My second daughter and I have the honor of using and reviewing a unit from Girls of American History featuring the American Girl®, Molly. The curriculum was created by creative homeschool mommy, Justine Gamble and was chosen one of the Top Picks of 2015-2016 in the Homeschool Curriculum Guide.
I recently had the opportunity to ask her a few questions. Grab a cup of coffee and get cozy. I hope our chat inspires you . . .
Well Justine, thank you for taking the time to share about your homeschooling journey with my readers. How long have you been homeschooling?
I have been homeschooling now for nine years.
What led you to make this choice for your family?
Several things played a role in this decision. The first was that my oldest son had several medical issues. We tried to put him in Kindergarten at a great private Christian school that our oldest attended, but we discovered two months into it that he would need another surgery. Try as he might, his medical issues were getting in the way of him being successful in a school room environment - nothing behavioral - just medical. At the time we had three children, two "homemade" and one adopted from China. We were in the process of adopting two more from Ethiopia.
The summer before they came home I gathered up my courage and told my husband that I really felt the Lord was calling me to homeschool. My points were the following . . .
1. The cost of private school was going to be insanely expensive for five kids through 12th grade and, although my kids are worth every penny, I could not in good conscious spend that kind of money when we could use that to help so many other kids around the world.
2. I took the time to calculate the waking hours of time that I get to spend with my kids and help mold and guide them. I did this from the perspective of if they were at home vs. going to school. The numbers shocked me. I did not want other people having that much time and influence over our kids.
3. All five of our kids are so unique with challenges and strengths that they need guidance in. It is a treasure to watch them develop.
My first year homeschooling I had 1 pre - K, 1 in K/1st grade and 1 in 2nd grade. Three months in I was on my way to pick up a 4 year old and 6 year old from Ethiopia. They knew 5 English words: Yes, No, Mom, Dad and Toilet. The only word they really understood the meaning of was toilet. So, my first year was five kids - teaching the basics of English and Love to two kids. Within 4 months they were speaking and writing English and within another two months they were reading - kids are amazing!
They sure are! Have you always used Unit studies in your homeschool?
No, I have not always used unit studies. I did my first year - just for ease and fun - not really knowing what I was doing. I use more of an eclectic approach and customize each of my kids curriculum choices around what they each need. We do a few things as a group - History and Bible.
What made you decide to begin writing and selling Unit Studies?
I test my kids every year - just for my own peace of mind - I want to know that I am doing my job and see where I need to improve. Well, in 2011, I noticed that our two most recent editions to our family really struggled with reading comprehension - even though they were reading well and we did ALOT of read alouds with discussion - they would just tune me out. Also, Social studies and History were areas that all the kids could use help in. That led me on a path to American Girl® books - just reading through them - all of my kids were engaged and could follow the stories - which led to further discussion of historical events. None of my kids have the dolls, we just love the books . . . even my boys. I researched multisensory learning and began adding in ways to use all of their senses into our history and science studies. All of this research took me down the path of creating Girls of American History. We did a "pilot program year" with two other families - allowing us to do group field trips, crafts, discussion, games, parties and more - it was the best year ever and my kids LEARNED so much!! At the end of 2012 I tested all my kids again and the scores in Reading comp and History/Social Studies shot up for each of them. I knew I was on to something and wanted to make it available to other families and help them too.
Can you tell me a bit about the products you've made and any you have in the works?
Currently we have 13 historical units available - each corresponding with one of the historical American Girl® Dolls.
I am working a 14th unit, for the latest historical American Girl - Melody - this won't be available until late summer - as not all of the books are available yet.
American Girl® has changed format. Instead of 6 small chapter books, they have converted everything over to their new "Beforever" format with three larger chapter books. The first two books are the historical story and the last is a fun reading book of the time period. Both formats work with Girls of American History.
Each unit includes a suggested lesson plan and resources for deeper history and language arts, crafts, art, cooking, field trips etc. Some craft and art activities include leather work, pottery, weaving, marble making and more. Field trips include fishing, newspaper tour, pow wow and more. Resources for field trips are available for paying customer on our website - I have them listed by state to help people who want to do things locally or take and education vacation.
I am looking at creating more units like this for other series as well. Some will be for reluctant readers, others will be more a boy focus. I have about 13 sets in mind, it will all just depend on how much time I can spend on them over the summer.
That's exciting! It sounds like you are keeping busy. Now, you create a multi-sensory curriculum approach. What does that look like in action?
The philosophy behind this approach is to Read it, Hear it, See it, Write it and Do it. This can be done with independent reading assigned or follow along with read alouds. For kids who love to read on their own and want more - I would assign additional reading to. For reluctant readers - I would have them follow along in the read alouds we did (the American Girl® chapter books, and I would call on them to read at times). This takes care of both the Read it and Hear it. For the See it - we would watch a suggested movie or documentary and discuss it or go on a tour type field trip.
For Write it - we would do a lapbook, keep a journal, research paper (age and ability depending), or do copy work for a related drawing we did. (the drawing itself can really work for the Write it as well).
For Do it - we would participate in hands on activities - fishing, cooking, playing a game of the time period, do a craft that would have been done at the time, visit a museum, put on a play, etc. At the end of every unit we would have a time themed party - kids would dress up in things they made, help cook food from the time, display their lapbooks or crafts for dads and others to see. We would also play comprehension games and games from the time as a group. Discussion during all the craft times is important - not lectures - but talking about what kind of berries do you think were used to make this kind of ink, or at what age do you think kids were taught to use the spear to catch fish.
The research behind using multiple senses, and not just relying on our one learning style, is so amazing. Kids retain so much more when they use multiple senses to learn.
What does your average school schedule encompass?
Our personal schedule - well my kids are all now 6th-9th grade. They have a set time to be at their desk - they each have a weekly chart - something I do every summer (I do all of my lesson planning in the summer so I don't have to worry about it during the school year). They come to their desk and work on any independent work they have - be it book work, computer work, etc. They turn things into my in box as they complete each assignment - I correct/grade it for them - it goes into the out box - they fix anything that needs to be fixed and ask any questions they have - until they have everything correct and understand it. At various times of the morning we do group Bible or history. We also attend a co-op on Mondays which I coordinate classes for - they take classes like Juggling, literature, science lab, logic, art, calligraphy, basketball, guitar and so much more. My oldest has a literature discussion group on Tuesday and a writing class on Thursday. We all participate in a PE co-op on Wednesday. They all take martial arts in the evening and the boys have flight school on Tues/Thurs nights - where they are learning through flight simulators and other hands on science activities.
What advice or encouragement would you give to a brand new homeschooler?
Have fun - at a young age kids learn so much through fun activities - finding a way to make homeschooling fun is important. It won't always be fun though - don't give up. It takes a while to find your groove - I didn't feel confident until our third year. Even still - I make mistakes in curriculum selections - if I can - I sell it and try something else. My kids are at an age that I can include them in the research process. Don't feel like you need to do it all - there is a ton of activities and curriculum - pick what is best for you. Even within in a curriculum - don't feel like you need to do it all - For example - Girls of American History - think of it as a buffet - take what you want and do what you like. Every year and season is different.
Thank you Justine! I hope my readers enjoyed getting to know you.
Keep reading to learn more about Justine and connect with her online.
You can order units of Girls of American History at . . .
Keep an eye peeled for our upcoming review!
Justine Gamble is a wife and homeschooling mom to five children. She is an advocate of adoption and orphan care. She enjoys cooking and traveling. Justine grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. She received her degree in Child and Family Studies with an emphasis in education and a minor in Business from Portland State University in 1998.
Connect with Justine online at:
Website, Facebook and Twitter.
Connect w/ Me: