Another 4th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

Every year I have shared my homeschool curriculum twice. Usually I write a post at the beginning of the year with my goals for that year, and at the end of the year, I give you a review or a “what actually happened” post. This is the first time I haven’t done that. The only excuse I have for not sharing anything about my youngest’s 4th grade year is that I have been tending to higher priorities. (That’s better than saying “I’ve been too busy,” right?) 🙂

(For 7th grade and higher, I have decided to create PDFs and sell them for a small fee because this is a lot of work. I hope you’ll check out my store.)

But now I can share a brief review of “what actually happened” this year for my 4th grader. That is, here is the main curriculum that he completed this year. I hope this helps you as you prepare a curriculum for your own child. Please don’t hesitate to ask me questions, if you have them. There’s a lot of great curriculums and ways to homeschool out there. This is just one example!

Language Arts

I always maintain that my first priority in teaching the language arts is letting my boys develop a love of reading. I don’t push a lot of grammar or writing until that happens. Finally this year my son has fallen in love with reading! By my calculations, he has read 68 books to himself and counting. (32 graphic novels; 36 YA novels) In addition, I read four novels out loud to him as well, including Giant Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, and The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras. (Those last two we are still reading.)

For poetry, I have been reading from Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid.

For grammar, he worked in the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Program. I had him re-read some of these books to himself, and I read out loud from some of them too. Then he worked through all the exercises and worksheets associated with these books:

    • Grammar Island
    • Sentence Island
    • Grammar Town
    • Practice Island

I have also used Language Smarts Level E from the Critical Thinking Co. This is a huge workbook, and it’s helpful, but it wasn’t my main priority for him this year. We’ll probably dip in and out of it next year too.

Math

Nothing new here. He completed the same math curriculum that his older brother completed in the 4th grade:

    • Life of Fred: Honey
    • Life of Fred: Ice Cream
    • He practiced multiplication tables with flashcards
    • He practiced long division problems using some worksheets I gave him. He’ll continue doing one problem a day throughout the summer.

Science

We did a lot of science this year, which was a priority I had made for him.

He has a special interest in birds, so in addition to all the things we’ve done over the years to help him with this, we did the following this year:

This year I used Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding to teach some basic science lessons. We started with volume 1 because these books build on each other. Since he’s a little older, though, I was able to go more in depth on our lessons, which was fun. However, while I love this curriculum, it requires a lot of reading/prep work on my part, so I’m not sure we’ll keep using it. If you are a science buff, and you just need a guide as to what to teach with some kid activities, then you’ll probably love this curriculum.

We also subscribed to the Tappity App on the iPad, and my ten-year-old loves it.

Social Studies (includes History)

This year we did not make history a part of our one-on-one lessons, but my 4th grader did a lot of reading on his own for this subject.* He has been reading bothThe Usborne Encyclopedia of World History and Story of the World volume 1 by Susan Wise Bauer.

We also watched the following documentaries this year:

*Note: I’ve written a lot about how I pick different priorities for each year because it’s very difficult to dig deep into every subject every year, which, for me, is a big part of why we homeschool. I prefer to dig deep instead of spreading ourselves thin over several subjects. Over time, we shift our priorities (or not) as necessary.

Foreign Language

Both boys decided last year that they wanted to focus only on Mandarin Chinese for their foreign language, and I finally realized that if we were going to make this a priority, we needed to get a tutor. After looking in vain for local tutors, I found a great tutor on Wyzant.com who does weekly half hour one-on-one lessons with each boy, and she goes at their individual pace. I couldn’t be more happy with this. I’m also trying to learn as much as I can too — I follow along with my 4th grader because we’re going at the same pace. This summer I’ve been making some Chinese games to help make studying more fun!

Art

We have continued to use Drawing for Older Children and Teens: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too by Mona Brookes when time permits, and occasionally we draw in our sketchbooks together.

Music Education

In August, my 4th grader will be celebrating three full years of weekly cello lessons with an excellent teacher that we love. I’m so proud of him. I don’t know how I managed to birth two talented musicians, but it’s been a joy to watch the progress!

That’s 4th grade (the second time around) in a nutshell! What grade is your child (or children) in? What were the highlights of your year? 

Thanks so much for reading. If you find my posts helpful, I would really appreciate a share on your social networks. Thank you!

September

This year one of our favorite subjects is a priority again – science. Yay!

September brings with it the relief of a new school year. A fresh start. It brings cool mornings, though, unfortunately, not cool afternoons. In fact, it’s some of the hottest weather we’ve had all summer, and I’m pining for cooler temperatures, but I know I should be careful what I wish for.

I love sitting on my front porch looking out at my yard, which is very lush and green, though the flowerbeds are dry and brittle this time of year. We’ve had very little rain lately. (But it rained while I was working on this post! Whoop!) This was not the summer of gardening, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you’ll know that we like to dabble in our garden. I usually plant a few vegetables in spring, but I didn’t do that this year. And whereas last year I had some stunning flowers that were attracting loads of butterflies, this year I have very few flowers and few butterflies. That makes me sad, but it couldn’t be helped. This summer had a mind of its own, and it wasn’t a time when I could give much attention to our garden. That’s okay.

I’m thrilled that we have officially started 7th and 4th grade. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I’m enjoying the structure and new schedule.

I may or may not write a more detailed blog post about this, but I created a new system this year for my 7th grader to help us figure out what he needs to work on each day. It’s impossible to do every subject everyday, and I know we probably won’t finish everything I would like for him to do, so….

As I do every year, I made my yearly list of priorities, which I mentioned in my last post, which are science, literature, writing, and math in that order. I’ve also got other subjects, which I listed in my last post too. I made him a chart, listing these subjects and how many times he needs to sit down and work on them each week or so. The higher priority subjects get higher numbers. For example, one workbook he needs to work on one time, another two times, science four times, and math three times, etc. Basically, he checks off every time he works on an item, and once he’s put the allotted number of check marks beside each, I’ll print out a fresh chart, and he’ll start all over again.

I am doing it this way because while it would be great for him to finish everything in a week, I knew it would take longer, and I don’t want him to worry about how long it’s taking (within reason). I prefer quality work over abundant work, though at the same time, we do have goals to reach. This system allows him to rotate through all the subjects on a regular basis while also giving him plenty of time for his piano practice and events (one that happened this week, in fact). We have learned from our first trial that it’s taking him about two weeks to complete a chart. Without that piano event, it would have been completed sooner, so that’s great. I was only going to worry if it took, say, a month to finish it. Two weeks is totally reasonable for the amount of work I’m giving him. It also gives him a little freedom in choosing what he wants to work on at any given time.

I promise I’ll also write more details about 4th grade with my younger son, but since I already have a lot of 4th grade blog posts, I tend to write about the new stuff more often. I find great joy in homeschooling my younger son who benefits from my prior experience but who also challenges me to find what works best for him at a time when our household is so much different than it was when the boys were smaller.

Anyway, here we are in September. It’s full of promise for the year ahead. There will be challenges for sure. We have a lot of changes this year, but they are good changes, and like the boys, our household is maturing, coming into itself. Finding its niche. We are all very excited for the future.

Quick Review: Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1 and Part of Level 2

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I was lucky enough to receive Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1, a.k.a. The Island Level for free when I wrote a comprehensive article on grammar programs for home/school/life magazine. Being able to see a full curriculum before buying it is a luxury most homeschoolers don’t have, and for that reason, I was so grateful. This is not a cheap curriculum, and I never would have bought it without seeing it first.

Over that year, I read all the books to my boys, but I didn’t have them work through the Practice Books, which are essentially the worksheets that reinforce the teaching. Also at that time, I picked IEW’s Fix it! The Nose Tree as my eldest son’s grammar program because it just worked better for him then. While I didn’t feel he needed to work through the MCT workbook at the same time, I did think that reading Grammar Island and Sentence Island helped him understand what he was doing in The Nose Tree better.

Also, I fell in love with these books. I am not exaggerating when I say they are beautiful. These books incorporate beautiful artwork and large, easy-on-the-eyes fonts. I think using a beautiful textbook makes a world of difference when trying to teach youngsters, and it made a world of difference to my adult eyes, which can get quite weary trying to read small text in the cluttered books of other curriculum.

This year I bought part of Level 2 because I have ditched the Fix It! series, and I’m going to continue on with MCT. However, I can’t afford to buy it all at once. I have bought only Grammar Town (teacher’s manual) and Paragraph Town (teacher’s manual). As much as I would like to buy the student books, I have to save money. So I use the teacher’s manuals, and I type and print the exercises on my computer for him to work through. Grammar Town worked really well for my son, and I’m very pleased with it. We’ll be working in Paragraph Town this coming year.

As for my younger son, we are going back and re-reading the Island Level this year, and he will be using the practice workbooks with this program – so they will not go to waste! (And I should mention that he loved the Mud trilogy, which he read this past year.)

I would love to buy Caesar’s English I (teacher and student books) and the next book on poetry, Building Poems (teacher’s manual), but it’s just not in the budget right now. My priority will be getting through the grammar and writing textbooks of this wonderful curriculum, and I’ll buy those as I we need them.

I should mention the one flaw with this program is that is doesn’t teach much punctuation! Kind of strange, don’t you think? However, this is easily remedied. I purchased a punctuation workbook on Amazon that I’ll have my son work through this year, and I’m pretty good at punctuation, so I can help him with that as he continues to work on his writing skills.

Math Curriculum Review: Life of Fred Elementary Series

If you’re a seasoned homeschooling parent, you probably know that deep sense of satisfaction when you have completed a long curriculum with your child. I had this feeling last year when my eleven-year-old finished the 10th book in the Life of Fred series, which is the end of what the author, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, terms his “Elementary Series.” Also according to his assessment, these ten books cover kindergarten through fourth grade math.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Life of Fred elementary books, they are hardbound books with 19 chapters each, and they tell the story of a funny-looking five-year-old math genius named Fred, who is also a professor at Kittens University. Math lessons are found everywhere in Fred’s life as well as many other lessons on random subjects. It’s a practical and sometimes silly approach to learning math, and it shows kids why math is useful. Many kids love Fred, including my boys, but I’ve met kids who couldn’t get into these stories either. So be sure to try out the free samples before you buy them.

I have read a lot of reviews for the Life of Fred books, and most parents seem to feel that Life of Fred makes a good supplement to their math curriculum. Apparently, some kids love reading these quirky stories so much, they read them by themselves all in just a few months or less. You could certainly do this, but I used them as our main math curriculum, and they worked great for that too.

Part of the reason some people feel that Life of Fred is a supplement and not a main curriculum is that at the end of each chapter, there are only four or five problems for your student to figure out, and usually one or two questions are very easy. (In a few of the books, he also offers a “row of practice.”) Parents and teachers feel that kids need to practice math more, so they need more problems to work on. I only partly agree with that. From kindergarten through the third grade, a few problems were all that my active, young boy could sit still for, so it was perfect for us. Later, I added a little more. Let me explain:

I think that what sets Life of Fred apart is that it shows kids that math can be fun. While homeschooling my eldest son, I found that he responded best to learning about math through these stories and also playing games. In Life of Fred, Fred is often playing math games in his head to pass the time. I think that’s a subtle hint to readers that math games should be part of their daily life too. Math should be fun. So while I didn’t use Life of Fred as a supplement, I did supplement it with plenty of math games. (We love playing Sum Swamp, Math Dice, and math card games.)

It wasn’t until last year that I decided to supplement my son’s math lessons with a Spectrum workbook. By this age, my son was capable of sitting and concentrating for longer amounts of time. In my state, homeschoolers have to take standardized tests every three years, so I wanted to familiarize him with the test format. He also needed more practice with multiplication and division. So we took a break from Life of Fred to work on this. I used Times Tales for teaching the multiplication tables, and that was a big success. Life of Fred instructs the student to stop at certain points and practice the times tables with flash cards before moving on to the next chapter, so it’s clear that Dr. Schmidt does not expect a student to rely solely on his books for all their math practice.

If you are concerned about keeping your child in exact alignment with what the public school kids are learning each year, then you may not want to use Life of Fred as your spine for math. Most of what my son learned in Life of Fred did match up, but Dr. Schmidt has a different approach to teaching math. While my son did learn early algebra and even a little bit of calculus, the books never covered the decimal point. However, that’s coming up. Life of Fred continues with the Intermediate Series and then the Pre-High School Series (including three books on pre-algebra, one on fractions, and another on decimals and percents). (It’s at this level that Dr. Schmidt has also written supplementary practice books, if they are needed.) After this is the High School Series (Beginning Algebra, Advanced Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry). After the high school series, Dr. Schmidt has several books at the college level too.

This is all to say that Life of Fred can take your student a long way in their math studies. But you need to go slow. I read each chapter with my son, and we don’t try to do more than two or three books per year. We play math games, practice multiplication in various ways, and luckily, my son still doesn’t hate math. Now that we have finished the elementary series, I can see more clearly how this curriculum has benefitted my son and Dr. Schmidt’s strategy for teaching math. And the best part is that there is no prep work for me – we just open the book and begin the next chapter!

Note to fellow secular homeschoolers: The author of this series is religious, and that is apparent in the Life of Fred story. However, religious references are few and very benign. There was nothing that offended me.

Our 4th Grade Piano Adventures

At the end of May, my 10-year-old marked a full two years of taking piano lessons. In less than two years, he advanced to playing late intermediate/early advanced repertoire. This is quite remarkable, and for me, it finally sunk in just how remarkable this is over the past year. Of course, my husband recognized it right away, and I give him full credit for his swift and fierce support!

My son has some natural talent, and I think it’s safe to say that becoming a classical pianist has become a serious goal for him. But I can’t underscore enough how hard he works at this goal. It’s been inspiring to watch, and my husband and I are so proud of him. Not only does he practice a lot, he loves listening to classical music and learning about composers. His knowledge about music, music history, and modern pianists is remarkable in itself. And we don’t have to make him do any of this or fuss at him to practice. Not at all! My husband is always right there with him, encouraging him and sometimes advising him (he’s not a musician; he just loves doing research), but if my son didn’t want to do this, none of this would be happening.

I’m calling this post our “piano adventures” because it’s been an adventure for all of us. My husband and I have learned so much about classical music right along with our son, and we love it! Just like with all my sons’ interests, I have loved getting a real education and exploring and discovering things that I didn’t know about before. Not only do I love listening to classical music now, I love learning about the world of classical music and how pianists learn and grow. On this adventure we’ve also met various teachers and learned how they work too. This year we found a new teacher for our 10-year-old, and our younger son began lessons in October with another teacher. The 7-year-old is not as passionate about playing the piano as his older brother, but so far, he likes it. He is certainly benefitting from having such a talented older brother and everything we’ve learned about on this journey.

During this past year, our 10-year-old entered his first competition, which was the state competition. He placed in the top ten, which for two years of piano lessons, is wonderful (in my biased opinion).

But my son has a long and challenging journey ahead of him. There are many talented, young pianists out there, and he’ll have to work very hard, if he wants to compete. If he continues to want to pursue this goal, we’ll give him all the support that we can. If not, that’s okay too. I have no idea what to expect, but I hope it continues to be a positive experience for him.

If you have a child who wants to pursue classical music, please e-mail me! It would be great to meet other families who are on a similar journey.

Summertime for a Homeschooling Family

For most families, summertime means a huge change of pace. The children are home and need entertaining. There are trips to the pool, BBQs, family gatherings, outdoor entertainment etc. Well, we don’t have access to a pool, and we rarely eat BBQ, and we see our extended families about the same as always. While we love getting outside, we do that more in the fall, winter & spring when the weather isn’t so unbearably hot…and places aren’t as crowded either. 🙂

Our kids don’t need entertaining. They are home all the time and know how to entertain themselves, if they need to. So mostly, our routine changes very little. I still do homeschool lessons because it’s easier to keep some structure to our days, but I always do something a little different. This summer I’m concentrating on Spanish lessons and read-a-louds. I’m hoping to find a Spanish curriculum that we will stick with, and I have some books I want to read that I didn’t get to in the winter.

But even though not a lot changes, that doesn’t mean summer doesn’t have its seasonal treats, so to speak. Here’s a list of everything I think about when I think about our summers. I’m including some links to posts I’ve written about our summer habits.

  • Going out of town. Though I guess it’s technically still spring in May, that’s when my husband usually has some time off, so if we can swing it, we go on vacation. This year we went west, and it was our most memorable trip yet.
  • Gardening. I always plant a garden, and it has to be watered frequently, which is a good way to get the boys outside even for a few minutes everyday. This year I planted roma tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and dill. We’re also trying to grow milkweed and sunflowers, but so far, that’s not going too well.
  • Plants and more plants. We also have some permanent flowers and herbs in the garden and around the house, and it’s fun to see them come back to life and grow. The boys take good care of their carnivorous plants, which provide insect control and entertainment every summer!
  • Baby Birds. We have two birdhouses around our house, and there’s usually at least one brood being reared at all times during the summer. We’ve also found bird’s nests in our trees and bushes. Sometimes we’ve been lucky enough to see the chicks fledge. These little miracles are my favorite part of summer.
  • Nature Discoveries. Even though we’ve lived in our home for 14 years, there is always new stuff to discover in our wooded yard. Sometimes it’s wild animals, and sometimes it’s plants. This year we discovered we have four wild black cherry trees in our yard! (It produces fruit infrequently, which is why we haven’t noticed them before.) We’ll probably leave the fruit for the birds because we love the birds and are happy to have a natural food source for them. (Well, I think the squirrels are going to finish off the cherries before the birds do.)
  • Lemonade. My 10-year-old loves lemonade, so I make him fresh lemonade every summer. He says mine is the best, and since he’s tasted a lot of lemonade at restaurants and his grandpa’s house, I am going to trust that assessment. 😉
  • Fruit. We love fruit in this house, so we love it when strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, watermelon, and many other kinds of fruit come into season. My 10-year-old loves fruit too, which makes me happy. Oh, and we love to make smoothies and sometimes margaritas! (Those are just for the adults!)
  • Summer day camps. Every year my boys attend at least one summer camp each. The camps at our local botanical garden are our favorite. I appreciate how the garden gets them involved in nature and with other kids in a way that I can’t, and they take great care of them too. My boys have so much fun playing large group games and activities – something they don’t get at home. It’s a nice change of pace for them, and it’s the only time I get a day off, so it’s a bonus that it’s five days in a row!
  • Homeschool Wrap-up & Planning. Summertime is record-keeping time. I have to write up progress reports, and I print out reading lists and certificates of completion. I put everything in 3-ring binders, and I generally clean up the year’s work. Then I store all that away and I make new binders for next year, and I plan what we’re going to start in the fall. It sounds like a lot of work, but the only thing that takes a significant amount of time is a slideshow I put together with all the photographs from our year. I use that when we have our end-of-year review, and the boys love it.
  • Part of my homeschool wrap-up involves getting my blog up-to-date too, so you can expect a few more posts from me in the near future. 😉

I’m sure I’ve missed something, but that’s pretty much what summer looks like around here. It’s pretty simple, but it’s pretty wonderful too.

Homeschooling: Diving into Human History

bookshelf

I’m extra excited to tell you that one of the things I added mid-year are history lessons. If there’s one thing I’ve been wanting to learn more about, it’s history. 🙂

Until now, history is something I have not worried about incorporating into our homeschool lessons for several reasons. First, I don’t think young children need a lot of history unless they are interested in it.** I doubt they will fully understand it or remember it. Also, my husband is a history professor, so I knew we would get a good history education with his help. Indeed, he peppers our documentary-watching with relevant historical facts as needed!

Until this past year, my eldest son didn’t show much interest in history. We watch a lot of documentaries, but when the boys were smaller, they needed to be nature documentaries. They liked animals and nature, but documentaries about people were boring, and frankly, over their heads. However, this changed during this past year~year and a half or so. We have slowly begun to watch other kinds of documentaries such as science, engineering and history, especially those dealing with archaeology. So I saw more of an interest in history creeping up. It was at this time I made my big history timeline, and as we watched or read about historical events or people, we would add a tag about them to our timeline. But I still didn’t do “formal” history lessons.

Then, my boys began to play digital games that incorporated military tanks and ships, etc. In the games, they would learn a tremendous amount about many, real military vehicles, and they soon wanted to know more. One of their Christmas presents was a big book about tanks, and they still study it everyday! This is one of their major interests right now.

My 10-year-old began asking questions about the world wars, and one day, I let him listen to his father’s U.S. history podcast about World War II. It was at this point that I felt we could start history lessons. I considered doing American history first since his interests seemed to gravitate in that direction. In addition, I’ve been reading to them about Native Americans now and then for a while now too. But ultimately, with my husband’s help, I decided to go with World History first because that’s what I wanted to do in the first place, and we happened to find some very cool books that we both loved. (I want to give a shout out to my online friend, Kristina Daniele, for sharing her history resources with me. She helped me get started in my search for history resources that would appeal to my young boys.)

What’s exciting about studying history as a homeschooler is that we can start at the beginning and spend time delving into each era, and we don’t have to stop. In public school, I got bits of history in each grade, but I only remember the big events of American history. I know I never studied ancient humans or ancient Egypt. I know I never understood “the big picture” of the human timeline (until now). I am sure when my boys are adults, they will have forgotten a lot of our history lessons too, but that’s why I made the history timeline, I’m going slow, and in high school, we’ll circle around to the beginning again. Even if they don’t remember the finer details, they are going to understand the big picture of human history.

I’m going to write in more detail about our history lessons as we come to each unit. But below is a blueprint of how I’m getting started and what I’m using for our “spine.”

I am using my husband’s history lectures as a “spine” or guide. Even though his podcasts are for college level students, they are short, and my boys can understand most of what he’s saying. I use the “key terms” he lists under the lectures as a guide when I’m searching for additional books at the library. I don’t try to get a book on everything, but for example, under “Mesopotamia,” one of the key terms is “Epic of Gilgamesh.” When I looked up Mesopotamia in the library search engine, I found a storybook for kids about the Epic of Gilgamesh — that’s a nice supplement to our studies on Mesopotamia!

We also bought three history textbooks that we’re reading as we go along too. My husband gets a lot of free college textbooks to review, but we obviously needed books that would appeal to young kids. Finding the perfect world history text for kids didn’t prove easy! My husband and I spent some time searching for books on Amazon, and I checked these out from the library before we bought them. I’m going to list them in order of our preference.

The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia — This is our favorite. It’s a beautiful book with rich photographs and illustrations, and it has all the relevant information in it that we’re looking for. However, this is not meant to be an in depth look at history. Like my husband’s podcasts, it can be used as a starting point. For example, “Ancient Egypt” covers a two-page spread. Still, this is the kind of overview that kids would be getting in a world history class, and you can pause wherever you like and get more books from the library about each section. (This is a perk of homeschooling — no rushing through a curriculum!) As we get further into this book, I’ll be able to tell you more about it.

The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History — This is a great book too with beautiful illustrations and photographs. It doesn’t have quite as many details as the Kingfisher, but it covers everything and then some. We bought this intending to let our son read it on his own. Usborne considers “World History” to also mean “Earth’s History,” and it begins with about eighty pages dedicated to prehistoric time, what fossils are, and evolution, etc. When I think of “World History” I tend to think of that as “Human History,” which is what they do in school. But that makes little difference, and there is something to having the “big picture” laid out in one book. However, we’ve already learned so much about Earth’s history through our science interest that we already know this information. So I’m not requiring my son to read those first eighty pages unless he wants to.

The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer — We are well aware of the criticisms of these books, but having looked at the first one, we decided we would try it because learning about history through story form might interest our sons. As a history professor, my husband reviews many college level textbooks, and he tells me that many of them have biases. The point is that you should never use just one text as your information source just as you should never use one media outlet for all your current news. By studying many different resources, you will be more informed and better able to find mistakes or biases, and learning how to do that is a good learning lesson in itself. We have not gotten very far into SOTW, and my 10-year-old doesn’t love it, but I think my 7-year-old liked it better. I am not sure we’ll continue with these books, but I’ll let you know.

As we get to each section of our history curriculum, I plan to write short posts about what we’re reading for each. For example, right now we’re studying Ancient Egypt, so I’ll tell you what books I found for that soon.

If you have any history resources you love, please tell me about them in the comments.

**Note: My seven-year-old is less interested and perhaps doesn’t understand the history I’m teaching as much as my 10-year-old. However, I usually ask him to try to listen, but if he’s really bored, I don’t make him. I think he picks up on quite a bit, however. At this point, I’m not requiring any written work. We’re just enjoying reading about history.

 

Homeschooling 4th Grade: Our First Science Curriculum

hs4g

Up until this year, I guess you could say that we have “unschooled”science. My son loved nature and, consequently, science. We got outside to explore often, and we did experiments at home for fun. We raised butterflies. We grew carnivorous plants. We read books. He got into robotics, which he still likes. We watch countless science documentaries. Furthermore, over the past several years, there were many opportunities to learn about science through community resources. My son was in the knee-high naturalist class and homeschool science classes at the nature center for years. We still take advantage of programs at the botanical garden. I am convinced that given all these opportunities, young homeschooled children do not need any formal instruction in science.

For a list of our major science projects/studies, click here.

This year we thought it would be a good idea to round out his knowledge with a more systematic curriculum. I am finding out that, indeed, my son learned a lot of science. But there is vocabulary and finer details that we’re learning anew in the curriculum.

We are using Biology for the Logic Stage by Elemental Science. (IMPORTANT: Please read my update at the bottom of this page.) I wish I had other science curriculums to compare it to because I can’t tell you whether I like it very much or not. I do like how it’s organized, and it’s easy to use. I love the books that came with it (or either you have to order them on your own to go with it, depending on which package you buy). These are the Usborne Science Encyclopedia and Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia. What I don’t love about it is that sometimes she calls what I would term “activities” as “experiments.” Experiments are supposed to test a hypotheses. Making a diorama of a habitat is not an experiment! However, this is being nit-picky, and on the whole, I think we’re learning a good bit from this curriculum.

This curriculum is supposed to be for middle school, so some of what it requires is a little hard for my 4th grader. That is, writing up lengthy reports, etc. Since my son’s writing skills still need work, I’m not requiring him to do any of that. But we do read the assigned pages, watch videos (via the QR Codes in the Usbourne book –I love that), memorize terms, fill out the vocabulary list and label the sketch.

As far as the “experiment,” i.e. activity, I let my son do it, if he wants to. This is because he’s already done 90% of them on his own or during classes in these last several years of unschooled science inquiry! (I think I shall refer to those years as “the science years.” Now we are into “the piano years,” though we still love science. 🙂 )

Though my son still loves science, he doesn’t love this curriculum. He likes watching science documentaries and doing science when it’s not required. I don’t blame him. But I do think it’s important that we “cross our Ts and dot our Is,” so to speak, especially now that he’s ten, and he’s not actively pursuing science topics like he used to. However, he did ask me to order the chemistry curriculum for when we finish this biology book. He’s always liked chemistry, so you never know where that might take us.

[UPDATE (8/2/2017): I recently noticed that secularhomeschooler.com rates Elemental Science as neutral science. This disappoints me. “Neutral science” refers to curriculums that teach science yet conveniently leave out anything that might offend a religious person who believes in a young earth. This is not real science at all, and, unfortunately, I didn’t realize this before buying the curriculum. However, it uses textbooks that are secular and includes evolution. The textbooks are great, and there is some merit in each lesson, so I’m taking this rating with a grain of salt. We may or may not continue to use this curriculum.]

Homeschooling 4th Grade: Math & the Multiplication Tables

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I love math.

Wait. Did I just say “I love math?” Why, yes, I think I did. It’s the first time I have ever made that statement. 

One of my English professors said that English majors are usually proud to say how bad they are are math. That’s kind of true. But now I know that the only reason I was ever bad at math is because I was ushered through a boring math curriculum each year, and I didn’t really get it, but I managed to pass, and that’s all school cared about…that I could pass. They didn’t care if I didn’t like math or if I didn’t understand it that well.

I’m hoping I can do a better job teaching math to my boys even though math isn’t my forte. Luckily, there are many good curriculums that can help English majors teach math to their kids. *wink*

My 10-year-old has never wanted to do math with any other curriculum* except Life of Fredand even though I’ve heard people say that Life of Fred can’t stand alone as a math curriculum, we’ve made it work. If you haven’t heard of it before, Life of Fred is a series of books that tell a wacky story of a five-year-old math genius named Fred. Fred encounters math problems in his everyday life, so readers of Life of Fred  are going to learn about math as well as a little bit of history, grammar, odd facts and not-so-bad advice for living a good life.**

I think it does a pretty good job of teaching everything my son needs to know about math and then some. However, it doesn’t include a lot of practice problems, which is probably what causes people to criticize it. But up until now, I liked the fact that it only had a few questions at the end of each chapter, and some chapters include an additional “row of practice.” This is because I didn’t think my son needed to waste time doing worksheets. That would have caused him to hate math.

Let me be clear: I don’t think very young children need to spend their time filling out worksheets unless they like doing them. Young children need to move and play, and they don’t have to spend that much time practicing sums such as 2+1=3. But now that my son is ten, he’s more than capable of sitting still and focusing for longer amounts of time. And the math he’s doing is more complicated, and I think he needs to practice. He’s not going to remember the steps for multiplying or dividing large numbers unless he practices. I don’t feel bad making him sit and do worksheets anymore, although I can’t say he loves math. But I don’t think he hates it either.

Because of this, I’ve added a Spectrum 4th grade workbook to my son’s lessons. He has just started it — this is something I added mid-year. I really like this workbook, and it’s going to help me assess what my son knows and what he needs more help on. The other great thing about the workbook is that I don’t need to be here when he works on it, and that’s really helpful. (I know many children do Life of Fred on their own, and my son could probably do it by himself too, but I actually like reading them with him because that way I know exactly what he’s learning and where he’s at, and I can help him, if he needs it.)

So far this year the 10-year-old and I finished Life of Fred: Honey, and now we’re in the middle of Life of Fred: Ice Cream. After this, we’ll do Life of Fred: Jelly Beans, and that will complete the entire elementary series! According to the author of Life of Fred, the elementary series is 1st-4th grade, so we’re right on target. Next year, we’ll work through the intermediate series. (Life of Fred continues right on up through college level.)

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The Multiplication Tables

To memorize them or not? I spent a very short time deciding whether or not I should make my kids memorize the multiplication tables. I decided that, yes, they should. Their math curriculums would be that much more difficult, if they didn’t learn their multiplication tables. Life would be more difficult too!

Also what helped me decide is that my husband listens to this tech podcast (sorry I don’t know which one), and he told me that one of the speakers was talking about how he unschooled his son, and he didn’t make him memorize the times tables. He said that now his son is an adult and works in computer science, which requires a lot of math. He said his son wishes his dad made him memorize the times tables because now he struggles with simple multiplication. It’s a lot easier to memorize things when you are young!  And, you just don’t know what your kids might do when they grow up. Why put them at a disadvantage?

For the past year, I’ve been working with both my boys (my younger one wanted to join in!) on the multiplication tables. We used flash cards and some simple games, and we got through the 5s times tables.

Then, thanks to a recommendation by my real-life acquaintance, Drue , who sometimes reads this blog, I’m trying out Times Tales with the boys. Times Tales cost about $20 and come with two videos and a couple of worksheets and activities. The stories in Times Tales are mnemonic devices that are supposed to help your children learn the 6-9 times tables. If they can remember the characters (such as Mrs. Week, who is the number 7, and the treehouse, which is number 9), and they can remember the story associated with the number characters, they should remember the answer to the multiplication problems.

Did they help my boys? Yes and no. Yes, it has helped my older son, the 10-year-old, tremendously. He’s remembering his multiplication tables much better! However, it has not helped my 7-year-old. He has a hard time remembering the stories or “getting it.” He may be too young, so I’ll wait a couple of years and have him watch the videos again. It also could be that they help my 10-year-old because he’s very much a visual and auditory learner, and my younger son is more hands-on, but I have a feeling it’ll help the 7-year-old when he’s older.

At any rate, it’s the 10-year-old who is supposed be learning his times tables right now (Life of Fred recommends making flash cards and practicing them before moving on through the books), so I’m thrilled that Times Tales has helped him so much. We are going to keep working through the activities, and I have no doubt he’ll master all of them soon.

 

*I’m using Singapore math with my younger son. Stay tuned to get a full review of it.

**For those of you who are secular homeschoolers, you should be forewarned that Life of Fred is written by a Christian author, so there are Christian references in the books. However, there is nothing that is offensive to me, and there is no preaching.

4th Grade Homeschooling: Language Arts

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By the time my son graduates, I not only want him to be a competent writer, I want him to have read a lot of great literature. I think good literature teaches children much more than language arts. I use it to teach compassion, history, and about different kinds of people and places, just to name a few things.

My 10-year-old has never been drawn to literary things like I was a child, but he used to love for me to tell him stories, and he still enjoys being read to. He also reads comic books by himself. (I consider that a win.) Until this year, he hated the physical act of writing…it hurt his hand. So, I waited, worried, tried different things, didn’t push too hard, and waited some more. At nine-years-old, whatever it was that bothered him about picking up a pencil, went away. (Yay!) So now I’m slowing acclimating him to doing a little more writing during his lessons, and I’m planning to start a more formal writing program next year.

With those things in mind, here’s what we’ve been doing so far this year:

Literature

Recently I finished reading The Birchbark House by my favorite author, Louise Erdrich, out loud to both boys. It’s the first book in a series that is supposed to compliment the Little House series as it tells the story of a young Anishinaabeg girl. At first, my younger son wasn’t interested in the book, but he was always in earshot, and half-way through the book he began to sit down and listen with his older brother. The 10-year-old liked it a lot, and I think he’s looking forward to its sequel. You can read a review I wrote of the The Birchbark House on the home/school/life blog, but it’s a great history lesson as well as a beautiful read. And I loved that it had strong, female characters.

In the evenings, I always read to each boy separately, and the 10-year-old and I just finished reading My Side of the Mountain and its two sequels by Jean Craighead George. My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite books when I was a kid, so I knew I wanted to read it to him, and we were both so happy to find out she later wrote the sequels: On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s MountainIf you have a child who loves nature and/or peregrine falcons, you must read these books. Frightful’s Mountain was my personal favorite!

My 10-year-old has read a few books by himself this year: Jedi Academy: A New Class, I Survived: The Nazi Invasion, 1944, Star Wars The Empire Vol 1 (Legends), and Star Wars The Rebellion Vol 1 (Legends). He also enjoys reading Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes.

Handwriting & Beginning Writing

This is where I’m going very slow, and I’m just getting him used to putting pencil to paper more often.

Since he’s willing to write now, I dusted off some old workbooks that we used in previous years, and I assign a 2-4 pages per week. He’s finished with Printing Power by Handwriting Without Tears and almost finished with this Star Wars writing book, which has creative writing prompts in it. These are for younger grades, but like I said, I just wanted to get him used to doing some more writing. We’ll be jumping ahead and into a more formal writing program next year, I think.

He is also still working through a free keyboarding program. He hates it, but this is something I think he’ll be thankful to know later. I only require it once or twice a week as well.

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Grammar

My big project — reviewing grammar curriculums for home/school/life magazine — really paid off for me. (I hope you will read it!) I didn’t think I would be able to find a grammar curriculum that my son would like, but I did. We’re now using Fix It! Grammar by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). Right now we’re using the first book (there are six total) called The Nose Tree. I plan on buying the next books as we need them. My son has actually said he likes doing grammar with these! Each week I teach him about a new part of speech, and then there are four days of very short lessons. All he has to do is correct one sentence, look up a vocabulary word, and copy the sentence into the notebook. The sentence he’s correcting and copying is one sentence in a long story called The Nose Tree, and once he finishes this book, he’ll have written out the whole story in his notebook. We both love that.

Although the curriculum conveniently creates lessons for a four-day school week, we usually take two weeks to complete them. This is because I don’t do grammar everyday…we have so much to do!

This is what we’re doing for language arts right now. I have many plans percolating in my head about the future of my sons’ language arts homeschool program. As I work through them all, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Thanks for reading. 🙂