Academics – ‘Rithmetic – Four Basic Operations

Let us begin with some terminology.  Mathematics is not arithmetic.  Arithmetic is a tool used with Mathematics, but Math doesn’t actually begin until Algebra.  Before that, it is arithmetic, which is our Four Basic Operations … adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing … with whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percents.  Arithmetic also includes measurements … length, weight, time, money, etc.

Adding and Subtracting.  These are flip sides of the same coin.  One will undo the other, so it is great to learn them together.  2+2=4 and 4-2+2 can be learned at the same time.  I found with the youngest ones to use the terms “and” and “take away” or “less” instead of “plus” and “minus” made far more sense to them.  Also, saying “are” instead of “equals” or “is” is also grammatically correct.  Two and two are four; four take away two are two.  At first, it seems awkward, but it will begin to feel natural to you quite soon.

This is also a great place for the dreaded “rote memorization.”  Spending a few minutes each day reciting some arithmetic facts will actually help the children learn them faster and better.  For this, I took my cue from “Ray’s Arithmetics” published by Mott Media.  The top of a page will have all the “twos” written out.  I would say a line, the child would repeat it.  For instance, two and three are five; three and two are five; two and four are six; four and two are six. We did this over and over.  It did not allow for making any mistakes, so the correct facts were learned.  They “heard it” and they “said it.”  Double the effectiveness.  Incidentally, that only takes a few minutes each day, but it works.

Concentrating for just ten minutes, and everything said is correctly, will result in better retention than dreading the half hour or hour of traditional arithmetic time, where there is too much busy work and mistakes are common.  Once you get the hang of doing it this way, you will be amazed.

Academics – ‘Riting – Penmanship

For many of us, when we think of “writing” we are thinking about writing compositions, because that was our experience for most of our own academic career.  But for the “Three R’s,” writing has to do with Penmanship, the formation of letters so that others can read what we’ve written.

The first part of that is simply “stylus control.”  Of course, by “stylus,” I’m meaning pen, pencil, marker, crayon, chalk, etc.  Until one learns to hold it correctly, it is difficult to make legible marks.  The correct hold is to place the pencil on the first portion of the middle finger and control it with the thumb & index finger, without gripping tightly.

Some artistic children will insist on a different hold.  I suggest requiring the correct hold for penmanship, but allowing the alternative hold for artistic pursuits.

I recommend the program ReadyWriter for stylus control. It helps your beginning writer make straight lines, wavy lines, zigzag lines, etc., with a fun story for each practice page.

Prior to 1935, according to Samuel Blumenfeld, children were not taught to print their letters.  First graders were taught cursive. This has several advantages.  There are no reversals of smaller letters like b, p, d, q … and spacing is automatic as each word is joined together, then a space before the next word.  I like this plan.

There are two penmanship programs that I like and recommend.  One is called “Spencerian Penmanship,” and I recommend using the copybook from Mott Media.  Don’t bother with the instructor’s manual unless you are a calligraphy buff.  It won’t help you teach your children this technique.  In the copybook, I would have my children make the marks on only one line per day.  I had tiny stickers, and on a mark that was perfectly made, I would place a sticker below it.  That would eliminate that space for next day’s work and would encourage them to do better each day.

The other penmanship program that I like comes from Queen Homeschool Supply.  Their penmanship also stresses writing it perfectly each time.  No busywork. They include art work from the old masters in their penmanship copy books.  It is my favorite program.

Neither of these programs are expensive, but you can go with even less expense by purchasing a cursive pad from a dollar store, and use their examples from the cover.  When I used this, I would often show my children the different ways to form certain letters, particularly capital letters.  There is no one right way, there are just common elements.  I had two requirements; make the slant all the same way and make it legible.  I also had the slant go straight up or forward.  Backward slants are difficult to read.

A note about printing or manuscript writing.  I actually taught my children to write with all capital letters.  I know this isn’t the accepted use in schools, but we aren’t in an institutional school, are we?  In the rare instance when a person has to use manuscript in real life, it is usually on a form, and all caps are acceptable there.  All caps are easier for children to write.  They are mostly just straight lines and they are all the same height. As a bonus, I found when I was in college that I could take notes more quickly and more legibly if I used all caps.

In short, in this day of computers, penmanship or handwriting is a still a useful skill in daily life.


Academics – Reading & Phonics

Phonics when you are homeschooling.  Teach the sounds of the letters and how to blend them into words.  Be prepared that it will take 3 phonics programs before the child is reading fairly fluently.  This is why we have Grades One, Two, and Three.  During those years, they are “Learning to Read.”  It transitions in Grade Four to “Reading to Learn.”

Do not beat yourself up if your 5 year old isn’t a prodigy.  Most aren’t.  It is okay.  Most of my children were in the neighborhood of 8 years old before they were reading the simplest words, but by 10 were as good as any other 10 year old.  They are all now adults and nobody can tell whether they were late readers or early readers.

One simple idea is to start with their own names, then find other words with similarities.  Suppose your child’s name is “Bradley” … First, I would teach them them sounds of “b” “r” “br” “a” “d” “l” “e” “ey”  Then, we would talk about words that begin with these sounds.  Use a chalkboard or poster board or notebook paper or index cards to write down those words.  Then, do the same with “Mom” and “Dad” and the names of all the siblings and pets.  This is a several month project.  Plan on all autumn, perhaps even through the winter.

Academic Homeschool Scheduling

  • Reading
  • ‘Riting (Penmanship)
  • ‘Rithmetic

You have several children, they are on different academic levels with these subjects, and they all want your attention. The interruptions are making it difficult to teach any of them!  What to do?  What to do?

Start with your youngest, give him your undivided attention for 20-30 minutes.  The older children can occupy themselves productively.  Ideas for that will come below….

Then, the next youngest child.  This one gets you for the same time.  Keep moving up in age accordingly.  Depends on how many children there are just how long this will take.

These are the only three topics that are necessary to teach progressively, line upon line, precept upon precept, and it matters to each student. Whew!


  • Some of the morning chores
  • Other household tasks like wiping down walls or baseboards
  • Straightening bedrooms
  • Playing board or card games with each other
  • Older child helping a younger child develop some skill such as rolling a ball, swinging, riding a bike, using a measuring tape, arithmetic flash cards
  • Learning how to use a hammer, or glue, or coloring with colored pencils

Most of what I suggest involves an older child helping a younger child.  These accomplish several goals … the children are productive while you are teaching someone one-on-one. Older children are sharing their knowledge with someone and as you already know, the teacher learns more than the student. Younger children are learning to respect and appreciate an older sibling.  This also helps everyone learn that they can get help from someone besides just Mom!

Perhaps you only have one child.  Make sure to include this child in all your household tasks.  Do not shunt him or her away to “play” or “watch tv” while you do the work.  Let each person in the home feel needed and wanted. Besides, someday you will appreciate the trained helper you are raising.  Be sure to schedule in some ‘alone’ or ‘thinking’ time.  Everyone needs to know how to entertain themselves.

Perhaps you only have two children, so that will leave one child idle while you are with the other.  The second child can have certain items that are only used during the first child’s ‘academic training,’ such as, certain blocks, or a coloring/activity book, laptop or tablet time, play dough or special books.

Three children can be ideal for my idea.  While you are with the youngest, the two older ones can finish cleaning the kitchen.  While you are with the middle child, the oldest one can play with the youngest.  Then, during time with the oldest, the two younger ones can play together.

Everyone learns that they all get time with Mom, so they need to respect the time when it is someone else’s turn.  Of course, you talk with them all during those few moments of transition between children.  That is a good time to praise or encourage, or put out fires, or clarify the plan.

This plan worked very well for me for several years, even if a I had an infant in my arms.  Some will recommend that you homeschool the older ones while the younger ones are napping.  I don’t.  If they nap, you nap.  You need down time, too!

Daily Homeschool Schedule

Last Monday, I was thinking about our daily schedule when we homeschooled and how it changed over the years.  I’d like to share a few ideas with you that worked for us.

Have a “get up” time.  Doesn’t have to be 6:00 am, it can be 8:00 or even 10:30 or noon. Whatever works for your family.  That is one of the beauties of homeschooling.  You can work it around the work schedules of the parents, or even the grandparents.

At any rate, have a set time that everyone gets up by and gets the day started. Of course, anyone can get up earlier.  You may want to have the rule that they can go to the bathroom, but then back to their bedrooms until the appointed time. And they cannot wake up the others, either!

These are daily habits that you help your children develop. This will carry over to their teen and adult years.

  • Bathroom stuff
  • Grooming
  • Getting dressed
  • Making the bed
  • Simple breakfast

Next, “Morning Chores” to get our home in order.

  • Laundry washed & on the clothesline
  • Floors swept
  • Dishes washed
  • Stuff like that

When there were animals to take care of, that was done before the home was cared for.  Our family principle is that the animals (pets, farm, or 4-H/FFA) are captive and dependent on us.  We care for them first.  Of course, if you have animals to milk, then that schedule is paramount.

So, if “getting up” is at 8:00, the morning has progressed to about 10:00 or 10:30 by the time all of this is done.  Please don’t get discouraged by this.  As I’ve heard it said, “It isn’t the lack of a perfect math curriculum that puts kids back in school.  It is the frustrations of not being able to maintain some order in the home.”

You and the children work together to maintain some order in the home before the academics begin for the day.  Next week, we’ll talk about what & how to do the academics.



Welcome to The Old Timers blog!

Farmer Graybeard is the 7th generation on our family farm in WV.  He is now disabled from 40 years as a surface coal miner.  His mind & heart still want to farm.

Grandma Honey is the oldest of five, mother of seven, grandmother of eight, and now even a Great Grandmother!  “Bossy” is part of the job description.  Haha

We want to use the term “homesteading” as a catch-all term for all the things that happen on a mostly self-sufficient family farm.  We’ve raised beef cattle for market.  I guess it is called a cow-calf operation.  We just call it cattle farming.  We will share our methods with you.

In the years our children were growing, they had a variety of animals for 4-H and FFA.  We will share thoughts about raising those animals, too.

In addition, we’ve raised most of our own vegetables, put them up in jars, and stored them in our own cellar for use the rest of the year.  We’ll share our “once-a-year” cooking methods.

This lifestyle includes hunting, fishing, and foraging.  We will talk about those topics, too.

Add in homeschooling (which we’ve done since 1985) and Doctor Mom topics, and we hope to keep you entertained while educating you about this lifestyle we would do all over again, if possible.

Now that WE are The Old Timers, we will share wisdom and knowledge that we received from the people we called old timers!