Homeschooling 4th Grade: Our Schedule and “My Master List”

desktop-1
My desktop. I keep my daily attendance charts and my master list right in front of me so that I don’t forget to use them.

As I wrote in my last post, it’s hard to believe we are beginning to homeschool fourth grade. I’m slowly making my way to the harder stuff, but as I sit down to think about the priorities I have for my boys, I’m sticking mostly to the basics with a few exceptions. The great thing about homeschooling is that I can tailor my curriculum to their needs, so this post reflects not only what I need to teach my 10-year-old but what I feel he needs the most. It also reflects what he’s most interested in doing right now too.

Our Schedule

If you want to see a well drawn out schedule (and chart), then you’ll need to refer to my post about his 1st grade schedule and curriculum. That worked well that year. Now there’s more to teach, and our days are more full because my son practices piano 2 hours a day (1 hour after lunch and 1 hour after dinner), and he has one or two piano lessons per week (depending on his needs and our money situation), and my other son has two appointments per week plus a class at the botanical garden he will be attending once a month. We have appointments Monday-Thursday, but luckily most of them are not long, so I still have most of the morning to teach. However, it’s still a lot, and this makes me wonder how other homeschooling families get any lessons done when I hear about all their extracurricular activities!

I sat down at my computer and I made a rough sketch of our week, plugging in appointments, and then I tried to add the lessons according to what I felt I could accomplish on each day. We do all our lessons before lunch so that after lunch we’re free to pursue other things, and now that I’ve been homeschooling a while, I have a pretty good idea how long it’ll take to get through a lesson. In general, it always takes longer than I think it will. I began to realize that there’s not enough time to do everything in a week. Is this something new? No, no it’s not. Sigh.

Not having enough time is the way of Life. But I still need to teach the basics, so as I stared at my list of priorities and those extra things I’d like to teach, I decided that instead of having a daily schedule, I’m going to rotate the lessons or either use my own judgement as to what is important to work on that day. (See below for more detail.) This means it may take me a week and a half or more to get through all the lessons I want to teach. It’s an experiment. I’m going to try it, and I’ll let you know how it goes. 

My List

Before I share our curriculum, I’ll share the “Master List” I keep in front of me at my computer. I wrote a list like this in the summer, and it worked well as a simple reminder of what we are working on and what I’d like to work on when we get some free time or need a change. I refer to it each morning when I decide what we’ll tackle that day.

There is always something that jumps out at me on that list, and it will say, “You haven’t worked on this in awhile.” That’s pretty much how I decide what to work on. As I mentioned above, it’s basically a rotation of sorts. But sometimes it might say, “You really need to keep working on this.” If so, we’ll do that. I will also jot down ideas that the boys want to do, and I’ll also rotate in time spent outdoors, baking together, or anything else that seems important.

First, I wrote my priorities.

Priorities for the 10-year-old

piano & piano theory & music history
math
science
writing/spelling/keyboarding

Work on everyday or rotate, if possible

read aloud
times tables

Extras

News-O-Matic & election news
Amazon prime shows
citizen science projects
art
foreign language

I will probably take turns starting the day with a read aloud or the times tables. Then, I will rotate working on our math curriculum, science curriculum, and my son’s effort to write, spell and learn keyboarding. He will practice piano everyday because this is his thing (a.k.a. he wants to!), but I also have to make time during our lessons for him to fill out his piano theory book. I’ll try to do that once a week. He also loves to read about the lives of the great composers, so we’ll throw that in frequently.

The “extras” are just that – extras. I will throw them in when we need a change. My son enjoys looking at News-O-Matic, and the Amazon prime shows are short (15 minute) educational shows that I have them watch when I’m not quite ready in the morning, and I need 15 more minutes to throw in some laundry or what-have-you. The citizen science is a big, personal project of mine, and I try to include the boys in it as much as I can. It’s usually a good excuse to get out into nature.

After I feel like we’ve got a good hold on our schedule and curriculum, I will probably begin “Art Fridays” again or something similar to it. It’s always been my intention to teach a foreign language, but that’s been tremendously hard to do since I don’t speak another language. I’m going to be spending some time researching curriculums and coming up with a plan for this, but it remains low on my priority list this year. Still, we might throw in an episode of Salsa now and then.

I think this post is long enough, so I’ll write about the curriculum resources we’re using in my next post….

 

How did we get to the 4th grade? And my new definition of child-led learning.

I can’t believe I’m here: homeschooling fourth grade. Although I’ve always planned to homeschool for the long-term, I’m not sure that when I started this blog I thought I would see the words “fourth grade” on it. At that point, anything beyond 1st grade seemed so far in the future. For that matter, “age 10” seemed light years away, but here we are. It comes fast.

It’s not just fun science experiments and readalouds anymore, although we still do those things too. But I’m at a point where our homeschool looks much less child-led even though in so many ways, it is. (I think this post will explain how, but in a big general sense, our whole lives are centered around our boys’ interests and unique abilities.) I also want to make sure my kids get a solid education, and I’ve decided that unschooling is not for us (I never thought it was). It’s all very hard to balance.

There are only so many hours in the week, so only part of our time is spent doing exactly what my boys want to do, but I do try to make sure they know we can stop and focus on a project, if they have an idea they want to pursue. Their biggest interests, however, have weaved themselves into our daily lives, so I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough to make room for new stuff, but I think if there’s something they really want to do, it’ll happen.

The other part of our homeschool life is like “I see you’re interested in this, so I’m going to make sure you have a solid foundation in these things that will help you with that,” and then sometimes our homeschool looks like “I feel this is an important thing for you to learn. How can I teach it so that you will enjoy it? Or at least do it without crying?”

I have been getting some e-mails from moms thinking about homeschooling or just beginning to homeschool. (Thank you! I love hearing from you.) One thing I’ve tried to impart is that when you homeschool, you can spread out the learning over years. That is, unless you are planning to put your child into a more traditional school setting in the near future, there is no timeline for when you need to teach X, Y and Z: those specific subjects and details you might see listed in a “What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know” book.

I’m not saying to not teach anything. (Or, if you’re unschooling, to not follow your child’s interests and help facilitate the learning.) What I’m saying is that you can focus on the things that comes easier to your child, and you can wait on the things that might torture him. This is because as your child gets older, he will 1) be more mature and easier to reason with, 2) may be more ready to learn the material without difficulty, and 3) may be able to tell you why the material is so difficult and perhaps help find a new way of approaching it. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why schools fail. They do not (and cannot) tailor education to the needs of the individual child, and I do believe every child (in an ideal world) should have an individualized education.

I have followed this approach for the most part because in the beginning I made the mistake of trying to teach reading too early, and then there have been things I’d really love to incorporate into our homeschooling day, but as I enthusiastically began my lesson the boys began to look as lively as the dried up, wilted tomato plants in my garden right now, and I realized that they would learn nothing, if I proceeded. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. There is no point in teaching something when a child has absolute no interest in it. A child at the very least needs to understand the reason why it’s a good idea to learn it. Otherwise, I don’t think they will retain much of the information, so I’ve concluded that it’s a waste of my time and theirs to try to teach it.

Now that my son is ten-years-old, I’m going to dust off some of those “I’d really love for you to learn this” subjects, and we’re going to start anew. The challenge I have with him is writing. He can write, but he doesn’t like it, and he thinks he can’t spell, so I’m going to be experimenting with a number of ideas I have to get him more comfortable with writing and spelling this year. I will tell you some of those ideas in an upcoming post, but I’m also going to be willing to ditch any of them, if they just don’t work. And I don’t mean I’m going to let him not work. There is a difference in my opinion between how a child acts when he’s just being stubborn and when the task is seriously going to wreck his self-esteem. I’m going to have to figure out what will work for him even if he doesn’t love it, but I’m not going to torture him either. I would love for him to love writing, but if he doesn’t love it, I want him to at least feel confident that he can do it. We will move forward slow but steady.

I spent a couple of days after we returned from Chicago to think about my priorities for this year, and how we’ll spend our time to get the work done. It’s a constant work in progress to find the right balance in our days. But I’ll tell you what I’ve come up with in my next post…that is, the compass I’ll use to get me started. We may change course throughout the year, but it’s always good to have a compass in case we get totally lost.🙂

Are you starting a new challenge this year? Please tell me about it.

A Visit to Chicago

taken from a window in the Field Museum
taken from a window in the Field Museum

I’m learning that, no matter how much you love home, you need to get away sometimes too. We spent the first two weeks of September in Chicago visiting relatives. Despite being sick for half the trip, and my poor husband was sick pretty much the whole time (and working too!), it was still nice to get away. We didn’t do everything we set out to do, but we still did a lot thanks to some reciprocal membership programs that we’re part of.

The Field Museum. “Sue” is the largest and best preserved T-Rex specimen ever found. This time we visited her with the knowledge of how she was found and the controversy surrounding her after watching the documentary Dinosaur 13. Fascinating stuff.

We went to the Field Museum, which we’ve been to several times now. It’s my favorite place in Chicago, I think, and I never get tired of it.

Museum of Science and Industry. This museum is also home to the U-505 Submarine, a German sub that was captured on June 4, 1944. It also has a great exhibit on the weather with a large, simulated tornado, and my personal fav exhibit is on the human body.

We also went to the Museum of Science and Industry. That was our second time there. It’s a great museum, if you haven’t seen it, and especially if you like airplanes.

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden. Ahhhhh….

My other favorite place is the Chicago Botanic Garden. I wish I could spend a whole day there by myself, but I love going with my family too.

My boys spent some time with their Polish relatives, which is an education in itself! I sometimes feel like I’m going to a foreign country when we visit family in Chicago. I love the flowers in my in-laws yard and all the home-cooked Polish food.

It was an odd time of year for us to go away, but that’s the nice thing about homeschooling. You can be flexible and go when you want to go.

Since we went away, I had to put off our homeschooling plans for a while longer, and now that we’re back, the boys caught yet another illness (when will it end?!), but I’m slowly inching myself toward normality again. Very soon I will write about my plans for this year.

I have also written more extensively about the places we’ve visited before in Chicago in past blog posts. You can access those by clicking on the Chicago tag.

I hope you are doing well. Have you started a new homeschooling year, or are you continuing forward with your everyday life?

Right Along Here

When I was young and traveling somewhere by car with my dad — and I think my Aunt Carolyn said this once too — I would ask, “Where are we?” and he would answer, “Right along here.”

When I thought about writing something today this seemed like the perfect title for this post because quite frankly, I don’t have any focus for this blog post. We have finished up our homeschool year, and we’ll be getting to the new one in due time. We just had birthday week, but we all got sick, so it wasn’t quite what anyone was expecting (and that’s okay), but it has driven me off the course I was expecting to go. I am not ready for anything. I have nothing checked off my to do list. And now I need to get ready for an upcoming adventure that I will tell you about another day, but none of that has anything to do with planning lessons, keeping house or getting work done. But that’s okay.

We’re right along here.

When I think about our daily life as homeschoolers, I realize that Life can interrupt us quite a bit. We get sick once or twice a year, or if we’re unlucky, more times than that. Some major house repair or a cleaning spree suddenly needs to happen. I realize we need to go shopping for clothes because everything is getting too small!  (Did I mention I have a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old now?! Wow. Just wow.) Or, I get tired, and I need to take a few days off. I need to watch Poldark on Amazon Prime. Life can toss you a wrench in many ways.

In short, Life is our routine with a series of bumps and interruptions that we navigate around and climb over constantly. And while sometimes that can be a little frustrating, it’s also good. It’s Life. Those bumps and interruptions make it more interesting, and we must embrace them.

We’re right along here.

So despite being sick, the boys had pretty good birthdays. My seven-year-old decided to first come down with the virus on his birthday and then give his brother and me the gift of illness. But he wasn’t that sick yet on his birthday, so he enjoyed a day of visitors and spending his birthday money, homemade cake and going out to dinner, etc.

My 10-year-old, however, was just about as sick as he could be on the morning of his birthday, so I did hear him said, “This is the worst birthday ever,” which I had to agree with, but by the evening, things improved. Now we are all recuperating and slowly getting back to normal.

Luckily I wasn’t as sick as I was in June. (Yes, this was my second summer cold. Hmfp.) You know, there are illnesses that make you go flat on your back, and then there are illnesses where you can walk around and do simple things, but please no thinking involved. This is how I felt. So on the first day when I just had a bad sore throat, I was able to at least walk around the yard, and I visited the praying mantis that lives on my son’s carnivorous plants (he’s a smart praying mantis, I think), and I found those beautiful little mushrooms, and I sketched a Carolina Chickadee. I haven’t been very good about sketching every week, but I do try to get the sketchbook out now and then. These down days are perfect for that.

Before we ever got sick and before the birthday week, I happily helped my son begin a new building project. He hasn’t wanted to build anything in a long time, and I think that’s because he’s so focused on piano. But I’m glad to see that when he has time, that urge creeps back up. Unfortunately, he never went back to finish this project, and I doubt he will. But, still, yay for the creative morning.

As I mentioned before, this summer didn’t quite feel like a summer. It was so hot that we didn’t get to venture into nature as much as I would have liked. But we did make it one day to Zoo Atlanta when we were pining to get out of the house. It was deadly hot, but the zoo has a lot of shade, and we were delighted to see that the flamingoes had babies!

It’s time for me to think about some posts describing plans for our 4th grade year and 1st grade year, and I’m sure somewhere on my to do list I have plans for other posts, but like I said…

We’re right along here.

Where are you?

Birthday Week

20160818_092049I’m writing this post on the morning of my youngest’s 7th birthday. He’s still sleeping, and his brother is at a piano lesson, and I just finished mopping the kitchen floor. I’m waiting for it to dry so that I can go start making yeast rolls, which is one of things he requested I make for him. Yesterday, we made a chocolate cake together, and I made tomato soup which I’m going to serve for lunch when my dad and step-mother come over to help celebrate his birthday.

We aren’t doing big parties this year. I had a party for this little guy last year, and it was a big success, but he’s a happy little fellow whether or not I have a party for him. As are most kids, he’s pretty excited about getting presents as well as the simple fact that he’s turning seven.

Exactly one week from today, my eldest son will turn 10, and I’m marveling at that two-digit number. I remember the year I turned 10, my mother had a slumber party for me. I invited a bunch of girls from school. At least one of them I didn’t know as well as the others, but I guess I thought she was cool. I have very few memories of the party now, but I do remember all us girls sleeping on my basement floor, and I let every girl pick out one of my stuffed animals to sleep with. It was a fun party, but I ate too many sweets, and I got sick after it was over. I also remember some kind of squabble between two of the girls. My mom said she’d never give me a slumber party again after that, and I don’t blame her. I’m sure it was a lot of work.

I never planned for my boys’ birthdays to be one week apart in August, but it’s been convenient and fun. We have “birthday week,” and it’s at the perfect time of year right after I finish up our homeschool year and before we start the new one. Both boys are equally excited since they both get to have birthdays. We always do separate celebrations for them, so they don’t feel like they have to share a birthday. However, they do share the decorations. It’s a tradition to decorate our house for the birthdays a day before my youngest’s birthday and take them down after my eldest’s birthday. They love having a whole week to savor the decorations!

I finally finished our end-of-year slideshow. We watched it last weekend, and I gave the boys a certificate of completion for the 3rd grade and Kindergarten. So now I have a 4th grader and 1st grader! How exciting! We will begin our “new” school year in September, and when I have time, I’ll write about what curriculum we’ll be using, etc.

I have already written about how I wrap up the end-of-year and do our record-keeping on this blog, but you can also read about My End of the Year Record-Keeping on the home/schoo/life blog, if you’re interested in that.

If you have a minute, tell me what’s happening in your world this week.🙂

Update On My Bread Baking Project

I’m long overdue to tell you how my bread baking project is going. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that after watching the documentary Cooked, I decided to try capturing my own wild yeast and learning how to bake bread with it. (See my column Capturing Wild Yeast.) Actually, I had been wanting to learn how to bake bread for a long time before that, but this was the motivation I needed to get me started.

How did it go?! Well, I captured the yeast, and I did learn how to bake bread with it. Over a matter of months, I made a lot of mistakes, but I got better at it. I finally figured out how I often and how much I needed to feed the yeast to make it really active and capable of making bread rise.

Opps. There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to baking bread, especially with a sourdough culture.

Some of it was quite tasty too. My husband enjoyed every loaf I made, but unfortunately, my boys didn’t care for the bread that was made with the sourdough culture (i.e., the wild yeast). And to be honest, I didn’t always love the bread either. After awhile, I started to wonder if it was the sourdough flavor that I didn’t enjoy.

My first really good loaf with the sourdough culture: Rosemary Olive Oil Bread. It was delicious!

I experimented quite a bit. When I had a hard time getting the bread to rise, I tried using part sourdough culture and part store-bought yeast (dry active yeast). That worked well. I also tried just using store-bought yeast so that I could compare the results.

Oh boy. The bread with the store-bought yeast was sooooooo delicious. And it was sooooooo easy to make. AND, my boys loved it!

Even though it might not have as many health benefits, it was a no brainer for me to ditch the sourdough culture and keep using the store-bought yeast for now. Using the wild yeast was a lot of fun, but it’s very time consuming, and it was very hard to plan when I was going to bake bread. We get very busy, and I don’t always know what we’re going to be doing on any given day, so having to prepare the culture two days in advance is not practical for me right now. It’s much nicer to wake up and think, “I feel like baking bread today” and have the whole process done in half a day.

One of my experiments. Using store-bought yeast, I made two loaves. One of them had a single rise (left), and the other a second rise (right). Conclusion: It’s worth it to do a second rise.

I may attempt using a sourdough culture in the future because it was fun. I’d be curious to see if a new culture (one that I’d know exactly how to care for from the get-go) would taste different, and/or I wouldn’t mind buying a kit with the San Francisco sourdough culture, which is so famous for its taste. But that will be far in the future when I’m not so busy homeschooling.

Ultimately, I feel my project was a huge success! The bottom line is that I wanted to learn how to bake homemade bread, and I have learned how to do that. Now I’m teaching my boys how to bake bread, and that makes me very happy too.

And even better, we have wonderful bread to eat!

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread (at the nine-year-old’s request) and a regular loaf. Yum Yum.

Nature Watch: Oakworm Moth

One morning I went out to water our garden, and I found this beauty on the green bean leaves. Curiously, I had also seen this moth on our porch one evening, but the colors were much more muted. I don’t know if this is a slightly different species or the sunlight was making it shine, but I couldn’t get over the colors in it. And it wasn’t until I viewed my photos later that I noticed the wings are translucent!

This is an oakworm moth, and I think it’s the pink-striped oakworm moth, but it’s very hard to tell it apart from the orange-tipped oakworm moth, so I’m not sure. (If you know, please tell me.)

My son became fascinated with moths a while back, and while it’s not what I’d call an active project (that is, he’s not researching information about them or creating any representations anymore), we still get quite excited when we find a moth we’ve never seen before in the yard. We have been lucky enough to find the Polyphemus Moth, Luna Moth, and the Tulip-tree Silkmoth, and I think we’ve seen the Imperial Moth too, but I don’t have a photo of one. We still haven’t seen a Cecropia Moth in the wild, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

As a little bonus, I want to share this photograph I took on one of my summer morning walks. It was a wet and foggy morning because it had stormed the previous day, and the dew made hundreds, maybe thousands, of spider webs visible in the trees. I marveled at how many there were, and luckily I had my phone with me, so I took a photo of this one, which hung on a branch by the road. Spider webs are amazing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed making some nature discoveries lately too, and I hope you’re staying cool throughout this brutal summer!