavored creamer! Josh and I have a cup every morning. Andy usually gets a small cup too.
  13. Frozen pizza. I’m not proud of it, but it’s my go-to easy meal for the kids for lunch and dinner. Hey, at least it’s better than fast food!
  14. Decaf Iced Tea. We couldn’t live without the house wine of the South! But we also couldn’t live with our kiddos hyped up on all that caffeine!
  15. String cheese. Another snack-time favorite.

    Summer 2012. Evidence of my reliance on frozen pizza.

    Summer 2012. Evidence of my reliance on frozen pizza.

  16. Wine! Oh wait, that’s just on my list.
  17. Apples. For our blender applesauce.
  18. Cinnamon. I can’t tell you what all we use it for, but we’re always having to buy more.
  19. Rotel. I usually try to avoid canned things, but I use Rotel all the time!
  20. Olive oil. A cooking staple. I’m pretty sure I use it every time I make dinner.

So there you have it – the first edition of Swafford Family Food Favorites. :)

Listening for God’s Voice

This brief little conversation over dinner absolutely melted my heart. I am so thrilled to know that my sweet little ones are already seeking God’s plan for their lives.

Me: Hey, Jack, Andy thinks Ben would like to be a priest. Do you think Ben will be a priest?

Jack: Umm..no…probably not.

Me: Would you like to be a priest?

Jack: Well…I don’t know what God wants me to be because I can’t exactly hear his voice. It’s too quite. I think because Heaven is so far away…you know God is so way up high…I can’t exactly hear Him when I’m outside playing or in the house.

Me: That is wonderful that you’re listening for God’s voice. If you keep listening, you will hear what He wants you to be.

Andy: And, “alsoly”, Jack, Fr. Hart said that if you go in your room in the quiet without the tv or radio on, you will be able to hear God’s voice.

Me: That is exactly right! Fr. Hart did say that. (High five Andy)

Just a note: It’s was months ago when (now) Msgr. Hart gave that homily on vocations and being open to God’s plan for your life. I didn’t even realize that Andy was listening, let alone that Msgr’s words were still with him! It’s amazing what little ones pick up on!

Thank you, God, that my children are open to and seeking your will for their lives. Please grant that their hearts remain open as they grow, and that their wills will be perfectly conformed to yours. In Jesus name, Amen.   

New Year. New Plan.

Andy with his aunts at his graduation party.

I am so proud to report that both of my little men finished their studies for what was supposed to be the 2011-2012 school year at the beginning of March. They absolutely love learning and they both soared right through their studies in just six months. (We didn’t begin school for the year until September.) While I don’t foresee this being a problem forever, (in middle and high school they can just take extra electives they are interested in, should they finish their studies early) I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation for pre-k and kindergarten. There’s not really all that much supplemental work that one can add, at least not one as creatively-challenged as me. So, we decided to have a big kindergarten graduation party for Andy and take the month of March off, in part to allow time to order new curriculum and in part because my schedule in March was so jammed packed that I could hardly breathe, let alone educate my sweet children. With that being the plan, we were slated to begin classes Monday, April 2.

All of the books arrived in plenty of time and the boys were thrilled to get working. They loved their books even more in person than they did one the internet. (I let the boys give input and suggestions regarding which books we use.) We cleaned out the school closet and got it all organized with our new materials. Everything was ready for Monday.

While it occurred to me as I was looking over suggested lesson plans, it became glaringly obvious Monday morning, that first grade is going to be much harder than kindergarten. Every day Andy is supposed to cover English, Math, Phonics, Reading, Religion, Spelling, and either History or Science (They alternate weeks, as they’re not considered core subjects for first grade.) We also got a Latin program, but I think we’re going to have to get into the swing of the year before we tackle that task. Each class is supposed to last less half an hour. (For those of you doing the math, yes that’s correct. Only 3.5 hours of actual work are required for first grade. What our sweet traditionally school children are doing for the remaining 4.5 hours is not related to actual learning, but rather classroom management, moving between locations, lunch time, busy work, etc. While I’m obviously biased, I’m very happy that I don’t have to miss out on 4.5 hours of my kids’ lives every day for that nonsense. But I digress…)

Andy "encouraging" Jack as they worked on various lessons last winter.

Anyway, Monday was a disaster. Well, not a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable. We got the work done, and in less than 3 hours, but it was chaotic and bumpy and mostly unenjoyable. Granted, it was the first day. There are always bumps the first day. But our big bump was that I was trying too hard to follow the directions in the suggested lesson plans. (I learned this lesson last year, but apparently I needed a refresher.) While the suggested lesson plans are a great resource, they don’t know my kids or our family, and one of the reasons we homeschool is to tailor their education to their needs, interests, and learning-styles.

Since I’m obviously a slow learner when it comes to lesson-planning, we decided to take one more week off. It’s Holy Week. We should be out of school anyway. At least that’s what I told myself. Truthfully, Holy Week didn’t have a lot to do with it, as I only planned to take Good Friday off completely. The remainder of our Holy Week activities weren’t going to be affected by school, so I saw no reason to cancel. But, as an act of mercy to my relentless morning sickness, and as an opportunity to get my ducks in a neater row, we’re taking Holy Week off.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do to resolve the probelm, but it finally dawned on me. (Thank you, Lord, for always lighting my path.) Pushing through seven (less than) 30 minute classes every day is just stupid. Even for Andy’s (and my) super short attention span, it was just too much. It was too quick, too choppy, and didn’t flow well at all. So (drum roll please…) we’re going to give block scheduling a try. When I was in 9th and 10th grade I went to a school that did block scheduling. It works a lot like college classes. The students take 8 classes over the course of the year, but only 4 at a time. They complete 4 classes first semester and the second set of 4 after Christmas. I think that setup is going to work much better for us. But I’m torn, because I think, for younger children especially, reading, math, and religion need to be taught year round. So, I guess that leaves me with a combination of block scheduling and traditional scheduling. We will work on some classes all year long, while others we will focus on intensely in order to complete them quickly before moving on to something new. I’m really excited about this prospect, and certainly looking forward to Monday to see how the school day flows!

Andy & Jack Signing at Lunch

The big boys have been really interested in signing ever since they saw the Duggar kids signing with Josie. The boys and I are learning some signs so we can teach Ben. It’s been a fun project. The boys really seem to enjoy that we’re all learning something new together. We were practicing over lunch today and recorded it to show my mom (Nonnie) who has taken several ASL classes recently. (Too bad I didn’t realize I needed to turn my phone sideways to video properly! Oops)