A Year Considered – The Early Years


What wonder there is in these early years!  Everything is an adventure!  My choices reflect a desire to offer picture books with rich words, gentle expressions, and a generous variety to nurture and build a growing imagination.  Living books: “worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told” (Charlotte Mason).   Another big portion of our focus is good habit development.    Living books.  Good habits.  The year in a nutshell.  LOL!!!  Read on if you want the scoop!  Stop here if you were just looking for the Reader’s Digest version!

My little fella is 5 1/2, and just learning to read.  His days are full of wonder and exploration, punctuated by picture books and a little phonics!  Sounds like a delightful year!  If you’re wondering what an early elementary year looks like in our home…here you go…

I’ll start by offering you a bit about my philosophy of education.  In the early years, I let them wonder as I prepare the soil.  We live out classical ideas through Charlotte Mason’s ideas of educationEducation is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.  Education doesn’t begin or end at the school table.  It is a part of our life; it is a lifestyle of learning.

Preschool/Kindergarten (under 6)
Charlotte Mason offered “A formidable list of attainments for a child under 6”.  I don’t use a curriculum or a checklist…I do allow this list to inspire and direct our delight-filled days.  We read and explore together.  This is early learning for us!  This year, I thought it might be fun to format Miss Mason’s checklist in a way that is pretty and practical for the mom who might want to record some of her child’s attainments.  Don’t feel like this list is only for the 6 and under crowd!  Take a look – see how many of these things you can do!  And then resolve to attain these things together with all of your children!  Enjoy!

Charlotte Mason’s formidable list – **note: this list has been modified to fit our family’s use of Latin prayers in place of French.
1st Grade plans
Here are the books my little fella will read from and use this year.  No doubt, the Doodlebug (2 1/2 now and enthralled with books of all kinds!) will tag along for most of this!


A word about religion.  If you feel you must have a curriculum for religion in the early years, could I humbly suggest that you really don’t.  If I could go back in time about 12 years and talk to myself then…the me that was pouring over catalogs and frittering over decisions and curriculums…I’d give myself a nice cup of tea, tell myself to take a deep breath and relax and continue to foster a love for God through the depth and breadth of books written by authors who wish to convey their love for God and the truths of God on those pages.  Words that resonate.  Stories that inspire.  These form my early years religion focus:

** Their Hearts are His Garden by Sister Mary Marguerite
** Illustrated Catechism for Little Children (Neumann Press)
** Manners In God’s House (Neumann Press)
** I Believe: The Creed, Confession, and the Ten Commandments (Neumann Press)
** Catholic Mosaic by Cay Gibson (as well as many wonderful liturgical picture books that coordinate with the liturgical year.)
** Leading the Little Ones to Mary by Sister Mary Lelia
** Catholic Children’s Treasure Box (vol 1 – 10, vol 11 – 20) by Maryknoll Sisters (absolute treasures)


We’re moving gently, at Peanut’s pace.  He enjoys learning to read.  No pushing here!

** Little Angel Readers (Stone Tablet Press)
** Pink, Blue, Green Montessori work (Montessori for Everyone)
** Moveable Alphabet (Kid Advance)


A quick word here…fine motor skills develop uniquely from child to child across such a wide range of ages.  My older son would never have been able to write this much as his fine motor was very slow developing.  My younger son is already writing a great deal, very small, and very neat.  Consider your child’s abilities as you approach writing with a young child.  Nothing brings frustration in spades like pushing a child well outside their abilities at too young an age.

** Alphabet Copywork Notebooking pages (Peanut knows his alphabet, so we’ll be using these pages to build little books of “A” words, “B” words, etc.)
** Startwrite – for making special, custom copywork pages.  I type in text from poetry, or phonetic words, choose font, font size, and print.  Peanut copies the words.  I love being able to use this program because my children’s copywork/penmanship practice is now connected to their other learning.  It isn’t something that stands alone and unique outside of what they’re reading about or doing.  I use this program for Sparkly’s cursive copywork as well!

Read Alouds

Some of these I have considered and chosen, but please understand that far more reading aloud than this goes on.  It is spontaneous and delightful and unplanned.

** Kindergarten Gems: A Collection of Stories and Rhymes for Little Folks by Agnes Taylor Ketchum and Ida M. Jorgensen (lovely reprint of a classic)
** Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
** The Classic Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter (I don’t have them, but I recommend this set of all the books in individual books rather than a collection if your budget allows…or borrow them from the library!)

Along with the Beatrix Potter reading, we’ll follow along with some of the ideas on this rabbit trail!  It’s a great unit study, and could be used with all the children!


…is always chosen seasonally or topically.  In addition to poetry memorization, we read from favorite poetry collections.  Here are our choices for this year as well as the resources I go to again and again to choose poetry for memorization:

** A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (we’ll use our copy illustrated by Eulalie, but another great copy to have would be the one illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith or Tasha Tudor…not that I’m picky or anything!  LOL!!!!)
** The Real Mother Goose (Illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright)
** Favorite Poems Old and New edited by Helen Ferris Tibbets
** Sing Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book by Christina Rossetti


…is pretty informal right now with lots of games and Montessori math activities.

** Family Math by Jean Kerr Stenmark, Virginia Thompson, Ruth Cossey
** Math Is Fun website
** Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years by Elizabeth Hainstock
** Teaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years (not sure why this book has been out of print, but I spent some time hunting down an inexpensive used copy a few years ago and it was SO worth it!)  by Elizabeth Hainstock (using math presentations and ideas from both of these books)

Nature Study and Science

We’ll be doing lots of reading aloud together from picture books and various sources on a variety of topics.  I’ve chosen a few nature study read aloud books for this year.

** One Small Square books by Donald Silver
** Treasury for Children by James Herriot
** Among the Farmyard People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
** Among the Forest People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
** Among the Meadow People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
** Among the Pond People by Clara Dillingham Pierson


** Kindergarten Art lessons from an art teacher who publishes her lessons at her blog, Deep Space Sparkle
** Dover coloring books
** Simple nature journaling
** Lots of spontaneous, creative fun, and projects!


I’m putting my oldest daughter in charge of music this year. She’ll make music choices from the following resources:

** Our Musical Year: Songs of Faith, Freedom, and Fun – Level 1 by Laura O’Kelley Farrell (I believe this series is now out of print; the publisher’s website is no longer active, but there is a good review to read on the program at love2learn.  This program is something I already have on my shelf so it’s what I’m using, but there are other great music programs out there that are readily available.  I’ve heard great things about Making Music – Praying Twice.  Check out the review for this program at love2learn.)

** Wee Sing CD’s and books
** Lingua Angelica Latin hymns – program by Cheryl Lowe.  These are beautiful recordings, and we try to choose one hymn at a time to work on together as a family.

Virtues and Habits

So much character formation and virtue development comes through the great stories we read together.  In fact, some of my favorites are the short little poems on the back cover of the Catholic Children’s Treasure Box series.  I bump it up a little with these selections:

** The Children’s Book of Virtues by William Bennett

** Goops and How to Be Them by Gelett Burgess

** Stories to Learn By by Msgr. John Koenig

** The Good Little Bad Little Girl by Esther Wilkin (a classic from my childhood – this treasure has book repair tape all over it!  Check your attics for this treasure!)
** What do you say, dear? by Sesyle Joslin
** What do you do, dear? by Sesyle Joslin

There you have it!  If you’re wondering how it all works together, here are a two different 1st grade years – with booklists and lesson plans set up for you to consider:

Hope you’re all enjoying your planning days and that you enjoyed a peek into what our year will be like.  As always, this is a guide, not a straight-jacket!  We’re not afraid to take a jog off the beaten path and go exploring – and neither should you be!  Consider.  Plan a little.  Wonder.  Explore.  You’ll be off to a great start!

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  1. Thankyou Jen, I feel so relieved after reading that…. I have read your blog for a long time and somehow had the impression that you were much more formal with your little ones than this! What you describe is pretty much what we do already so I'm OK!! I think I will plan out the maths a little more as my daughter has a voracious mathematical appetite and i would like to feed it a healthy diet, but apart from that I will relax and enjoy!!

    Many Thanks, Jenni

  2. I'm wiping my brow the a “phew” and dusting my hands with accomplishment because you've just summed up an entire year's planning for my oldest! 🙂 What an incredible gift you've given to me with such thoughtful guidance. I'm going to relax and enjoy looking into your resources for implementing in my own home ~ many of which I already have, but now they seem all the more treasured, than before.

    Blessings, Chris

  3. You as so very generous to share so much with us all! In looking through the list you posted, I think I need to go back to Kindergarten 🙂 I can't do half of those things!

  4. thank you for sharing. Mine are all little now, and sometimes looking at your blog I wonder to myself, “will I ever have it together like that.”

    I can see now I am doing just fine. Letting them discover and learn at there own pace.

  5. It is good to know what others are doing. It encourages me when others are taking the same path. Yet, I learn so much from those who haven taken a different path. Thank you for your enjoyable blog!

  6. Jen, since Neumann Press doesn't provide any sample pages, could you describe to me what the “Illustrated Catechism,” and the “I Believe” books are like? I like most books from Neumann Press, but always want to know what I buy.

  7. Eva,
    The Illustrated Catechism is a small little book containing simple question and answer style catechism questions. It is not hardback. They're a little expensive, but I like them because for every page of catechism questions there is a full color traditional illustration that accompanies the section. My little fella is learning about 5 – 8 questions every 2 weeks. It also contains basic prayers that small children should know.

    I Believe is a small hardcover book (6″ x 7″) which is actually 3 books in one. Originally written separately, Neumann Press has combined them. The 3 books contained within are:
    ** The Ten Commandments
    ** The Apostles' Creed
    ** My Confession

    Each is gently written and beautifully illustrated with the same traditional illustrations characteristic of books and art of this period. I will mention that there is an intense (for a little person) image in The Ten Commandments with Isaac on the altar and Abraham holding a dagger with an angel stopping Abraham's hand. I love the explanations of each section of the Creed as well as in My Confession – they're written beautifully but gently without seeming dumbed down or cartoony. Please keep in mind that this book was written before the changes in the Mass, so the writing and images reflect the Sacraments as they were conferred at that time (Communion at the rail, kneeling, on the tongue, confessional, etc.)

    Hope this helps, Eva.

  8. Jen,

    Thank you so much. Are the questions and answers in the catechism the same as in the “Baltimore Catechism” (New St. Joseph's edition)? Do you know how it compares to the “First Communion Catechism” (The New Saint Joseph one)?

    Two of my children are using the “Living My Religion” textbooks — we like the older books here.

    Do you know if there is a recommended age for “I Believe” and “The Illustrated Catechism”?

    Thanks again.


  9. Each of the different levels of the Baltimore Catechism Q & A builds on the Catechism that came before. So, none of the questions or answers in any of the series will contradict another. However, you will find answers becoming more detailed as you progress through each different catechism. Here are a couple of examples:

    Qu 1 from Illustrated Catechism for Little Children–

    Who made you? — God made me.

    Qu 1 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism #1–

    Who made us? — God made us.

    + + +

    Illustrated Catechism:
    How many persons are there in God? — There are three persons in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    Baltimore Catechism #1:
    How many persons are there in God? — In God there are three Divine Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    …and to further compare…I sometimes prefer to use the 1933 Benziger Brothers edition of the Baltimore Catechism (#1)…same question…

    How many persons are there in God? — In God there are three Divine Persons, really distinct, and equal in all things – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    Not every question is repeated between the Catechisms. Hope that helps you compare a little. If you're interested in the 1933 wording of the Baltimore Catechism (which is slightly different than the St. Joseph's), Baronius Press has republished them.

    For reference, I use Baltimore Catechism #1 for grades 3 – 6.


    I don't know if there are recommended ages somewhere for “I Believe” or “The Illustrated Catechism”, but I find them appropriate for K – 2nd graders. The range could extend a little either way depending on the child.

    Hope this helps, Eva!

  10. Thank you, Jen. I just got out my New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism which comes before the New Saint Joseph Catechism No. 1. (Sometimes the First Communion Catechism also gets number 0). It has the exact wording for the question you quoted from the Illustrated Catechism (Who made me? God made me). So I'm wondering if they are maybe the same in the wording. Here's another example from the First Communion Catechism: Question 3: Why did God make you? Answer: God made me to show His goodness and to make me happy with Him in heaven. Could you tell me what the Illustrated Catechism says for this question?

  11. Sure Eva!

    The Illustrated Catechism answer for that question (which is #7 in the Illustrated Catechism) is:

    Why did God create you?

    ~ God created me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.

  12. I am just starting to plan First Grade for my soon-to-turn-six son (My, how time flies!). And I remembered this post. Can I just say THANK YOU!!!!?? My twins are also the same age as Doodle-bug. I hope you never stop posting these planning posts! *laughs* It's incredibly helpful to see plans like these so thoughtfully put together.

  13. Thank you so much for this. It has given me a great starting point as I plan my first year of homeschooling. It is so generous of you to share.

  14. I am dying to see your 1st grade lesson plans but can't seem to access them on my mac! Is there any other way I could view them? Possibly email? Thank you so much. Your blog is an absolute inspiration to this aspiring Catholic home educator!

  15. Thanks so much for writing Maeve & company! It's not your fault that you can't see the plans – unfortunately some of my links to my pdf files were broken and I often don't know which ones still need to be fixed until someone kindly writes – so thank you! I fixed the links to the plans on the post so you should be able to see them now! Enjoy! And thank you for your kind words!

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