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Because Home's Cool : Jude's Fourth Grade Year

In my last post about homeschooling, I talked about the Waldorf approach to education and why it has worked so well with Indigo’s learning style.  The Christopherus homeschooling curriculum excites me.  I am truly passionate about it.   And it is no understatement to say the overall philosophy has revolutionized our home life.  The emphasis on rhythm and structuring our days with an in-breath/out-breath flow works beautifully.  So in a sense, a Waldorf approach is embedded in our family life.

jude : 4th grade 

Another way we apply Waldorf philosophy in our family is by asking our children to do chores alongside of us.  The kids do chores with me for about 30 minutes every day in addition to their after dinner kitchen duties.  Waldorf is considered child-inclusive but neither parent-centered nor child-centered. It heavily emphasizes creativity while maintaining a peaceful sense of order.  So, yes, a child can and should work on a craft.  Creativity plays a central role in Waldorf education.  But no, the young child does not have free access to the entire art supply closet, flitting from one craft to the next, never completing any of it and making one gigantic mess.  Yes, there is imaginative play, but then yes, we all clean it up afterward.  And no, we don't eat food all over the house, because we only eat food at the table.  And that's that.  

tia paints

Does that sound hardcore?  Well, as Dan likes to say, we have five children and without boundaries things quickly spiral downward into Lord of the Flies territory.  So having these boundaries in place help to maintain a peaceful space for learning and keep things running smoothly around here.  Of course, the older children have many more freedoms than the younger ones and that is part of Waldorf education, too.  


Most of the ideas within Waldorf pedagogy speak to me, although some of the more esoteric parts are a little woo/out there for me, so I just disregard them.   However, the artsy side of Waldorf does not resonate with Jude.  In Waldorf curriculum the child is drawing or painting and doing handwork like knitting, beeswax or clay modeling almost every day. Art is not really Jude's thing right now.  Therefore, he has been resistant to doing a complete Waldorf curriculum.

And that's okay.  There is an ancient rabbinic proverb which goes something like, "If your child was made to be a baker, don't ask him to be a doctor."  Jude loves Legos, music, and reading and I love Jude exactly as he is.  


Jude has a lot of grit and loves to be challenged so we designed a custom curriculum for 4th grade, picking programs that fit his learning style and gave him the challenge he was looking for.  

As with Indigo, we use Singapore Math for math.  I am very happy with Singapore Math. We use the US Edition Textbooks and Workbooks, the mental math Exercises from the Instructor's Guides and the Singapore Intensives.  Both of my kids have scored in the 93rd+ percentiles in math on their standardized tests two years in a row because of Singapore Math.   This was a significant improvement from their test scores when they attended a parochial school, which used Saxon Math.  Singapore Math is a big commitment from a time perspective but we feel it's worth it. 


Jude also completed a (free) How to Learn Math : For Students course through Stanford University.  The professor emphasized that there is no such thing as 'math people'.  Everyone can learn math.  It's a matter of practice and learning in a way that makes sense to you.  Many, many people have stories of being told they were bad at math, when in fact they were not.  Dan and I both have our own stories like that!  So we really want our children to have confidence in this area and right now they do. 

jude :)

As a base curriculum we used Oak Meadow (4th grade).   Jude used Oak Meadow for Science, Social Studies, Art, and Language Arts.   He enjoyed the eight novels assigned through their language arts curriculum as well as the various assignments associated with the books.  He also did a lot of free reading including the three books in the Lord of the Rings Series plus the Hobbit.  

jude and little donkey 

OM Social Studies focused primarily on our state this year, first exploring Native American history and then settlers.  They tried to engage the kids by having them build models of a Native American village but Jude wasn't really into that.  I didn't feel Oak Meadow was as hands on this year.  There were a lot of reports to write.  To me, the Native American and settlers units seemed to drag on and I felt he could have learned at least as much in a lot less time by going to a Texas history museum, instead of doing all of the research reports.

jude :: quizzically

That said, Jude said he liked doing Oak Meadow and wants to do it again next year.  I like that Oak Meadow is written to the student (starting in 4th grade).  It seeks to give the student autonomy and teach them self-directed learning and Jude did an excellent job with this.  OM 5th grade curriculum appeals to me more than their 4th grade curriculum did.

late night drawing

For Grammar, we used Michael Clay Thompson's series of books: Grammar Town, Caesar's English, Paragraph Town, Building Poems, and Practice Town.  We loved the first three books.  Caesar's English is a Latin-based approach, which involves studying and memorizing Latin stems, as well as learning classic and academic vocabulary.  Michael Clay Thompson's poetry books are very in-depth, going into poetic meter (iambic, trochee) and I felt 4th grade was a little young for that.  I think at this age poetry should still be fun and not so technical.  The grammar practice sections also got extremely technical, but overall it was great.  I learned a lot, too!  We plan to take a year off of MCT's books next year and pick them back up again when Jude is in 6th grade, from there on alternating them every other year.  That way he can wrap them up around the time he's taking his ACTs or SATs.

a boy and his dog :) 

A couple of other supplementary programs we used were Spelling City with spelling lists from K12 Reader.  We also used the monthly Magic School Bus science kits which I got for 50% off through Educents.  Those have been a big hit.


We're a Christian family so we incorporate some faith based elements to our home life as well.  This year Jude, Indigo and I memorized Hebrews 11-12:3 which fit in nicely with Indigo's saints unit in her curriculum.  After dinner as a family, we worked through study guides based on videos developed by a Hebrew scholar/PhD from UW-Madison.   Right now we are reading through the Hebrew proverbs.   Jude and Indigo also voluntarily jumped in with Sophie and me in our Bible in a year undertaking, though the kids are following an abbreviated plan.  


For outside activities, Jude attended a weekly afternoon playgroup (excuse me, Park Day as they tell me  'playgroup' is "too babyish").   :)  Jude sang in our city's children's chorus.  He also takes piano lessons.  He has developed a strong interest in piano and often practices for an hour or more each day.  This year he received a musical achievement award, given to only a few students in the music studio.


We have a lot of balls up the air.  One thing that was tremendously helpful was implementing a checklist system.  I got that idea here.  (I have needed a lot of guidance to get to the place where we are now, because I am not a naturally organized person... at all.)  It went up on our refrigerator every day, helping me keep my finger on the pulse of what needed to be done.  It also set very clear expectations for the kids.  I wrote a new list each week and then made copies on our printer for each day of the week.  This idea was a lifesaver!  


Jude's fourth grade year was great.  I loved growing in my relationship with him, our own relationship changing as he's growing up.  He's a deep thinker and a compassionate soul.  I love being around to hear what's on his heart.  He's also a great big brother to his siblings.  They are so lucky to have him.


Homeschooling is hard work.  We tried to lighten the load a bit by having a babysitter help out with some of the driving as well as with homework a couple of hours a week.  Still, nearly every waking moment of my day was scheduled, especially with Dan's long hours and heavy work load at his job.  I'm grateful for his hard work and provision for our family so that homeschooling is possible for us.  And I am grateful that I was able to teach my children at home this year, albeit by the end, I felt very tired and felt stretched paper thin.   (Just keeping it real, folks.)  :)  However, for most of the year, I wished for a couple more hours in each day to really slow down and take it all in, as it was so rich and so beautiful.

Jude and Bondi


  1. I have been reading up on all your homeschool posts and I am glad that I have put off buying curriculum so far as I think I might try Christopherus for my kiddos this year. I do have a question about math though, are you using the Christopherus math and supplementing with Singapore or do you just use Singapore by itself? I used Singapore for first grade and felt like it was a little light so I ended up supplementing with other math resources. How much math are you doing a day? Math is the one subject that I never feel sure the kids are getting enough of. My son will be going into 3rd grade this year and my daughter into first, do you recommend buying the curriculum packages for each grade or just picking and choosing the books individually? Thanks for your posts, they are so helpful!

    1. Hi Leah! That is a great question! So, no, I do not use Christopherus or Oak Meadow math. I use Singapore Math alone. My understanding of Singapore Math is that it was never intended to be used alone - that all parents in Singapore would be supplementing. Did you know that there are lots of Mental Math Exercises in the back of the Teacher’s Guide? Also we supplement with the Singapore Intensive books, too, which are challenging - a lot of work. We spend so much time on math, sometimes I worry it’s too much! I am actually going to be posting our schedule for Singapore Math : Textbook, Workbook, Intensives and Mental Math to my blog when I complete it. I write out the assignments for every day of the school year. We take weeks 18 and 36 off. Last summer I put 10 hours in creating the year long schedule and I figured I should share it in case it helped anyone. I plan to do that for grades 1, 3 and 5 again - if it would help you and you haven’t done something similar. Or maybe you don’t need anything like that. I just wanted to let you know, in case. :)

      I am really excited by Christopherus third grade. It’s emphasis is on farming and building. The kids are going to build a tree house with my husband and we are also getting backyard chickens! The focus is Old Testament stories as well - not sure if that jives with your worldview. If you are a Christian, Christopherus does have some strange/non-orthodox beliefs. If you are not a Christian, it might not be for you. That’s kind of the criticism of Waldorf. I think most of it is so amazing and spot on, so I just disregard the parts that don’t work for me.

    2. Thanks for the additional insight! I will be keeping an eye out for your Math Schedule post, I am sure it will be helpful. Plus, it will give me 10 hours of my life back because I won't have to create it for myself. Can I say I love you :)
      I have looked into Christopherus for my first grade daughter but I am not sure about it for my third grade son. What differences do you notice between the Oak Meadow and Christopherus curriculum? I am really on the fence for what to pick for my oldest. His interests sound a lot like Jude's so I am curious as to why you decided on Oak Meadow for him...

  2. Great post, and wonderful photos as always! My kids are going to a Waldorf school, and I really like the focus on rhythm and balanced education/development (the school's motto is "learning with your head, heart and hands"). I agree with you, sometimes it's a bit too esoteric... And it's great to see how their creativity is fostered. But 'creativity while maintaining a peaceful sense of order'...? That's far from reality in our household. My kids are taking over every inch of our small house with their creative endeavours, gathering materials ("don't throw away that box/drawstring/toilet paper roll/wrapping paper/... mom. I might need it!"), and mass producing things. One side of me loves it, but the other is feeling overwhelmed by it sometimes! How do you keep a peaceful sense of order in your house?

    1. So this is where I feel Waldorf philosophy really saved me. Before I had a very polarized view of home life- either you run a tight ship where things are orderly all the time and there is no creativity OR there is lots of creativity and you live in total chaos-disorder-mess. I was always in the latter camp... until I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like I was drowning. So, from the podcasts I have listened to - they recommend keeping art supplies out of the child’s reach. The children need to ask to get them out and they recommend completing one project before moving on to the next. They recommend only keeping a limited number of toys out, rotating toys in and out. And then you always pick up when you are done. They recommend singing songs while you do it, but it is a must to clean up. Mom does not clean up while kids make messes all day. The goal is to teach reverence/respect for people and for things while fostering a spirit of creativity.

      Here is a Q&A on this topic, if you find it helpful. This was really helpful to me.

      Also, my older children are older (10, 8 and 6) so they can really contribute to putting our house back together after they have made an enormous mess. With young children, it is very, very hard to get anything done, in my opinion.

      This is just what works for us and it has really helped me create a peaceful feeling in our home again. But I know every child is different and every family is different, so I’m definitely not saying this is a one size fits approach. But it has helped us tremendously and I am grateful.

  3. I really enjoy these updates, and this almost seems like a continuation of our recent email exchange! Yes, no such thing as "math people" just like there's no such thing as a "green thumb" or a "just a creative person." Yes, people have aptitudes and strengths (and mine is definitely in verbal and written communication rather than math or spatial reasoning or physical coordination), but math, gardening, creativity, and sewing are *learned skills.* It is not something you are either born with or not. My dad was frustrated by how many girls drop out of math in the junior high years (uncoincidentally around the time puberty hits and girls are really absorbing gender norms), and worse, that this is culturally accepted. "I'm just not a math person," being an acceptable excuse for a 12 year old girl, and she's patted on the head and told "that's okay, honey." That made/makes him furious. So I was never let off the hook and since Dad paid for my college, I was expected to finish a full year of calculus regardless of my major. I will say this, I was never a stellar math student- I got solid Bs in math through college even though I was a straight A student in humanities and social science classes. I am not very detail oriented, but I got along by relying on "partial credit." I was good at the concepts but then I'd get some arithmetitc wrong! But I'm so glad I did all that math, it taught me to appreciate math and sciences and it also taught me a really useful skill - learning to work hard at a subject matter that does not come naturally to you is in fact an extremely useful life skill! Plus, it is a source of pride that I kept up with math classes while so many of my lawyer colleagues did not.

    Once again, I am struck that Jude looks like an older Joe. He's such a handsome lad. In his photographs, he seems to radiate a very steady, quiet energy. Perhaps it's a trick of the lens, but he seems very self-possessed, almost zen.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this. It is so helpful to read all the details about your homeschool life. And although I am not happy you felt stretched thin, I am glad to read that someone else feels that way, too. Because I really admire all that you do with your family, and it is good to keep in mind that it is anything but effortless. I am not certain we will be able to homeschool again this coming year due to the new reality of our family situation, but I've been looking into Christopherus for my rising first grader as I think it would be a good fit for her, too, Great photos as usual.

    1. Oh goodness, yes! I feel stretched a lot. But before I got into sewing and photography I felt restless. I needed something outside of my kids, something for myself, you know? And when my kids were in traditional school I felt worn down by the driving, loads of homework and trying to fit extracurriculars into the weekends and/or week nights. That schedule could get grueling, too. So I realize now that there is no perfect solution where I will feel balanced every moment. I think that’s just kind of a myth.

      I guess because I am truly passionate about most everything we are doing, that energizes me. But it’s also hard work. So I try not to overcommit to things and take it one day at a time. But yeah at the end of the school year this year, with Iris’ tonsil surgery also, I felt bone tired and so, so ready to be done.

      How is your husband doing? How about your baby? I think about you guys all the time.

  5. I really enjoyed your insight into home schooling. Whilst I know it is not for us, I do know I need to spend some more structured time working with the girls each week and pushing my very laid back oldest daughter. I take from this that organising is the key, and totally what I need to work on for the summer and beyond. Off to check out Singapore maths too!

    1. Your daughter might enjoy the Stanford program on math. It was really engaging! And yeah, I totally get it. Before we started homeschooling I read (and still read) a blog called Simple Homeschool. Apparently most of her readers are non-homeschoolers looking for things to do with their kids during the summer and things like that. We actually never intended to homeschool. We started it when we thought we were moving - first domestically and then internationally -and didn't want to start the kids in new schools for only a few months. Neither of those job opportunities worked out and here we are. :)

  6. Thank you for sharing this information! Really enjoyed reading all about it and definitely will take some time to learn more about Singapore Math. As a mother of twins that could not be more different in every way, I totally agree that what works well with one is not the same that works with the other one and the better way to deal is by respecting their personal preferences.

  7. Yes homeschooling is lots of work. Do people always tell you how nice your kids are?

    1. Yes, they do! :) The kids would help me out with events at the little girls’ preschool and seriously, like 7 different teachers would independently stop to tell me how nice they were and how they couldn’t believe how hard they worked. They are hard workers! I also like that they are able to ‘socialize’ with all different age groups from young to old! :)

  8. This all sounds like a great idea and a ton of work on your part to make sure your children have the best education you can provide. My kids go to public school and I'm so sick of the Common Core curriculum that's being driven down our throats. Vague and often strange teachings with no real right or wrong answer. How can you do that with math?? It's weird. I sure wish it would be appealed and let us get back to teaching the kids in a more traditional way. Letting them get back to the basics of a strong math, science, reading and English background. I would have liked to have had the ability/time/patience to try this. Your kids are very lucky and will be better off for it as well rounded young adults.

  9. Janet, I have to laugh because I really wondered the same thing when I read that about math. No correct answers in math? How is that even possible?! But then I wonder if there is more to it than that, as it kind of sounded like the professor in the Stanford video I wrote about was for Common Core. I'm just not sure and truthfully, I don't know enough about Common Core to have any educated/informed opinions about it. In Texas, we don't have any homeschooling regulations other than to .... wait for it... teach our students about the state of Texas.
    You know, if you are in a situation where you could try homeschooling, you might want to! I never saw myself as a homeschooler, really, and we kind of fell backward into homeschooling. I was terrified to start. I literally started in the summer so we could bail on the idea if it didn't work. And now it just feels right... to all of us. At least for right now.

  10. I feel obliged to say that building with LEGO bricks IS an art form. It's like clay only better :D

  11. Wow! What an amazing year of learning. I want to learn more about this style of math. I do not like how they teach my children math at school, I've been kinda teaching them my way and they are both doing heaps better. I actually liked math at school. Love these photos you've captured. I wish I was better at taking photos of the boys!!

  12. Gasp! That last photo of Jude with your dog is just stunning - love it!!
    And reading your description of your homeschool year/curriculum creates in me a) pride in you for the the amazing job you are doing and for juggling so many balls so well! and b)slight regret that I never explored this as an option for my own kids. They attend a great school but it's so easy to feel out of touch with their individual curriculum and to feel like an observer rather than a participant. Your experience appears to be just the opposite, and I love so many aspects of your daily routine that you described. My hat goes off to you, Rachel, as it so often does:) You're doing a fabulous job as their mother AND teacher, both academically and spiritually.

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement, Lucinda. It really means so much to me! <3

  13. I loved reading about Jude's year. It sounds like you've found a really great fit for him and his learning. I hope this year is going well so far!


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