In asking other homeschooling moms I trust about curricula, I came across an amazing book: The Charlotte Mason Companion.
Great Guide to Homeschooling
Although I am still not finished with it, from this book, I learned two things immediately: 1) I can teach my child, and 2) more than teach my child, I can help create in her a love of learning and develop her natural curiosity about life.
As a means of instruction, Charlotte Mason advocates nature walks during which you and your children observe nature, and like a scientist, study, analyze, and report your findings.
For our first Nature Walk, Jane and I went on a bike ride from the cafe to the horse stable. When Jane wanted to stop at the stable and watch the horses, I groaned inwardly, knowing that the horses were not going to do anything interesting. But we stopped and parked the bike and bike trailer, and sat on the low limb of the tree. I had been past that stable dozens of times, so there was nothing new for me to see. Or so I thought.
In the stillness, sitting on the tree limb, I heard a low hum. Turning around, I saw the source: a beehive in the base of the tree, with bees coming and going. Since I had never stopped there before, and since the beehive is on the back side of the tree, I had never noticed it before.
Beehive at the base of the tree.
Suddenly our standard ride to the stables became a lively discussion about bees, what they were doing, how they got there, why they chose to live there, whether the horses minded them being there, etc. We left the stables looking for more signs of life, and flowers that the bees might fly to. Before heading home, we stopped at the library and looked for a simple story about bees. The unanticipated surprise of the beehive would be the first of many as we began our Nature Walks.
Next year or the year after, we'll visit the bees and return to the library in search of books that tell us how honey is made, what is pollen, how do bees help tomatoes grow, and answers to other questions.
Taking the lessons further, we can easily incorporate math and natural science - count the bees on the page of this book; how many bee legs are there, draw a bee, and ultimately perhaps, if a bumblebee were an aircraft, what would be the minimum forward thrust required to get him off the ground?
Besides nature walks, I do a letters lesson, à la "Today is brought to you by the letters R and M, and the number 4."
Jane has a wooden alphabet puzzle. I put all the letters in a box and have her draw one or two from the box to be our letters of the day.
Jane draws a letter from the box.
On this particular day, she drew the letter U. We had construction paper, scissors and markers to draw things that started with the letter U. Jane drew a robot, because she likes robots. I gave him an umbrella and asked Jane what else started with U. She suggested underwear, so the robot got underwear.
U is for robot with Underwear, holding an Umbrella.
A few days later, she drew the letter W. I cut out some construction paper pieces of things that would start with W. I give her as many choices in this as possible (i.e., what color paper, do you want to draw it or cut it out, etc.).
W is for Walrus, Whiskers, Wreath, and Wolf
Any time we work on academic things like a letters lesson, I let Jane be the time keeper. Usually she's good for ten minutes, and I don't push her to do more past that. We move on to another activity, then possibly return later.
Reading / Listening Comprehension
I try to read her books that are more than just Cat in the Hat. Charlotte Mason says to give a book the "one-page test." Start reading aloud to your children and stop after one or two pages. If you hear, "Read more!" then you know you have a good book.
I picked up a few of the Boxcar Children books, and we read the Bicycle Mystery (#15) over the course of two weeks. The children in the story were taking a bicycle trip from their Grandfather's house to their Aunt Jane's farm. To get an idea of what was happening and to keep track of the action, I drew a map. Any time we would resume reading after a few days pause, I would ask Jane about the story and what had happened. Following the map made this much easier, as we could look at the River Road, see the G on Grandfather's house, and the animals way far away at Aunt Jane's farm. She already shows remarkable listening comprehension!
Map of the route from Grandfather's to Aunt Jane's from Boxcar Children: Bicycle Mystery
There are times when all this gets very tedious, but I know intellectually that the most critical time for building a love of learning, reading, and writing are right now.