Friday, August 23, 2013

First Start Reading

With my 1st grader, I needed a new phonics curriculum this year.  For personal reasons, but also because her language skills are still a bit delayed, we just needed a fresh start, and we decided to try First Start Reading by Memoria Press.  I have 4ish phonics programs on my shelf right now, so we thought we would start with this and then go on to something else if it wasn't working. 

I have always appreciated how straight forward and easy to follow Memoria Press curriculum tend to be, and First Start Reading has been no exception.  She is doing great with this curriculum.  I am starting her in book B.  We went back to the end of book A, and she could pretty easily read the material there, and could honestly start further in to book B, but I wanted to start her off easy, build confidence, and then move into new material. 

This curriculum gives a short lesson each day.  I appreciate the limited time involvement, and that I need to do no prep work beforehand.  I also love that the stories you read each week are 7-8 lines of text on a page, instead of little readers like you typically see.  I have always had issues with my beginning readers being more interested in the pictures on the page and being too distracted to read the words or guessing at the words based on the pictures.  I usually fold the page back and cover the picture anyway.  With this curriculum, there are no distractions.  There is one picture to go with each story, but it is on the opposite page.  What you read is actually all on one page, one sentence per line.  The teacher's book gives you comprehension questions and discussion starters for each line to make sure the student stays on task and is comprehending what she is reading.  There is also lots of opportunity for the student to draw the scene they just read about, which this child loves.  Some of mine hate coloring, but this particular child loves it. 

All in all, I have found the program to be simple and straightforward.  It doesn't have a lot of the bells and whistles of some other programs we have used, but that is honestly what I was looking for with her.  She wants to read and doesn't need the distraction that other programs provide.  The super short lessons work well with my time.  If she was a very beginning reader, this program might not provide enough reinforcement early on, but for where we are, it has been a great fit.  When she gets through book C and has the basic phonics rules down, we will move onto something to build more fluency. 

Teaching reading has always been my most dreaded task of homeschooling, but so far this year, my kids and this curriculum are making it easy on me. 

Our year so far

We have made it through the first 2 weeks of school!  Usually, the first few weeks of school involves a bit of tweaking and changing until we find the right flow, but I think we have found our groove again finally.  The biggest exception to that is my 3 year old, who generally is not the most cooperative child and is proving exactly the same for school.  We did expand our classroom, however, over the summer, and my most easily distracted children are around the corner now and his antics are not causing major problems.  I know he will settle down into our rhythm with time.  He also potty trained himself on his own the past two weeks, so I can't be that frustrated with him-ha!

We started out our year this year studying what is history and we read the Magic School Bus Shows and Tells about archeology and Archeologists Dig for Clues to go along with our story of the world reading.  We also read You Wouldn't Want to be a Mammoth Hunter.  If you don't know this series of books, they are awesome.  Funny and entertaining, but good solid history under the humor.  For our history projects, we drew a cave painting which we created on crumpled grocery bags and they taped them underneath tables and drew from laying down.  Lots of fun.  We also started one of my favorite books of art history for kids called Learning About Ancient Civilizations Through Art.  It discusses specific art--in this case, the Lascaux Caves in France--and then gives additional activities to do related to that discussion.  My new logic stage student also worked on learning to outline her Kingfisher text and began her new drawing curriculum.  We start more technical art studies in 5th grade.

This week, we dove into the 1st of a 4 week study of Ancient Egypt.  We made pharaoh crowns, felt papyrus, burned incense, and read about the great Spinx to go along with our Story of the World reading.  We also created cuneiform clay tablets when we discussed the beginnings of writing and compared Sumerian writing to Egyptian hieroglyphics.  And, we also watched a documentary on Netflix about Ancient Egypt.  My logic stage student began a Greenleaf Guide to Ancient Egypt to go along with her Kingfisher outlining.  Much more Egypt to come! 

My high schooler is actually on the Middle Ages this year, and approaching history as a great books study.  I will write more about that soon. 

For science, we dove into Elemental Science and are loving learning about habitats for the little ones, and cells and classification for my logic stage student.  So far, we have found the curriculum to be well laid out and explained.  I love that it isn't a textbook, but sends us to a variety of resources each week, with a variety of activities to go along with it.  My grammar stage students began a diorama project that they will be continuing for their animal studies. 

So far, our studies are going well.  All kids began a new year of Math-U-See and are continuing with their language studies and additional work on their own in the mornings.  My 1st grader is progressing quickly with reading and my kindergartener is finally blending sounds!  Phonics has been more of a struggle with both of those 2 since they spoke Russian for the first years of their life, but we are finally making quick progress.  We are also working on their language processing issues with lots of listening activities including Listen and Learn Phonemic Awareness from Lakeshore Learning, as well as their regular speech therapy. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Getting ready for back to school

Wow, what on earth happened to July?!  I don’t know about you, but our summer flew by too quickly.  We did some light schooling over the summer like we usually do, as well as our share of camps, swim lessons, vacation, and as much fun as we can squeeze in to those few weeks.  Now, I am in full scale back to school mode.
For me, back to school involves cleaning my house top to bottom, cleaning out, organizing, catching up on all the tasks that I put off when we are busy with school.  For my family, school is our priority when we are on a school week, and it is easy to let those things back up.  I make sure I am well caught up before the beginning of a new school year.  The classroom will be scrubbed top to bottom.  Books will be moved to the appropriate shelves, and school supplies will be set out in each child’s space.
In our classroom, each child has their own shelf with the books they will need for the year.  I also have a shelf of the history books we will need for the year, and a shelf for science books.  We are heading into year 1 again, so I have books about the Ancient world and biology out and available. 
Each child also has a clipboard that opens and holds their school supplies.  In their clipboard, we put a pair of scissors, glue, crayons, colored pencils, pencils, and a small pencil sharpener.  Paper goes on top.  The clipboard gives us the flexibility of being able to grab 1 thing and have everything we need if we need to car-school or we want to head outside for school.  All the supplies they might need are kept there and no one has any excuse to go searching for anything.  And yes, we color code—binders, folders, scissors, etc match the color clipboard that child has. 
I am also writing out work plans for our 1st 4 weeks of school and making all copies we will need for those weeks to put in each child’s binder.  This year I will have 10th, 5th, 3rd, 1st, K5, 3K, and a baby toddling around.  My 10th grader will plan out his own weeks, but the 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders will get work plans.  My kindergartener will be working with me some on phonics and math, and spending much of his time with Montessori materials.  And my preschooler will be learning how to operate in our classroom with the early Montessori lessons. 
The weekend before the first day of school, I will sit down with each of my older kids and go over their workplans, explaining anything new and making sure they understand what is expected of them this year.  I know that first day can be so hectic, and I need them as independent as possible while I get my preschooler working and get my 1st grader doing more big kid work (and entertaining my 1 year old in the meantime-ha!). 
My biggest concerns for this year include my extraordinarily stubborn 3 year old and my 1st grader.  She has a processing disorder and I have to be creative about how I introduce information to her.  All in all though, we are super excited and can’t wait to get started.  My 3rd grader in particular is begging to start.  I love his enthusiasm!
We are filling next week with as much summer fun as we can, but we will still plan to swim and play after school each day through August. 
I hope your back to school plans are going well!  I have lots of posts in the works to answer questions you guys have had.  Be patient and I hope to get to all of those very soon!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Transcripts, credits, and grades, oh my!"

"Transcripts, Credits, and Grades, oh my!"  This was the intro to a talk at my local homeschool convention recently.  The speaker's point was a very valid one.  Many homeschoolers I speak to are very concerned with how to record-keep and track their student in the high school years to be able to get that student into college.  There are so many good planning tools available out there.  I am going to offer some suggestions here, but please let me know if you have questions beyond what I cover here.

My first recommendation, is plan high school in 8th grade.  This plan might change as you go through the high school years, but take an evening during your student's 8th grade year and discuss with him his goals for the future.  What subjects draw his attention the most?  What fields is he interested in pursuing?  What are your goals for him as parents?  Use that information and a list of your state's requirements to put together a plan for high school credits.  If he knows what schools he might be interested in, go to those websites and look at the requirements they set for incoming students.  Here is a chart of the requirements for my state.

As you are planning out your plan of study, think of ways you can incorporate your students activities and interests as credits.  I have heard of families using eagle scout projects for a project management course, flying lessons paired with book work for an aeronautical engineering course, speech or debate club as a variety of credits, ballet as a fine arts credit, and so on.  Your goal is to both educate your child to be well-rounded and with depth in his fields of interest, but also to present that information in a simplified form that college admission officers need.  Near the end of the Well-Trained Mind is a section that converts WTM types of courses like the chronological study of the Great Books into a more typical list of courses for your transcript.  It's a great resource.

As you go through the high school years, write for yourself course descriptions for each course your student will take.  This will save time and scrambling when your student applies for college and the college asks to see that information.  A course description basically gives the details of the course--what is taught, what resources are used, and how it is evaluated.

The transcript itself can be set up either by year (ex. all work in 9th grade grouped together), or by subject (all history grouped together).  The way you compile it is your preference.  The basic information you need is the title of the course, how much credit it is worth, and the credit earned.  There are so many templates and help available for writing course descriptions and transcripts.  I personally love the planning materials available for free at Donna Young Printables.

And finally, my most favorite record keeping tool for high school is found here.  This free download allows you to keep up with your grades and will calculate final grades and gpa for you.  It also has places for booklists, activities, and any thing else you might want to keep up with during those high school years.  When you get to college applications, you will need to know volunteer hours, leadership and club experiences, and awards, as well as traditional schoolwork.  Those areas allow homeschoolers to shine, so keep track of them well.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What does Montessori at home look like?

For my youngest learners, we try to follow a Montessori approach.  There are so many reasons why Montessori is so good for little ones.  First, in Montessori, you follow a concrete to abstract process of learning.  The kids learn skills through hands-on exploration of their world--the way they natural approach new things.  They touch, feel, manipulate objects to learn concepts such as big and little, place value, and even grammar.  The concrete, multi-sensory learning helps  to cement  concepts into their brain.  Montessori is also individualized.  Each child will move through the materials at their own pace and as they are ready for them.  They can move as fast or as slow as they like, and they can go back to a lesson as much as they need to get the concepts.  And because they move at their own pace with self-correcting materials, they build a sense of pride and a love of learning.

For a homeschool mom, Montessori has so many benefits.  It keeps little ones busy and independently learning, allowing me to work with older kids.  They are both entertained and doing school, and I don’t have to be directly involved.  Montessori lessons are designed to be appealing and enticing to kids, and they love having their own schoolwork.   Also, Montessori lessons are introduced start to finish, which encourages your student to not only get out the materials and work on their own, but to also clean up their work as they complete the task.  All materials needed for the lesson are included on the tray or bowl holding the materials—they won’t need you to get anything out, help them through it, and they won’t make a mess.  You will interact with them when you can, and they are happily learning when you can’t.

Montessori at home for us involves low shelves with a variety of materials displayed.  Each lesson is self-contained.  Everything the child needs to complete the lesson is included on the tray.  For example, if the lesson is pouring, not only will the measuring cups and spoons be included, but a piece of sponge so that the child can clean up her own drips when the lesson is complete.  I have a limited space so I cycle which lessons I have out and available at any given time.  I also have a basket of small mats that my students can place on the ground before they select a tray with a lesson.

As I was getting started with my Montessori homeschooling, I found the books Teaching Montessori in the Home:  The preschool years and Teaching Montessori in the Home:  the school years, to both be extremely helpful.  These books describe how to introduce each lesson, their function, and the order they should be used.  Many of the materials needed for lessons can be made with instructions in these books, or printed from sites such as   I also put together many practical life lessons using normal household materials, or even Melissa and Doug toys we already had.  For the lessons that I couldn't make, I found most of those lessons readily available on ebay.

I created an excel spreadsheet with each of my lessons laid out by appropriate year.  I can then track each student—whether I've introduced a lesson, whether they are working on it, or whether they have mastered that lesson. 

Each morning, my students will select a mat and then move through lessons at their own pace.  When I am able, I might join them for a lesson, or I might take a few minutes and introduce a new lesson as they are ready.  Oftentimes, I do a group lesson relating to some science materials I have recently put out, or a geography lesson.  We get out the Montessori globe and world map and look at pictures from representative countries on the particular continent we are studying at the time. 

There are so many free Montessori materials available.  They make a nice addition to any homeschool, even if you don’t chose to set up an entire classroom.  We are currently adding to our own classroom, so I will take pictures and add them when we complete that work. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Analytical Grammar

As my oldest entered high school, I went researching for a solid grammar curriculum he could use to finish out his grammar studies.  I was looking for something that wasn't too involved, since he had already been exposed to these concepts.  He mostly needed some review and reinforcement during his high school years.  He needed something straightforward and not terribly time consuming.  He had already learned the rules of grammar, and now needed to focus most of his time on his great book studies.  We finally landed on Analytical Grammar and it was a perfect fit.

The philosophy of the writers of Analytical Grammar is  "that they don't need to be "doing" a grammar worksheet every day, all year long, for years and years and years!  If grammar is taught sequentially and logically, there is no need for so much repetition."  They argue that grammar instruction isn't even needed until middle school ages.  I know, I know.  That's hard for us parents to hear--especially those of us who are Classically minded.  While I am not ready to drop grammar from my elementary students' work plans, the idea of not having to struggle through busy work is very appealing.  I had noticed that my oldest and his 6 years younger sister were doing basically the same grammar work year after year, and really that much repetition wasn't necessary to achieve our goals.  

The program of Analytical Grammar is set up in 3 seasons.  You purchase 1 set and that set includes all you need for those 3 years of grammar.  You can modify the seasons and complete them sooner than 3 years, but we stuck to the 3 year plan.  The first 10-12 weeks of the year consist of new lessons with new material, as well as some practice pages. The curriculum teaches parsing and diagramming as it goes, using real literature such as Twain and the Gettysburg Address.  If you aren't comfortable teaching, they sell dvds that cover the material for you.  I found that my student was able to read the lesson and understand it himself without my instruction.  After those initial weeks, the student will complete a page of practice every other week for the rest of the year.  I hear your skepticism.  The reality is, it works.  My oldest was never a good diagrammer, and I wondered how much he would retain with only this much practice.  I was blown away by both the depth he learned and the ease at which he can now diagram complicated sentences, but also the depth of retention from one season to the next.  He just didn't need the drill when the lessons were taught with an emphasis on patterns.  

The 3 seasons can be completed anytime from 6th grade onward.  Once those seasons are complete, your student can  move on to the high school reinforcement books which allow for practice using real literature from American authors, British authors, World authors, or Shakespeare.  If you can't wait to start until 6th, they also have Jr. Analytical grammar, which my oldest daughter used and loved this past year.

The program is no-frills and uses real literature.  It teaches grammar in a logical progression, without excessive repetition and busy work.  It fits our goals and priorities well, while teaching solid grammar rules and constructions.  We have been very pleased and look forward to trying out their new writing curriculum as well.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

A great way to learn about culture

As a parent, I am very concerned making sure my kids don't just learn about other cultures and people through books, but through real-life experiences.  One of the best ways I have found to do this (other than extended travel) is to host exchange students.  We've hosted a couple of times and now I work with students during their time here in this country.  My kids love the students and love learning about their home countries.

Having a houseful of children, travel is just difficult and expensive.  Hosting is a great way to bring culture to your kids in a season of life when you can't travel.  Hosting is a great learning experience, but also a lot of fun.  I'll never forget my 4 year old pretending one day that he was going to fly in a plane over the ocean to visit Germany.  He loved his German sister.

We experienced German holidays, German food, and German music and books right in our own home.  My kids don't just know in their head that there is a country called Germany, but they lived it and it is personal and understood to them.  Having our student with us for a year went far beyond any learning we could achieve with a unit study.  And it helped them to step outside of our own little world and see the world with a wider perspective. 

And beyond learning about her country, we learned about our own.  We were able to teach her how we do things, and through her questions, we were able to stop and think about why we do things the way we do, what is important to us, and how we live life in a way that was much more introspective than we normally would have been.

When I studied in England, I learned first hand how difficult it can be to be in a new culture and far away from family, and how important it is to have local support.  I loved my family's experience hosting when I was in high school, and now it is my honor to be able to help these students find families and to support the families and the students during their time here in this country. 

I would love to talk to you more about the possibility of hosting if you are interested.  Even if you aren't local, I can put you in touch with the right people. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

10th grade

My oldest will be in 10th grade this year.  Most of his time will be spent in his history and literature work, which will be explained in another post.  He will also be studying chemistry with Science at Home.  We order science supplies through Home Science Tools. 

Math:  Math U See

Language:  Analytical Grammar high school reinforcement book
                   AP Comp readings with Everything's an argument and IEW's Succeed on the AP Comp Exam

Electives:  AP Microeconomics (more about the AP program soon)--Mcconnell Microeconomics and IEW Economics-Based Writing, as well as AP study guides and lessons
                  French 2--online with BJU French 2
                  Latin 3-online with Henle
                  Russian--with Pimsleur and Russian in 10 minutes a day
                  Old Testament Survey with The Promise and the Blessing
                  Health--Total Health (1 semester)
                  Driver's Ed/Car Maintenance-Safe Young Drivers and Auto Upkeep (car maintenance curriculum which uses real hands-on "labs" teaching a wide range of owning and driving a car from changing windshield wiper fluid to changing brakes (1 semester)
                  Art-continue with the Annotated Mona Lisa and the Story of Painting for art from the Middle Ages, as well as studying painting with Introduction to Watercolors
                  Music-The Classical Experience

Speech and debate

One of our favorite parts of homeschooling last year was participating in our local speech and debate club.  This club competes through the NCFCA.  I was blown away by the level of competition and the quality of performances of these students. 

My oldest participated in the LD debate, but there were others involved in TP and many categories of speech.  Participants are 12-18 years old.  The experience was excellent for him to learn about how to structure an argument, how to present himself, what evidence is important and useful, and even how to go through the formal process of a debate.  He learned a ton about the year's resolution, and it provided us great opportunity to discuss current events and history with a depth we don't usually get to experience.  The whole family was in on letting him know of any relevant quotes or fact they encountered.

I think my favorite part of the experience was the excitement and enthusiasm I saw in him for research.  In NCFCA debate, there is one resolution over the course of the year.  Each student has to write and prepare both an affirmative case (supporting the resolution) and a negative case (against the resolution).  In a tournament, each student will be required to debate both sides.  This requirement forces them to dig deeper and build strong cases, but also to look from both sides of the argument.  Instead of just picking a side, they have to be able to see the other side's point of view and understand it enough to even argue for it.  It's an incredible exercise in argumentation and research.

Parents attend tournaments and help judge which was a lot of fun.  I loved watching other debaters and speakers.  Again and again I was blown away by the quality and level at which they were competing.  To watch high school students be able to stand up and speak eloquently and deeply about real subjects and issues in an educated and passionate way--well, I just can't say enough good about the organization or our club.  It was a great experience in oral presenation that fit perfectly with our goals in the rhetoric stage. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

9th grade

So high school--Most my student's day at this point should be focused on his great books study for history and literature.  The details of that are coming in another post.  At this point, we are working on building skills like note taking, essay writing--timed and note, time management, test taking skills, reading skills, and oral presentation skills.  We study the ancients and biology using Science for High School. 

Math:  Math U See

Language:  Analytical Grammar High school reinforcement books
                   Writing Exposition
                   Vocabulary from Classical Roots

Other:  Rhetoric--A Rulebook for Arguments as described in the WTM
            Art--The Annotated Mona Lisa, The Story of Painting, and a drawing instruction book
            Russian-Pimsleur and Russian in 10 minutes a day
            French-online with BJU French
            Latin-online with Henle
We also joined a speech and debate club this year.  More on that experience in another post. 

And I have a toddler underfoot

I think one of the hardest parts of homeschooling many is keeping the littlest ones busy during the school day.  I have always had a toddler, an infant, or both during my time homeschooling.  During the next school year, I will be introducing my 3 year old to our Montessori materials and entertaining a 1 year old, while trying to school 5 other from kindergarten through high school.  It's always a challenge balancing their needs, and I honestly don't think I come even close to doing a great job most days.  Mommy guilt is tough.  I love break weeks because that gives me extra time to spend with my youngest kiddos. 

I think how you handle toddlers during school time depends very much on their personality and temperament.  I have had some toddlers who are quite content to play quietly in their own space, and some that require constant, hands-on entertainment and containment-ha!  Here are some ideas that I have used over the years and that others have shared with me. 

1.  Montessori--I will write more on Montessori at home later, but even toddlers can make use of simple Montessori materials to keep themselves busy while the others work.  In fact, this is one of the reasons I love Montessori so much.

2.  Along with the idea of Montessori materials, have certain activities and toys that only come out at school time.  Some moms will do a busy bag swap.  Some set up special boxes.  You can even look into  The main idea here is to have extra exciting, interesting, special activities and toys for your little ones that only come out during school, and that they can play with in a contained environment. 

3.  School during naptime.  This isn't always practical, but sometimes it is necessary.  We do our science and history work during naptime because the house is quieter, and the bigger kids can actually hear me read-ha!

4.  Have your older kids be more independent.  The reality is, when you have little ones running around, they are going to need you.  This is a great reason to foster independence in your older children.  Work plans are a great way to do this.  Also, having a routine with a typical way they should start their day helps.  If they know they should start their day with copywork, then they will be able to go ahead and get started, without waiting on your to sit down with them.

5.  This year, we actually woke up extra early and schooled in the morning before my then 2 year old woke up.  This gave us a good start while he got plenty of sleep.

6.  Take turns with the toddler.  I have had a few who just need hands-on attention during this time.  We just take turns entertaining that child while I work with other kids.  This isn't always easy, but it does give your older kids a break and gives them some one-on-one time with their younger sibling.

It's just for a season.  Soon, your toddler will be older and can participate more fully in school. It's temporary. Hard. But temporary.

What other tips do you have for entertaining and occupying toddler during school time?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

8th grade

In 8th grade, we continue with the WTM formal reading list, formal logic, Latin and French, and outlining in history.  My 8th graders plan their own schedule and are responsible for their own time management.  They still participate in history and science with younger siblings to some extent, but are doing most of their work own their own.  Most of their time should be spent on science, history, working through their reading list, and writing about their reading at this point. 

In 7th and 8th grade, to go along with our history studies, my students use the Critical Thinking in US History books to build their skills in textual analysis and their confidence in working with primary documents.  These books are involved, but a great way to teach point of view and how to question and apply logic to texts you are reading. 

Math:  Math U See

Language:  Analytical Grammar season 3
                  Vocabulary from Classical Roots C and D
                  Stobaugh's Literary Analysis--great foundation for high school literature

Logic:  Intermediate Logic by Canon Press with dvds

Other:  Music--we do a composer study using some Beautiful Feet resources and The Gift of Music
            Art-Photography and study modern artists and pieces
            French--I have used Tell Me More and power glide, as well as a verb book and a translating book
            Latin-My oldest started high school Latin with Memoria Press online academy using Henle

7th grade

7th grade is a big year.  We begin formal logic instruction in 7th, and I also expect my 7th graders to take charge of their own schedule and planning.  I plan out in my 7th grade folder where I expect them to be each week, but I no longer write a workplan for them.  They are required to get the folder out and write out their own plans in a planner.  They can move as fast or as slow as they want over the year, as long as they don't get behind my goals for them in the folder.  They are completely in charge of their schedule and turning in work on time at this point.

I start a formal reading list in middle school taken mostly from the WTM.  For each of the pieces of literature my student reads, he is required to discuss it with me--literary devices and historical context, and also to write a report evaluation.  There are lots of great resources to help you as a teacher through these discussions.  I will write a post on those soon.  I encourage you again to read the WTM and check out the reading list she gives there. 

Math:  Math U See

Language:  We have finished spelling by 7th, and we start on Vocabulary from Classical Roots A and B
                    Editor in Chief
                    Beyond the Book Report by Analytical Grammar people
                    Analytical Grammar season 2
                    Learning Language Arts through literature-green

Logic:  Introductory Logic by Canon Press (they have a dvd set if you prefer for instruction)
            The Thinking Toolbox
            And if you notice your child needs a little extra help for logic, I love the James Madison Critical Thinking course by Critical Thinking Company.  It teaches formal logic, but in a way that is fun and easy.  You basically follow a series of crimes told in story format, and use logic to sort through and solve each.  We used it as supplement to Introductory and Intermediate Logic in 7th and 8th. 

Other:  French from Memoria Press
             Latin--Second Form Latin
             Music-Understanding Music by Tatchell and Understanding Music by Yudkin (and we listen to music from the time period)
             Art--Scultpting this year with Hands on Sculpting and we study art from the time period
             All about Money/All about Time/All about Talent/Money Matters for Teens


I didn't include any discussion about phonics on my 1st grade page, because I am very child-specific when it comes to reading.  Some of my kids have been fluent readers in 1st.  I have had 1 reading long Harry Potter books in kindergarten.  One was reading American Girl by the middle of the year.  One was just getting through basic readers with fluency.  And one is going into first able to slowly read and sound out basic readers, with no fluency.  And my kindergartener behind her is working on a word level.

I use what works for each kid with phonics.  The first book I ever used was called Teaching your child to read.  It was wonderful for a kinesthetic learner.  You used very active play to teach sounds and games to teach blending.  It was wonderful.  It worked for him.  He was reading Bob readers at 3. 

My very visual learners love Phonics Museum by Veritas Press.  This curriculum is gorgeous.  It uses real artwork from museums as all the illustrations throughout the curriculum.  It is a solid, challenging program.  I don't love the scripting, but I just ignore it and teach it on my own and use the resources and workbook.

My struggling readers tend to go from Phonics Museum to Explode the Code.  This just basic, funny, but not visually distracting reinforcement.  It's easy to use and those of mine that have used it, enjoy it. 

I also use the phonics instruction with Learning Language Arts Through Literature.  The benefit to it is that it's great reinforcement and it is integrated with grammar and the rest of the language arts.  It has been good to boost the skills of my students who are doing better, but not enough for those struggling.

This year, I am thinking about giving All About Reading a try with my 2 English as a second first language speakers.  I think the step by step, very concrete instruction with the letter tiles will be useful for them.  One of mine has a language processing disorder, so the more I can make phonics visually and physically appealling with building words, and less dependent on oral understanding, the better for her.  If you have used All About Reading and loved it/hated it, please share your feedback.

Tons of people use Ordinary Guide to Teaching Reading or Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy lessons, but I have never used either, so I can't give a good review for you.  I have heard they are easy to use.  I am just can't do things normally--ha!

My best advice with phonics curriculum is to know your child's learning style and be flexible.  Teaching a child to read is just not fun.  They will get it.  And be sure to get their eyes checked if you are having never ending struggles!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Online Options

There are so many options out there for online classes.  We have loved doing high school foreign language online, because it allows my student the opportunity to interact and speak with other students learning the same language.  There are things I look for in an online program--is it a real time class?  Is there a teacher available to ask questions and grade?  What level of work is required and how is that work evaluated? 

The 2 programs we have used are Memoria Press Online Academy for Latin and The Potter's School for French.  Memoria Press is a very straightforward, easy to use online class.  The student attends a real time class taught by a live teacher.  She will lecture, and the students participate via a headset.  They can see her, her board, and notes she pins to the screen, and they speak and interact by typing and voice.  They occasionally have individual and group work during class time as well.  If your student is very independent, Memoria Press is great.  Homework is assigned but not graded.  Quizzes are graded weekly relating to the work you complete.  Teachers are readily available to answer questions.

The Potter's School was a wonderful experience this year.  I was blown away by the wide range in variety and level classes they offer.  They have a lot of AP-approved level classes.  My oldest took French through the Potter's School this year, and it was similar to Memoria Press in that it was a live class, interactive, and used text and headset.  The major difference I saw was that homework was turned in and graded weekly for The Potter's School.  The teacher gave feedback on all work, not just quizzes.  He was also required to turn in monthly project.  I loved the thoroughness and feedback of the program.  He also took the optional conversation class that went along with French, and I was super impressed by how much his skills progressed in the combination of the two classes--writing, speaking, reading, etc.  We were very pleased with our experience.

Other online, live class programs I know of include Landry Academy and  Landry also offers science lab intensives that will travel to your area for a day or 2 of hands-on labs, which are a great supplement to science programs.  Math-U-See also offers a co-op program with live classes through their website.  Online classes tend to be pricey, but are a great option especially with foreign language classes or classes that are harder to find resources and support for such as calculus.  If you know of other programs, please feel free to tell me about them in the comments. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why not a boxed curriculum?

There are really great curriculum out there that are boxed, all-in-one curriculum.  Some even would work with my Classical inclinations.  Then why not just used one of those??  The short answer is I'm stubborn, and I don't like to make things easy on myself.  I love the flexibility of putting my own things together.  And I love the ability to change course and follow the interests of my kids. 

That said, even though a boxed curriculum isn't for me, there are some really great ones out there for those that do want the structure and the direction.  Having everything in one is a good way to alleviate that fear of missing something.  I'm not the only one that feels that way right?? 

For people that ask me about curriculum that are just getting started, that see the appeal of the classical style, but are overwhelmed by the planning, I tend to point them toward My Father's World.  This curriculum uses some of my favorite resources, such as Story of the World, but lays everything out for the user in clear cut lesson plans.  It is integrative and chronological, both important things I look for in a curriculum.  It also allows for some flexibility to teach multiple ages at a time.  That is something you just have to have if you have a ton of kids.  No one has time to teach 6 different histories...or sciences...I'm overwhelmed just thinking about it. 

For those that aren't necessarily needing the logical, chronological flow of the Classical style, but are interested in real books, and their kids are strong readers and oral listeners, I point them to Sonlight.  I love Sonlight.  I would love to use Sonlight.  But it's not chronological, and I need that.  However, what Sonlight does really well is allow kids to learn through reading.  The curriculum is based off of the literature you read, and it is good lit.  I actually use this site and use a lot of their book suggestions, but in a WTM cycle.  Sonlight also allows for multi-age teaching and gives you step by step directions and lesson plans.

For those that tend toward unit studies, you might want to explore a curriculum like Konos, or even the newer, but very promising Trail Guide to Learning series.

There are so many choices out there that aren't just your typical school-at-home set, but that still give you step by step support if you are looking for it.  If you know of others, please feel free to comment and let me know about them.  I know there are many more.  Some I know about and some I don't.  I am always looking to learn about new resources. 

6th grade

In 6th grade, we continue our early logic studies, as well as Latin.

Math:  Math-U-See
           Another great math resource that I have used as a supplement at times is the Life of Fred series.  These are written more in novel form and are great for kids that are more verbal and less math. 

Language: Spelling Workout--we finish spelling this year and move onto something different the next year
                   Editor in Chief from the Critical Thinking Company
                  Analytical grammar--More on this curriculum coming later.  It is taught in 3 "seasons"-so it covers 3 years--6th, 7th, and 8th grades here. 
                  I am super excited about Analytical Grammar's new writing curriculum.  I haven't used it yet, but it sounds like what I'm looking for in these grades to replace Writing Strands.  It's called Beyond the Book Report and it works with Analytical Grammar.  We plan to use this with future 6th-8th graders
                  Learning Language Arts Through Literature-green

Logic:  The Fallacy Detective
             Critical Thinking book 1 and 2 from the Crititcal Thinking Company
             And we continue with Mind Benders and Red Herrings from the Critical Thinking Company

Other:  Latina Christiana 2
             The Easy French 2b--with some verb book work and translating
             Art-We continue to study the art that is relevant to our time period, but in 6th we also study painting techniques with Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered
             Music-we listen to music from our time period and use graphic organizers to start evaluating and not just passively listening

Saturday, June 22, 2013

5th grade

5th grade begins what the classical world calls the logic stage.  At this point, your student developmentally is probably asking questions about why things are the way they are.  They are looking for more than just facts.  They have the basics down, and now they want the why.  This is the point when you can start teaching logic skills to your child.  Before this point, developmentally they are ready for amassing large quantities of information.  In 1st-4th grade, I fill them up with facts and information.  In 5th-8th grade, we focus on how to process that information---how to look for fallacies and weaknesses in arguments, how to not just take information at face value.  I don't start with formal logic in the beginning.  In 5th an 6th grade, we work more on logic puzzles and critical thinking skills, so that by 7th and 8th, we can study logic more formally.  I also beginning our Latin studies in 5th grade, and we begin the WTM's approach to art technique--see below. 

Math:  Math U See

Language:  Spelling Workout
                    Editor-in-Chief (this is written as a series of articles that the student edits.  It's great for working on and refining punctuation/capitalization skills--by The Critical Thinking Company)
                    Writing Strands--again, thinking about changing this one
                    Learning Language Arts Through Literature-tan book
                    Jr. Analytical Grammar:  Mechanics

Logic:  Mind Benders and Red Herrings books from The Critical Thinking Company  (they have tons of really awesome resources!)

Other:  The Easy French 2a
              Latina Christiana 1
             Maps, Charts and Graphs for geography
             Art--in 5th we study drawing with Drawing on the right side of the brain.  Over the logic stage, we study drawing one year, painting the next, sculpture the next, and finally photography
            Music-We use the Young Person's guide to the orchestra and The Story of the Incredible Orchestra as explained in the WTM

Middle School/Logic stage history

In the logic stage, I expect more out of my students than just narration.  My 5th-8th graders still participate with us with our Story of the World work and unit study work, but they go beyond that work on their own.  For those students we begin the process of outlining. 

First of all--the why.  Outlining is a very important skill.  To be able to read a text and tease out the most important information is very important to comprehension and rentention.  It is also a skill they will need in reverse when they start writing essays and longer papers.  Practicing by directly observing the struture of other's written work, will make this process of organizing their own work easier and more natural.

To outline, my 5th graders read a corresponding or connected section in our Kingfisher History Encyclopedia.  That student will then take the section (1 or 2 pages) a paragraph at a time.  The main idea of paragraph 1 goes with the I. in the outline.  The main idea of paragraph 2 is roman numeral 2 and so on.  The sections in Kingfisher are not so long that the process is overwhelming, but they are meaty enough that the student is learning more details and practicing the art of selection.  In 5th grade, this outline will be a one-step outline:

In 6th grade, we begin 2 step outlines.  Paragraphs are not just given the roman numeral and the main idea, but the main facts behind the main point will be now labelled.

In 7th and 8th grade, these 2 step outlines become 3 step outlines, and a 1, 2, 3, etc are added below the letters.  The WTM does a good job of explaining how to outline and giving specific examples.  I highly recommend you read that section before you start outlining with your child. 

So basically, logic stage history is grammar stage history with the family, plus independent outlining of Kingfisher. The Story of the World activity book lists out for you already the relevant pages of Kingfisher that match each chapter. All that work is already done for you.

Edited to add:  My logic stage students also have a blank timeline book.  I like the one Sonlight puts out.  They will add important dates to their timeline book, color coded by type of date. 

SOTW my way

Edited to add: In elementary and middle school, we work on memorizing the lists given in the WTM to go along with each year cycle, and we also work through learning the countries of the world by continent. We also have a blank timeline on the wall and a blank map on the wall and we input the informaton we study from each SOTW chapter on those 2 resources each day we do history. We do history 2 days a week around here.

As I mentioned in my first post on history here, I re-order Story of the World.  No, I don't think this is necessary.  I think you can use Story of the World straight through and it is fine.  It is really excellently written (and I am picky about history).  However, it jumps too much for us, and I also want to set it up in a way that is conducive to using unit studies and slowing down to study a topic with more depth.  And so I re-order and group Story of the World.  Below is our basic structure for each year of the WTM cycle as requested.

(Look for some of my year specific posts soon on some of my favorite resources for each year of the WTM cycle.  I also love this link which gives you great ideas for books to go along with SOTW that are included in the Sonlight program.)

Year 1:  Intro-what is history-week 1--intro, ch. 1
              Egypt--weeks 2-5--ch. 2, 3, 4, 12, 13
              Mesopotamia--weeks 6-9--ch. 5, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17
              India---weeks 10-12--ch. 9, 30, 31
              China--weeks 13-15--ch. 10, 32, 33
              Africa--weeks 16-17--ch. 11
              Greeks--weeks 18-22--ch. 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24
              Persia--weeks 23-24--ch. 21
              Hellenistic world--weeks 25, 26--ch. 25
              Rome--weeks 27-32--ch. 27, 28, 29, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42
              Americas--weeks 33-36--ch. 26

Year 2:  Fall of Rome/Germanic Tribes--weeks 1-2--ch. 1, 4
              Islamic Empire--weeks 3-5--ch. 6, 7, 12, 24
              Europe:  Knights, castles, Vikings, Crusades, etc--weeks. 6-13--ch. 2, 3, 15, 16, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23
              India--weeks 14-15--ch. 5, 30
              China--weeks 16-17--ch. 8, 21, 22
              Japan--weeks 18-19--ch. 9, 10
              Americas and africa--weeks 20-21--ch. 29, 32
              Fall of the Middle Ages--weeks 22-24--ch. 25, 26, 27
              Renaissance--weeks 25-27--ch. 35, 39
              Reformation--weeks 28-30--ch. 34, 36
              Exploration--weeks 31-36--ch. 28, 31, 33, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42

Year 3:  Pre-European North America, colonies--weeks 1-4--ch. 1, 4, 6, 7
              Stuarts and Civil War in England--weeks 5-7--ch. 3, 9, 12, 8, 18
              Tokugawa Japan, Imperialism--weeks 8-12--ch. 5, 10, 11, 19, 20, 24, 28, 39, 41
              Absolutism--weeks 13-15--ch. 13, 14, 15, 21
              Englightenment--weeks 16-17--ch. 16, 17, 26
              18th century colonial life, Revolution, constitution--weeks 18-26--ch. 22, 23, 36, 37
              French Rev, Latin Am Rev, Industrial Rev--weeks 27-32--ch. 25, 29, 33, 30, 34, 35, 27, 31
              Westward Migration--weeks 33-36--ch. 32, 38, 40, 42

(We also build our state history studies into Year 4.  I have extra reading on our particular state's history that we add into our studies in context.  ex.  We study the Civil War, and we also read a section on our state's history specifically in the Civil War.)
Years 4:  Asia and Africa--weeks 1-4--ch. 1b, 2a, 3, 4b, 8b, 9, 10, 11, 12b
                Industrial Revolution and Modernism--weeks 5-8--ch. 8a, 1a, 2a, 12a, 14
                Americas:  Civil War, Latin America, Mexican Rev.--weeks 9-15--ch. 6, 13, 5, 16
                Unification of Germany, WWI, Russian Rev--weeks 16-20--ch. 4a, 7, 18, 15, 20, 21, 23
                Post War, Depression, Fascism, WWII, Holocaust, Atom Bomb--weeks 21-29--ch. 26, 24, 27, 19, 28, 29, 31, 22
                Cold War, 50s-80s--weeks 30-36--ch. 35, 38, 32, 33, 34, 30, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42

Elementary History

I get a lot of questions about how I do history.  Since history is my field, I piece together my own history really.  I can tell you my approach, and I am happy to send you my lessons plans if you want to see what that looks like.  There are also other great curriculum out there that are laid out for you.  This post, and the next couple will cover how we approach history here.  I will write a post soon with other suggestions for history curriculum that are done very well and would be a great choice if you are looking for something that comes more planned for you.

For the grammar stage (1st-4th grade), I use Story of the World as our core text.  I love Story of the World.  It is chronological, entertaining, and covers just enough information.  I love love love the mapwork and the discussion questions that are already for me in the activity book, as well as the games and crafts we can choose from and the literature suggestions.  There are a couple of things I don't love about Story of the World.  First of all, I don't love the order of the chapters usually.  It jumps too much for me.  I have re-ordered and grouped chapters in a way that allows more of a unit study approach.  I will give you those details in a 2nd post.  Second of all, I have children who don't process orally well.  For those kids, reading the chapter isn't going to be enough.  It is for those kids especially that I love the hands-on activities.  Story of the World can be used just the way it is and done well. Just pick a chapter a read.  Add on as much or as little as you want from the activity book.  No pre-planning required. 

Our basic approach is to read the chapter, answer the questions, and do the mapwork.  After we have completed a chapter, my grammar stage kids will narrate what they have just heard.  For a 1st grader, that means they will tell me a brief summary, I will write it for them, and then they will draw a picture.  A 2nd grader will write a few sentences on their own and draw a picture.  A 3rd grader will write a paragraph and and work toward half a page.  A 4th grader will be writing a full page by the end of the year.

After we have completed Story of the World work, we will choose from the variety of activities in the activity book.  It contains games, crafts, cooking, and larger projects.  We do as many or as few of these as we have time and interest.  I also usually have other reading and resources to go along with the topic, and we pick and choose from the suggested further reading. 

Since I have re-ordered the chapters, it is very easy for me to stop our basic Story of the World work and throw in a unit study if my kids are particularly interested, or if I find the topic very important.  For instance, when we cover the modern world, we always do the couple of chapters in Story of the World on the Civil War and then we break off and do much more.  We read books, watch movies, visit battlefields, build diaromas, go to re-enactments, and complete literature-based unit studies like those from Teacher-Created Materials.  We will take 4-6 weeks to study the Civil War, and do significantly more than Story of the World does on that topic because it is fun.

That's basically our approach--Story of the World as our base, but re-structured, and allowing time for deeper exploration with additional resources, building literature into our history study.  Next, I will give you the info on how I re-order SOTW chapters as requested.

Edited to add:  In elementary and middle school, we work on memorizing the lists given in the WTM to go along with each year cycle, and we also work through learning the countries of the world by continent.  We also have a blank timeline on the wall and a blank map on the wall and we input the informaton we study from each SOTW chapter on those 2 resources each day we do history.  We do history 2 days a week around here. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

4th grade

I have a year off from 4th grade next year, with one just finishing, but this is what 4th grade looks like here.

Math:  You guessed it--Math-U-See
           But in 4th, I also add in a Simply Charlotte Mason math curriculum--because it's fun, and it's good reinforcment, and solid practical skills.  Your Business Math let's the student pick a type of store to run--we have the pet store, but there is also a book store or a sports store.  It walks your student through ordering inventory, filling orders, writing checks, paying bills and taxes, advertising, and calculating profit.  Kids love it.  I love to see them eager to practice their basic math skills.  Win-win

Language:  Learning Language Arts Through Lit
                   Jr Analytical Grammar--I love this curriculum.  It's easy to use and they get the grammar concepts.  I have a short lesson I go over with them once a week, and they have practice pages the rest of the week.  It teaches parsing and diagramming, but in a way that even my most reluctant diagrammer can get it.  And yes, I love diagramming.  I think it takes understanding to another level to have to think not just part of speech, but relationship to the whole sentence.  And it will help Latin learning later on, and vice versa.  I've been very pleased with this curriculum for grammar.  One thing that is very different about it is that it doesn't last the entire year.  The writers have an interesting, yet convincing philosophy on grammar learning, but it is working for us. 
                   Vocab--I give a list they look up in the dictionary
                   Journal--I give a prompt and they write a 1 page, cursive response
                   Writing Stories--creative writing
                   Proofreading Paragraphs
                   Again--I typically use Writing Strands, but we are looking to make changes here

Other:  Geography with Maps, Charts, and Graphs
            Art Smart
            In 4th, we go through the entire level 1 The Easy French

Foreign languages??!!

I know one area that tends to scare a lot of homeschoolers is teaching a foreign language.  To be fair, with some programs, it isn't easy if you don't know the language, and a person will never develop fluency without total immersion (see my post later on exchange students ;) ), but I still think foreign language exposure is very important.

Learning a foreign language helps you understand grammar and syntax in a way you won't appreciate until you are working through translations.  Learning a language helps you learn about other cultures and people groups, and gets you outside of your own preconceived world view.  And learning a language can be fun.

Around here, we start learning French very young.  Why French?  Why young?  We do French because I know French.  It's just that simple.  If I knew Spanish, we would start there, or German, or Russian, or any other language.  If you know even a little of a language, that's a good place to start.  If you know none, that's ok too.  I think it is very important to start kids hearing and being exposed to language young because our ears and specifically designed to process language and sound at young ages.  Those skills are harder as we get older.  Even my preschoolers are exposed to French vocabulary and voices through games and cd's. 

By 2nd grade, we start the curriculum The Easy French to increase their exposure (there is also The Easy Spanish).  This curriculum is a gentle way to start a language and make it fun.  It uses an immersion technique where the student will listen to a conversation with French words sprinkled throughout.  They will understand the words in context.  Then you are given a variety of activities you can complete throughout the week to build up those skills.  We use The Easy French from 2nd-6th grade.  It is great for vocabularly and building pronounciation skills.  It isn't super formal or grammatically-base.  At that point, we branch out and use the French curriculum from Memoria Press.  This curriculum allows my student to learn French a little more formally with grammar instruction to go along with vocabulary learning.  For high school, we have been using BJU French materials in an online class, and have found this combination to be working very well.  I put my oldest in an online class at this point, so that he has the opportunity to hear a variety of French speakers and not just my voice.  The class is live and he participates with a headseat through the computer.  More on online classes later. 

In 5th grade, we add in Latin instruction.  Most traditional, classical schoolers will start Latin first.  There are many arguments for why to teach Latin.  However, Latin is not a spoken language and we lose our ear for hearing the nuances of language as we get older.  For my family, I would rather focus on a modern, spoken language when they are younger to take advantage of their natural abilities, and add in a more formal Latin education in the logic stage.  Once you've worked on learning one foreign language, a 2nd...or an easier process.  We stick with Memoria Press curriculum for Latin--Latina Christiana and First Form, Second Form, etc.  There are lots of other good programs out there, and Memoria Press isn't exciting, but I find it to be straightforward and easy to use, and they have a DVD set that you can buy to go with them.  Since I don't know Latin myself, this is a big plus for me.  In 8th grade, my oldest began online study of high school level Latin with Memoria Press online academy using the Henle materials. 

And to round out our language study, my children will be allowed to select a 3rd language for their high school years--continuing Latin and French as well.  My oldest has chosen Russian, after experiencing that language first hand while we were in Ukraine adopting.  He is using a Pimsleur program paired with Russian in 10 Minutes a Day.  I have been very impressed with how much he has learned through those programs. 

If you are reading this thinking, wow, 3 languages is crazy, keep in mind that for the rest of the world, 2-3 foreign languages is the norm.  Students around the world start learning other languages young and add more languages through their educational career.  And they do it well.  Not only can our students handle this level of learning, they need it to be competitive in this world. 

If teaching a foreign language thoroughly intimdates you, be encouraged that there are so many choices and resources out there from free online resources, to online classes, to video and audio programs.  Do your research and you will find something that fits your family.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

3rd grade

3rd grade--This is what 3rd grade typically looks like around here.  I will have a 3rd grader next year again.  By this age, homeschooling usually gets more fun for me.  They are getting the basics down.  Reading is getting better.  They know the routine.  Now my oldest, he was not easier at this age.  But that's another post entirely. 

Math:  Math-U-See

Language:  1st Language Lessons 4 (some will still be on 3)
                   Learning Language Arts Through Literature--we always work a grade level up
                   Vocabulary--I give them a list of 5-10 words each week to look up in the dictionary
                   Journal-I give them a prompt, and they write a page response.  I require this to be in cursive and I use this opportunity to talk about handwriting and refining those skills
                   Writing Stories--I add in a creative writing book and we start working on the concept of plot, and other relevant literary terms
                   Info Please--this is a research book which teaches the basics of how to find information.  That looks different now than it did when I was a kid, but these are still relevant and important skills, although they might involve a computer more than actual books these days.
                   Writing Strands--I have used this in the past, but I am actually looking for a new writing curriculum. 
                   Proofreading Paragraphs--This is an editing curriculum similar to Editor-in-Chief where they edit a paragraph for punctuation.  We do 1 paragraph each week.
                    Spelling Workout

Other:  Geography with Maps, Charts, and Graphs
            Art Smart
            French--The Easy French 1 (2nd 1/2)
            some kind of Bible/devotion

Planning--how do I keep up with all this?

So many people, especially those just starting out, struggle with how to organize and plan.  What does that physically look like?  My system is just that--my system.  It works for me.  You will have other needs and preferences, but maybe this will give you a good starting off point or some ideas you can pick and choose from.  You are welcome to use all of these ideas, none of these ideas, or pick and choose as it works for your family.

To begin with, I separate by grade level and by year of the WTM cycle.  I have a folder for each grade level and a binder for each WTM year.  In each grade folder, I break my plans for the year into 36 individual weeks--math, language, foreign language, logic, art, anything else that is grade specific.  I don't put a lot of detail here.  I just divide out the curriculum or resources into an even flow over the course of the year.  I build in lighter weeks around holidays and toward the end of the year as I can. 

In each binder, I lay out my rough plans for grammar stage, logic stage, and rhetoric stage history/literature and science.  Typically, this is a chart with a range of weeks (say week 1-4), a topic we will study during those weeks, Kingfisher pages related to that topic, SOTW chapters related to that topic, and additional resources I might have collected related to that topic.  See my post on teaching history for more detail.  I do not break these plans into what I plan to cover each week in particular.  It is a rough guide.  I tend to make these plans at Christmas the school year before, but normal people could do this planning over the summer-ha!  I keep these binders and grade folder intact and on my shelves so that when the next child comes to that grade, I can just pull out the folder and tweak for his/her specific needs.

Storing curriculum--I have shelves where I keep grade-specific curriculum in order.  At the beginning of each set, I put the grade level folder so that it is easy for me to distinguish.  I also have a shelf (or 2) for each year cycle of WTM with history, literature, art, music, and science resources related to that specific year. 

Throughout the year then, we do 4 weeks of school and take a week off.  We complete 32 weeks between the middle of August and the middle of May.  I spread the remaining 4 weeks out over the summer as we have time, to complete a full 36 weeks. 

I use those break weeks to do my specific planning for each child.  I take their folders and write out a workplan (see my post on workplans) for each of the next 4 weeks with what I expect each child to complete in each subject over the week.  I can go through each subject quickly because I have a list of each one in the folder with my year-overview plans.  I can also evaluate if a child is struggling somewhere or if something isn't working.  During those break weeks, I also decide how to divide up the history/lit/science plans I have over the 4 weeks and write out those plans.  This break week is great for gathering any supplies we might need for history or science, going to the library or ordering books to read, field trips, appointments, educational movies, or any other ways to solidify the learning we have just completed.  It gives my kids a chance to re-charge and process the previous 4 weeks, and it gives me a chance to get caught up on everything in my world.  This is by far one of my favorite homeschooling decisions.  Some people take a break after 5 or 6 weeks, but work it out over a real calendar. With Christmas break in the middle, you finish about the same time regardless.  4 weeks is about what it takes my kids to start acting like they need a break. I want them excited a learning at their peak.

I often use free resources like the ones you can find free on the Donna Young Printable website to create my lesson plans.  I love paperwork and organizing though.  You might not.  You might just want to create a simple word or excel document to lay out your plans. 

I don't keep grades until my kids enter high school, so I don't do a lot of record keeping for the younger grades, but I do keep their workplans and each month evaluate their progress.  See my post on high school to learn more about how I record keep for those years. 

This system works for me and makes my life easier with lots of kids and repeating grades every other year with a new kid.  I do not want to re-create the wheel.  In a couple of years, I will be to the point that I have grade level folders for all grades and I only have to re-evaluate for specific kids each year.  Almost there!

What does a day look like? Workplans and Independence

I get asked all the time what a typical day looks like at my house.  The short answer is that changes from year to year.  I have never homeschooled without a toddler and or infant underfoot or on my hip...or both.  Year to year, we might start earlier in the day or later, read aloud during naptime or over lunch, or even take turns with a little one, if they are a particularly difficult or distracting little one.  More on all of that in the next few posts. 

So, it changes, but the routine is basically this.  We get up at a set time.  My kids do their best work in the mornings, and we typically start at 8.  Last year, we started at 7:30 because my then 2 year old was a late sleeper, and we could get a lot done before he woke up for the day.  We school during the morning for a few hours.  The preschool/kindy kids do Montessori during that time, and the older kids do language, math, and other work on their own.  I might stop at their table to do language with them or to answer a question, or they might get up to watch a math DVD.  I might stop in with a little to introduce a new lesson or to some group work, but each day looks a little different, with the same kind of flow.  We all work together in the same classroom space from high school down to the toddler on the floor playing.  Life isn't quiet and uninterrupted and their school environment isn't either-ha! 

We usually wrap up around 10-11 and then will head upstairs to eat lunch and play.  My high schooler is probably still working at this point or has found somewhere to read quietly or is signed into the computer for an online class.  After lunch, my youngest kiddos nap and I do history or science with older kids.  My high schooler is on his own.  I will have discussions with him as needed, or in the evening, but he rarely needs my assistance.  We do have a designated time each week to discuss his history/literature and science work.  After naps, we typically head out the door to an activity or the park. 

This is our typical Monday-Thursday.  Friday is reserved for art and music--mess and play, history projects that are more involved and we didn't get to, science projects that are more involved, or if we are in a unit study, we dig in more with that on Fridays.  And my high schooler attends debate and speech on Fridays.  With my English as a second first language learners, Fridays usually involves listening exercises and fine motor skill building.

The key to making our school work like this is independence.  I know, I know.  I can hear you now.  Not all kids are independent.  My oldest was not at all.  And it took years, but that was still our goal with him.  He has it now.  More on how we got there soon. 

I start them early with independence.  Montessori is naturally conducive to independent work.  In 1st grade, as we transition to more traditional schooling we start workplans.  Each week, each child gets a new workplan in his binder with all the copies he might need that week.  Each child has his own shelf with all the resources he will need for the year.  That child is responsible for going through the workplan and completing that work by the end of the week and placing finished work in the back of the binder.  I can not always stop working with one kid to run check and see if another kid has finished his work.  If the child has no questions, the work goes in the back when it is finished, and I can check as I come around.  This cuts out the multiple kids screaming, "look!  I finished it!!  Mom!!  Look!" that tends to happen otherwise, and which interupts everyone else that is working. 

The workplans I write are basically checklists of the work they should complete.  I use a form that is basically a series of boxes, and I put one subject in each box with the work to be complete, the book to be read, the memorization work to focus on, etc.  If a task should be done each day over the week, I label 1 2 3 4 next to the assignment, and the child can check a number each day.  Workplans give them control over which tasks they do when.  And it also helps them take ownership of their own work.  They are responsible for making decisions about what subjects to do which day.  If a child wants to finish the week early, they can.  If they want to do all of a subject on Monday, they can.  They are learning time management and decision making skills.  My 1st graders get a workplan, and I guide them through these skills over the course of the year.  By 2nd grade, they are able to get right to work on their own each day. 

For those kids that are not as self-motivated and independent, it might be a longer process, but it is a worthy goal.  Stick with it. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2nd grade

Ok, continuing the theme.  2nd grade at my house is much more independent.  In 1st grade, I walk my kids into a routine of looking on their workplan daily, completing work, and returning it to their binders.  Each kid's books are stored on their own shelf, and they learn how to find their books and complete their tasks.  They have freedom to choose the order and the day the work is completed, as long as it is completed by the end of the week.  I will write a whole post on how that works and what that looks like soon.  By 2nd grade, they should have this routine down, and their reading skills are improving so they can complete most work without me. 

Math:  Math-U-See--see 1st grade for my why's--Beta or Gamma

Language:  Learning Language Arts Through Literature
                  1st Language Lessons 2 or 3
                  Spelling Workout
                  And we begin cursive with the I Can Write Cursive series and Pictures in Cursive
                  (See:  What Cursive Does for Your Brain)

Other:  Maps, Charts, and Graphs for Geography
            Art Smart
            Typing games
            Listening activities
            We also start formal studies of French in 2nd grade--I will write a post on why French and why young soon.  In 2nd, we use The Easy French and do the 1st half of that curriculum with 1 lesson every 2 weeks.  It includes listening and activities to go along with learning, and uses the immersion method.  More on foreign language in another post. 

High School Science

When my oldest was starting high school, I started my research again.  High School science.  I had great ideas about what I wanted for him.  I wanted hands-on, research-based learning.  I didn't want him reading a textbook and regurgetating the facts he had just read on a test.  I also don't want my kids to suffer with lab sciences and lack of materials because we home school.  I want to see microscope work, dissection, and true experiments that use the scientific method.

Most everyone uses Apologia, so I looked at it.  But, as you know by now, I am massively stubborn and can't just use what other people are using.  Apologia seemed thorough and well-organized to me.  It included labs and activities.  It just felt too textbooky to me.  I didn't want to just hand him the information.  I wanted him to have to work for it. 

I searched and I searched and I just could not find what I was seeking.  I read review after review of all the typical curriculum choices, until I stumbled on a review for the Science for High School series.  This was what I was looking for all this time.  This series is research based.  Each week, your student will be given a series of questions which they need to research answers.  I bought my son a few standard textbooks he could use to do his research, but this research could be done on the internet or at a library, or a combination.  Each week, the text included a relevant lab, as well as a quiz. 

Our approach was basically background reading on Monday.  Research on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Discussion and lab on Thursday.  Quiz on Friday.  I also had him watch any relevant Khan videos, and write lab reports each week.  For background reading, he read from Biology:  A Self-Teaching Guide, as recommended in WTM. 

We loved the approach to learning Biology.  Active learning kept his interest and made him work for his knowledge and understanding.  It was a good, basic first biology course and the labs were interesting and relevant.  They included dissection and microscope work.  You will definitely need a good microscope if you choose this curriculum.  I had no difficulties finding the specimen and equipment we needed (Home Science Tools), and the author was easy to contact when I had questions.  I did find a few errors in the teacher's book, and had to be careful grading because the numbering was different on a couple of quizzes, but overall, we were very pleased and plan to use the curriculum for chemistry next year.  At this point, she has written physical science, biology, and chemistry.  Physics is due out soon.  Yes--that makes me very excited.

Our high school plan is Biology 1 in 9th, Chemistry in 10th, Advanced Biology with the intent of seeking AP credit and AP testing in 11th, and Physics in 12th.  That plan might alter depending on the child and their interest/future plans, but that is the rough plan at this point.