Year in Review: Part-Time Homeschooling / Distance Learning with 6-and-3-Year-Old Kids

Trilingual part-time homeschooling and distance learning

Many of you have asked about my 6-year-old daughter’s experience with trilingual part-time homeschooling and what my 3-year-old son did in the meantime!

In this post, I’ll go over:

  • How we integrated 3 languages (English, Mandarin Chinese, Korean)
  • Methods and curriculum used during the 2019-2020 school year
  • Resources that we’re considering for the 2020-2021 school year

For the 2019-2020 school year, my 6-year-old attended the same hybrid classical school. She skipped kindergarten, made new friends, and thrived in 1st grade (2nd grade for math). Like most kids in the United States, she finished the last few months of online (distance learning).

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online elementary school; distance learning; part-time schooling
Distance learning; headphones; water station, kids’ art carts & cardboard crosses at side of dining room

Meanwhile, my 3-year-old was ecstatic about having us around while I scrambled to work from home without childcare.

I’m still recovering from the unexpected shift from part-time homeschooling to full-time distance learning without childcare.

But we’re counting our blessings, trying to stay positive while moving forward! Anyway, I’m ready to review the year with you!

Learning about money by playing store
Learning about money by playing store; bamboo lap tray desk; cardboard dinosaur (tutorial)

I hope this post can show that:

  • Children do NOT need to sit in a classroom all day!!!
  • Flexibility is a huge perk of homeschooling to suit your individual child and family needs.
  • Various schedules, including hybrid programs, can work.
  • Practical life skills (house chores) and family bonding time are extremely valuable aspects of child development and well-rounded growth.
  • Multilingual language learning is ideally occurring throughout the day.
  • Homeschooling will look different for every family, because every family is unique!
Doing homework at the park! Benefits of homeschooling
Sister doing homework while little brother runs around the park!

Language schedule: Chinese, English, Korean

We sort of followed the one-person, one-language method over the past few years:

  • Korean American Dad: English with almost no Korean
  • Chinese American Mom: Mandarin Chinese (conversational proficiency)
  • Korean American Nanny: Korean (conversational proficiency)

But my daughter had more English homework this year, and our nanny transitioned out during the pandemic (she code-mixed frequently anyway).

Here’s a visual overview of our language breakdown pre-Covid (triilngual) and during Covid times (bilingual).

Pre-Covid language breakdown

Trilingual schedule: Chinese, English Korean - sister

6-year-old 老大 (98 waking hours):

  • Red = Chinese = 42 hours (43%)
  • Blue = English = 52 hours (53%)
  • Yellow = Korean = 4 hours (4%)
Trilingual schedule: Chinese, English Korean - brother

3-year-old 老二 (~95 waking hours):

  • Red = Chinese = 42 hours (44%)
  • Blue = English = 37 hours (39%)
  • Yellow = Korean = 16 hours (17%)

Covid language breakdown

Bilingual schedule: Chinese, English Korean - sister

6-year-old 老大 (~98 waking hours):

  • Red = Chinese = 47 hours (48%)
  • Blue = English = 51 hours (52%)
Bilingual schedule: Chinese, English Korean - sister

3-year-old 老二 (~88 waking hours*):

  • Red = Chinese = 45 hours (51%)
  • Blue = English = 43 hours (49%)

Please note that the colors above indicate the main language spoken based on caregiver / teacher, but exposure to their other languages occurs throughout the week:

  • My kids and I often speak Chinese together around my husband and translate to English.
  • Although our nanny is no longer with us, my kids still listen to Korean music, and my husband very occasionally reads a Korean book to our son.
  • Out of habit, my daughter and I speak to each other in Chinese when discussing her homework. For example, when reviewing English spelling, I might say: “请你拼 / 請你拼 (qǐng nǐ pīn) kitten? (Can you spell kitten?). Then I’ll use “kitten” and 小貓 (xiǎo māo) in an English and Chinese sentence.
distance learning; part-time homeschooling

The change in our schedule resulted in significant improvement in my son’s Chinese! However, since he had a strong preference for English, I had to be very focused and consistent about recasting and encouraging him to speak Chinese.

Now, my kids comfortably alternate between speaking Chinese and English together.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, they have stopped speaking Korean together.

Other posts about our experience with part-time homeschooling

Kids cooking together is part of homeschooling
Kids cooking together; step stool (similar here); visual timer; Instant Pot

Educational philosophy

First and foremost, we are Christian, so our faith is the foundation of our day.

In addition, we follow many aspects of the Montessori philosophy at home. This means:

  • We have a prepared learning environment and encourage self-paced learning.
  • We believe that children are intrinsically motivated to learn, and we try to follow their interests and protect their concentration.
  • We consider household chores (eg, practical life skills) to be a vital part of homeschooling (and survival for parenting)!

Since we’ve been on the wait list at our local Montessori school, we decided to enroll our 6-year-old daughter at a classical school.

In all honestly, the main reasons for choosing classical education was not the philosophy but actually the following features about the school:

  • No screens for elementary school (except for distance learning)
  • No letter or number grades
  • Hybrid schedule = flexibility
  • Friendly, involved parents
  • Mixed-aged classrooms: 1st and 2nd grade combined, 3rd and 4th combined, etc.

The nice part about part-time homeschooling is that we didn’t have to create a full curriculum.

However, the big downside was that “going ahead of the grid” was strongly discouraged. Despite my daughter’s desire to move forward, teachers prefer that students follow the same schedule.

Daughter reading while son works on animals of the world activity
Daughter reading while son works on Montessori animals of the world activity

Balancing part-time homeschooling with siblings: 3-year age gap

For parents who are struggling with balancing siblings, my best advice is to adjust your academic standards and expectations of what learning is supposed to look like.

For most of the year, I was running between my daughter and son, helping my 6-year-old with sit-down work while chasing after my 3-year-old son so he could get his energy out!

Earlier in the year, my daughter often did her homework at the park or beach so my son could run around and get his energy out! We would just try to get homework done as fast as possible so they could play together!

At home, lap tray desks like this bamboo one and this white plastic one were helpful for flexible seating. My daughter could work on the floor beside little brother playing.

When all else fails, try to focus on basic needs and encouraging them to be kind and helpful to each other! The best part of last year was watching my son and daughter bond, learn to share, play together!

Toward the end of the year, my daughter became mostly independent with school work, and my son was able to sit for longer periods.

To minimize distractions from distance learning, headphones (volume-limited for safety) were necessary.

Related: Best Open-Ended Toys for Children

6-year-old daughter: 1st grade (2nd grade math) curriculum

Chinese language

Reading

After I front-loaded teaching Chinese characters when she was a toddler, she’s been self-motivated to learn with little effort on my part!

Related: How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker

She continues to LOVE reading Chinese and spends at least 1-2 hours per day reading on her own. We actually have to set reading limits so that she gets other tasks done.

For much of the year, she continued to listen to Chinese audiobooks through Ximalaya and Luka Reading Robot frequently. However, recently she has been opting to read quietly on her own.

Her favorite Chinese books this year include:

She read every single book in 米小圈上学记 several times (including the idioms and riddles) as well as Magic School Bus and Berenstain Bears!

Sadly, since my Mandarin skills are way behind hers, I no longer read to her in Chinese. But she often loves to read favorite funny passages to me! And she’ll check in ask questions about a concept or ask me to help her look up an unfamiliar word in the Chinese dictionary.

She also summarizes the protagonists and morals of the stories she’s reading. This gives me a sense about her reading comprehension.

She still does not know Pinyin or Zhuyin, and we’ll keep putting it off since there’s no pressing need to learn phonetics now.

6-year-old writing Chinese characters
Daughter’s Chinese writing at the end of the school year; Melissa and Doug easel

Writing

We’ve kept Chinese writing low-priority due to lack of time, but she has once again surpassed my low expectations! Despite following no particular writing schedule, she had a writing explosion and has been self-motivated to learn!

Before the pandemic, our weekly Chinese tutor helped my daughter with her dictation journal after which my daughter started a few entries on her own!

copywork with Chinese and English worship music
Copying bilingual song lyrics at the start of the school year; Stream of Praise sound book

She also continued copywork intermittently (eg, Stream of Praise songs) and wrote letters monthly to a penpal.

My daughter now can 听写 (tīngxiě) about 300 simplified Chinese characters by memory!

Next year, I might encourage her write summaries about select books that she reads.

Classical education curriculum - part-time hybrid homeschooling

English language

Since English is our dominant family and community language, I put little effort in teaching her English outside of school work.

Reading

Before this year, we minimized English reading to maximize our minority languages. My daughter was also resistant to learning English reading because her Chinese reading was much more advanced.

Our school does not teach reading on campus and expects parents to teach at home. They recommended the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading, but we decided not to get it since my daughter didn’t need it.

Other popular reading programs that we considered:

We actually own the last 2 books but never used them. Since they are inexpensive and highly recommended by tons of parents, I think they are still worth trying if you want an open-and-go reading curriculum.

Instead, she started the year with:

Then she just figured out how to read by listening to us read other homework and exposure to environmental print (eg, labels, to-do lists, recipes).

Over the past year, favorite books that she could read independently include:

Typed out selected poem from Favorite Poems Old and New. Part-time homeschooling
Typed out a poem she chose from Favorite Poems Old and New.

Literature

Every couple months, my daughter and her classmates recited poetry from Favorite Poems Old and New. The last recitations were over Zoom.

My husband and I continued to read out loud to her. Toward the end of the year, we took turns reading with her as her confidence and reading fluency grew.

Through her school and our own home library, we read many historical, biographical picture books and kid-friendly versions of classic literature.

Our school’s requirements included several Diane Stanley books (gorgeously detailed illustrations) and Lois Burdett’s Shakespeare Can Be Fun series.

6 year old trying to write and spell independently
6 year old’s independent writing from earlier this school year

Spelling

She started the year using her Montessori moveable alphabet but quickly transitioned into writing and sounding out words on paper.

We loved All About Spelling and have purchased all 7 levels! Her first grade class completed level 1.

Writing

History homework dictation and copywork
Writing practice: narration and copy work for literature; Michelangelo book by Diane Stanley

Similar to Chinese, my daughter kept a narration journal for school.

The school’s copywork homework consisted of only 1-3 sentences once or twice a week from literature assignments.

On my daughter’s own time, she enjoyed copying bible verses and writing to-do lists and other things on our easel when playing “school” with little brother.

Grammar

For Grammar, we followed the school’s plan of using First Language Lessons Level 1. This subject is SO dry and boring to me, and I try to punt this to my husband!

Recently, I invested in the complete Montessori grammar box set from Branch to Bloom. However, I’m totally overwhelmed by the amount of cutting for the word cards that I’m second-guessing getting this purchase. Many parents rave about Montessori grammar, so I’ll keep you posted on whether it’s really worth the cost and prep work!

History

Throughout the elementary years, our school uses Story of the World as the main text supplemented by historical picture books as mentioned previously. Each volume comes with an audio CD that many parents recommend, but we ended up rarely using it.

Since American history has a Eurocentric bias, I did appreciate that our school included stories from the perspective of Native Americans, such as with our Thanksgiving books.

Outside of school, we also read books about Black History in Chinese and English as well as Chinese Festivals like Lunar New Year, Mid Autumn Festival, and Dragon Boat Festival.

Big goals next year are to read more about Korean and other cultures. Please share any recommendations of your favorite books in the comments!

Related: 25 Important Children’s Books About Black History in Chinese and English

Math

Singapore math workbooks for elementary school - second grade

The school offered to let us homeschool for math fully so that she go at her own pace, but my daughter did not want to be excluded from her friends.

Due to social concerns of skipping too far ahead as minorities in a small town, we decided to place her in 2nd grade for this subject. We weren’t sure if we should let math to be just “easy” for her or whether to let her go ahead, especially when we started distance learning.

Singapore Math: My daughter’s class used Singapore Math primary workbooks (Standards Edition) 2A and 2B Workbooks and Textbooks. We also bought the Home Instructors Guide per school recommendations. However, we rarely used it for this grade as the content was straightforward for her.

Singapore Math has various versions available, and their website has a comparison chart. Although Amazon sells some Singapore Math workbooks, it’s easier to shop directly from Singapore Math.

Since my daughter was always asking for extra math work, her teacher suggested this math drawing book and that I look for other ways to explore math. We already explore math through play and life, but she just wanted to do math problems! I didn’t realize that Singapore math sells extra practice problems for each level and wish I had gotten this for her!

Personally, Singapore Math is not my favorite math program as I’m biased toward Montessori. But my daughter enjoyed the workbooks, and many students excel with Singapore Math.

Montessori Math: During the year, she did not want to use the Montessori math materials that she previously loved (eg, multiplication and division boards, Pythagoras board), simply because her peers were not using them.

However, this summer, due to her request to do “math summer school”, she is spending a couple hours per week with an online Chinese Montessori teacher. My husband is skeptical about Montessori rather than skipping ahead to Singapore math grade 3 this summer, but my daughter has been enjoying these lessons so far!

Other popular math programs:

  • Miquon Math – Our school suggested this hands-on option, but we already had so many Montessori math materials and prefer the Montessori method
  • Khan Academy – My 3 nephews were homeschooled and used Khan academy. It’s definitely worth considering if you want something low prep that’s widely trusted. I love that this program is free, but it’s too much screen-time for our family at this time.
  • Beast Academy – So many parents of gifted children recommended this, but my daughter doesn’t like graphics.

Latin

Our school introduces Latin in first grade with Song School Latin. She didn’t have homework for this subject, and we did not need to buy Latin materials.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

Science

I’m not sure what the school used for their curriculum, but we felt it was a bit light with no homework.

In the meantime, my daughter read the Chinese Magic School Bus science series, various human body books, and solar system books!

For the following school year, I’ve ordered “Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding” for grades K-2 and 3-5. Several physician homeschoolers recommended this series. The only negative feedback I heard is that it requires some prep work which might not be feasible for working parents.

Korean

Despite minimal time with our Korean nanny, my daughter has retained some listening comprehension.

Though she can recall many single word translations, she struggles to spontaneously speak in sentences. It’s sad to think that she spent a couple years learning to read and write Korean and how quickly these skills can go dormant.

Due to budget, we are holding off on online Korean tutoring for now. We are debating whether Korean is worth the expense and effort.

Making Chinese characters with play dough
Sister showing brother how to make Chinese characters with play dough

3-year-old son: preschool curriculum

Other than playing, playing, and playing, we worked on cultivating his focus and independence. He’s able to dress and shower himself, and our kids’ self-serve water station has been helpful for encouraging hydration!

We also started adding in a little bit of school for my son. Curriculum is really a misnomer as I don’t believe in rigid schedules, especially for toddlers. Learning can be so unpredictable at this age! So I mainly follow his interests, which means we talk about animals and cars a lot.

Here’s a summary of other learning we’ve been doing at home!

Chinese

Reading

As with big sis, I taught my son several dozen Chinese characters through environmental print and simple activities. Then he asked to start Sagebooks and flew through the first 2 levels.

After finishing the second level, he became very resistant to using the boring books. So rather than forcing him to continue, we took a break!

In the meantime, I have been gradually introducing new Chinese characters through environmental print, pointing out words in other books that he likes (eg, LeLe Chinese readers), and occasional simple Chinese activities.

I’ve been developing a curriculum for him, and I can share it in the future if there’s interest!

Reading LeLe Chinese books
LeLe Chinese books; kids’ table/chairs (similar here)

His other favorite books include:

Related: Create a Print-Rich Environment with Labels that Promote Literacy

Writing

A few months ago, my son’s first writing was impromptu at the beach when big sister showed him how to draw an “X” and “O” in the sand!

Art and dictation journal for 3-year-old child

Since then, my son has been exploring his pencils and gaining confidence in drawing and copying simple Chinese characters!

Like big sister, we’ve started an art and dictation journal which he’s very proud of!

English

I’ve decided to hold off on teaching him the alphabet until the next year or so. There’s no rush since we are not sending him to preschool next year. But he’s learned the alphabet song and recognizes the letters of his name.

When we do start, I’m planning on first introducing phonetic sounds and using Montessori sandpaper letters.

Korean Hangul Alphabet Letter Magnets - fun way to play and learn
Playing with Hangul letter magnets (similar here)

Korean

Earlier this year, our nanny introduced Hangul phonics and letters to my son. He enjoys playing with his Hangul letter toys and listening to Korean children’s music.

Even if we are unable to continue Korean learning, I hope my kids have positive memories of these experiences. We can try again when the opportunity arises in the future.

Shared Montessori shelf for my 3-year-old and 6-year-old kids
Shared Montessori shelf for my 3-year-old and 6-year-old kids

Math

This past year, numbers started to click for my son! He can count to 20 in Chinese, somewhere in the teens in English, and gets the numbers mixed up in Korean.

He can recognize his 123s and 一二三s through play, regular life, and DIY Montessori materials (eg, spindle box). This post goes into detail about how he’s learning to count in bilingually.

I also wanted to point out that his milestones are very different than big sister! If this is something you’ve worried about, please rest assured that range of normal is very wide in the toddler years!

Related: How I’m Teaching My Children Math for Free

exploring nature with kids
Our favorite hiking trail!

Extracurricular activities for both kids

Pre-Covid

In the beginning of the year, my daughter was totally over-scheduled with swimming, soccer, piano, and ballet. Part-time homeschooling for first grade was busier than preschool! So we ended up quitting ballet and pausing piano for a few months.

My son joined her for swimming and had a blast doing soccer. These 2 sports were just the right amount.

Covid times

Since Covid, we stopped all in-person lessons.

Thankfully, we found a great online piano teacher who’s fluent in Mandarin, and my daughter is enjoying weekly lessons with her!

For exercise, we’ve been doing running races and playing soccer as a family. We’re wearing our masks while going on hikes. My daughter’s enjoying her bike and trying to learn how to jump rope while my son loves to slide down hills with his scooter!

Related: Our favorite outdoor toys for kids!

Sister helping brother with his online Chinese immersion class
Sister helping brother with his online Chinese immersion class

Plans for the next school year

(Updated 8/26/2020)

6-year-old daughter

We recently learned about the 2 options at our daughter’s school.

They are offering an in-person option, but our state is not mandating masks for 1st and 2nd grade students.

We were also disappointed to learn that the distance learning track at our daughter’s school has only pre-recorded videos. She will have live interaction with classmates or teachers. Parents will do all assessments, not teachers.

Basically, we will be full-time homeschooling but expected to pay their tuition…

3-year-old son

As for my son, we decided not to send him to preschool until this pandemic gets under control.

This summer, he is attending short online Chinese classes through Guidepost Montessori. Although I am very comfortable with homeschool preschool, I’m not fluent in Mandarin and our Chinese teacher is no longer able to come to our house.

Although we have mixed feelings about daily online schooling due to his age, we do find it helpful to have a regular online Chinese teacher.

I’m not sure if I can recommend this program, because they are completely changing their plans for the fall. Since the commitment is month-by-month, we will try and see how it goes!

Related: 10+ Ways to Find a Foreign Language Teacher for Your Child

Wearing our masks while hiking

What questions do you have about distance learning and part-time homeschooling 3-and-6-year-old kids?

I hope I didn’t bore you too much with the details of our part-time homeschooling and distance learning!

If you’ve made it this far, I hope something here can help you create your own multilingual homeschooling plan and set realistic expectations.

While we are trying to keep screens minimal, there are a lot of great online resources. You can check out these 12 Free Online Learning Websites and Videos for Homeschooling Kids.

For more comprehensive comparisons of homeschool curricula, many parents recommend Cathy Duffy Reviews.

Otherwise, please try not to stress too much. Remember there is already so much learning through play, exploring nature, doing chores, and of course reading!

Learning activities for every topic!

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Praying for you, friends!

9 Comments

  1. Thank you for this comprehensive guide to what you have done for homeschooling. It’s so inspirational, especially for someone like me who tends to get really overwhelmed with figuring out how to teach my kids.

  2. Thank you for sharing.
    I find bilingual teaching very challenging as I am not fluent in Chinese. Your sharing is very helpful.

  3. Thank you for sharing! Do you have a daily/weekly schedule to share? I find fitting in all the subjects and activities in a day/week is difficult unless I am personally monitoring the whole time and even then it’s hard to balance schedule for 2 little ones (I am also working from home). I have a 7 and 4 year old, Korean and Chinese kids like yours! 🙂

    1. Hi Sherry! So nice to know that our families are similar! 🙂 Here’s the post with my work-at-homeschooling schedule. Splitting up the day into 3-hour blocks and doing work in batches helped to take the pressure of squeezing everything in. The school doesn’t allow us to share the week-by-week curriculum, but my daughter typically did homework in batches. For example, the school’s homework grid gave suggestions about spelling eg, M, W, F, but we would do that once a week. And we would do history/literature reading usually ~2-3 days/week. I hope your family will be able to find a rhythm that works for all of you! Please let me know if I can help with anything else!

  4. I’d love to hear more about what the online Chinese lessons through Guidepost Montessori are like. I’ve been trying various Chinese online circle/storytime videos for my son and it has varied success with catching his interest, even when it’s only about 20min. I’m resigning myself to getting an iPad mainly for his use though, and will load it with the Ellabook app and maybe a curated playlist with media about trucks but in Chinese.

    1. Hi! My son loves his Guidepost preschool teacher, and I think she’s responded to my feedback about initial concerns! He has class from 9am-9:35am-ish then a smaller online group class an hour later. It’s take a few weeks to figure out how to optimize and build it into our routine. He’s doing well with the first portion and sings so many songs that the teacher sings. It’s so cute! But sometimes has trouble transitioning to the second one if he’s in the middle of another activity (usually building or playing with his cars/animals).

      What online circle times/story times have you tried for your son so far? Curious if there are any worth checking out!

  5. Thank you for sharing your homeschooling curriculum in great detail! I enjoyed this post very much and it gave me ideas with teaching mandarin to my daughter. I have a almost 2 year old daughter and a newborn and would like to set up a Montessori home environment. I noticed on your photos that the shelves in your living room are filled with Grimms blocks and several other activities which are difficult to see. Are you able to elaborate more on how you set up common area to cater for your children with an age gap? What kind of activities or materials did you set up? Do you rotate those activities frequently? Thank you for answering my question in advance!:)

  6. Hi Betty! I just discovered your website and your resources and information have been invaluable as I begin our language learning journey with my two children. While I don’t have much insight into learning new languages I do have experience with homeschooling gifted learners and I thought I could share some resources that have been helpful for us! There is a recently published guide that goes along with Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding (Early Elementary Science Education by Shannon Jordan) that has been incredibly helpful in planning and implementing the BFSU lessons. While it is not perfect (you still need the original book for further information and depth) it makes it MUCH less parent intensive and the curriculum has been great for my 6 year old who is highly advanced in science. Another recommendation would be to check out Michael Clay Thompson for language arts/grammar. We just started using their materials which have been very engaging and are designed for gifted learners as well.

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