Our 6th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

If you look closely, you can see the Great Blue Heron on the other side of the lake.

This is bittersweet for me because this will be the last post I write about our curriculum on my Mama of Letters blog, though I will keep writing here in other ways. For middle and high school, you can find my curriculum resources here. As the boys get older, I want to protect their privacy a little more and give myself new ways to connect with parents who value my work.

My younger son has completed 6th grade. In some subjects he’s a little ahead where his brother was because after developing these plans for his brother, I had them on hand, so I used them earlier with him. He’s also a different kid. He isn’t practicing an instrument several hours a day like his brother, so he has more time for other things. He loves to read, and I gave up trying to keep track of the books he’s reading. I think he was averaging a new book every 2~3 days at one point. 

Here’s a run down of his course of study and the resources I used:

Language Arts

Besides all the books he reads on his own (and I have to thank my husband for making many trips to the library to keep him supplied with books), I assigned him some books for a literature unit. The theme was survival. After reading the books, we talked about them, and I prepared a series of worksheets for him to fill out. The worksheets included information about the author, vocabulary, discussion questions, short answer, short essay, and a review of literary terms. I cobbled these together from stuff I found on the Internet, so I can’t share it here, but the last few books, I kept it simple. We discussed them, and I asked him to write about how survival was a theme in each book. This is what I assigned:

  • Island of the Blue Dophins by Scott O’Dell
  • Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  • Short Story: Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
  • Short Story: A Worn Path by Eudora Welty

In addition to this literature unit, he worked through Michael Clay Thompson’s Paragraph Town with me, and he did all the paragraph labs, four-level sentence analysis and punctuation lessons and worksheets.

If that’s not enough, on a whim I decided he could join his brother and me as we read the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Some of what I did to explore this play was listen to a professional reading of the original text followed by reading the modern text out loud together (from No Fear Shakespeare). We discussed the play, and we watched a BBC movie version of the play too. I’m really excited to start exploring Shakespeare with both my boys!

Math

For math I finally switched curriculums for the middle school level, and I have to tell you that if I had to start homeschooling over again, I would use this curriculum from the get-go. (But who knows? It might not have been a good fit when they were six-years-old.) Anyway, he’s working in Math Mammoth now, and if you use this curriculum, you should know that it’s more advanced than most math curriculums. For example, Math Mammoth “Grade 7” is pre-algebra. Most kids take pre-algebra in 8th grade, so if you use Math Mammoth, your kid will be slightly ahead of their public school peers. My son is on track to do pre-algebra in the 8th grade.

Science

This year I outsourced science because this kid is still into birds. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know this is the one and only project he has stuck with over the course of his short life, and he even has a YouTube channel that’s all about birds. If he continues to find this a major interest, there’s a good possibility he may go into one of the sciences. That’s still to be determined, but just in case, I didn’t feel like I could make science very exciting by teaching it myself. For this reason, I’m very grateful for Outschool.com. He’s taken many classes on this site, including some excellent classes specifically about birds and zoology, and he’s also been part of an ongoing, weekly ornithology club and more. But to meet a more typical course of study for 6th grade, I enrolled him in a year-long middle school Life Science class.

To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about how this Life Science class was taught even though it ticked the boxes for what I needed, and my son liked it. I’m not going to promote this particular class, and instead I will tell you that if you are looking for classes on Outschool, I find the best teachers are usually those who were not public school teachers. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but if you can find someone who has a degree in the subject, they will be excited about it, and they’ll have interesting ways of teaching it and a depth of knowledge that can’t be matched. Again, not always the case, but that’s been my experience so far. If anyone else has other experiences with finding good classes on Outschool, I welcome your comments. I do highly recommend Outschool. It’s been a game changer for us, and I appreciate how affordable most of the classes are.

artwork by the 6th grader

History

I had such ambitious goals for learning history and recording it on this blog, but Life taught me to keep it simple. I began reading Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook out loud to my youngest son last year, and we continued it this past year. We stopped reading sometimes so that we could read history-related middle grade books that I had picked up at library book sales. One of those that I would like to highlight is Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders. We loved this book, so we read it slowly over a long period. I highly recommend it.

If it had not been for the pandemic, I probably would have ordered more history books from the library, but we’ve really enjoyed this simple approached and the few books we had on our shelf. It won’t be long before he does U.S. History with his father (a history professor) in high school, so I think he’s getting a good introduction.

Foreign Language

Both my boys have been taking weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with an online tutor for almost three years now. As time went on, I felt that they needed more practice speaking Chinese, but I couldn’t figure out how to do this without spending more money. Suddenly this year we got what feels like a huge gift dropped on us. They are going to start getting twice weekly lessons with a new, fantastic tutor for free! I am over the moon excited. I wish I could share this resource with everyone, but unfortunately, it’s not mine to share. But I would urge anyone to just keep looking for opportunities in your community because you never know what you might find.

Physical Education

I always include physical education on my end-of-year progress reports, though I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it on my blog. We’re not an athletic family, but we are active in that we take many walks and hikes. This year I made more effort to take this kid out for more walks, and I succeeded.

Music 

And now we just passed my son’s 5th anniversary for taking cello lessons! I say this every year, but I can’t believe how fast the time is going. He enjoys playing the cello and considers it a hobby, so he spends about 45~60 minutes on daily practice, six days a week. His cello teacher is awesome, and he started back to in-person lessons this past winter.

I hope this is helpful for you. If you’d like to chat with me on Zoom about homeschooling, you can sign up here.

July 2022 – Wrapping Up Another Homeschool Year

View from a recent hike.

The boys worked hard to finish up their 6th grade and 9th grade year, and although there are a few loose ends to be taken care of, they have much to be proud of this year. They both do work above and beyond a typical course of study because the flexibility of homeschooling gives them the opportunity to do this. At some point I’ll write a post about our 6th grade curriculum, but I will reserve the high school years for a future publication. In the meantime, you are welcome to sign up to speak to me and ask questions on Zoom! I am still tweaking my store and developing new offerings, but it’s a slow process.

My 9th grader has outdone himself this year. He spends almost 25% of his day practicing the piano and listening to music to prepare for performances and auditions. I’ve never seen him so dedicated and determined to improve himself. If you follow me on Instagram, then you know he’s just completed a summer music program, which was an incredible experience for him. He also tackled a full 9th grade course load, and somehow we made time for gaming with his brother, taking walks and watching Netflix together. He transitioned from two years of online piano lessons (which weren’t ideal) to face-to-face lessons again, and this time we’ve had to travel great distances to reach his teachers. There are always surprises and lessons to be learned on his piano journey. I know we’ve made mistakes, but he knows we’ve got his back, and in the end, I hope he’ll benefit from everything we’ve learned. He’s also matured a great deal and is able to tell us what he needs and wants and that helps us tremendously.

My 6th grader has risen to another level too. He works almost completely independently on his course work except for some subjects I enjoy being a part of. But more importantly, he has found new ways to explore his interest in birds. This year I helped him start his own YouTube channel, and he films the birds in our yard. I taught him how to do all this, and together we learned how to use Final Cut Pro. Now he can do everything on his own. He is thrilled that one of his videos has gotten a lot of attention (see below), and this is increasing his subscriber base. He wants to get to 100 subscribers.

He’s also part of an ornithology club on Outschool.com, and he’s taken other classes about birds on that platform. This has inspired him to learn more about birds, and he continues to add birds to his “life list” as we travel around and find new birds. There are many camps and classes I would like to put him in, but we can only manage a little at a time, and he needs to get older before he can do some of it. But I can hardly wait to see what he’ll do in the future.

As for me, I have been slowly working on the boys’ progress reports for this year. I have to do things a little differently now that I have a kid in high school. For 9th grade, I have created a document of course descriptions, which is 23 pages long. He deserves recognition for his work on the piano and music education, so for the first time, I have made those into elective courses that are worth a credit each. I have a transcript for him too. I have done a lot of research about what colleges want from homeschoolers, so hopefully I will have more than enough documentation.

At the same time, I’m planning for next year. I create the English Language Arts component of their homeschool lessons, and I’m so grateful that as we continue homeschooling, I find more and more quality resources for homeschool students that weren’t available when we first started! (I can only imagine what will be available when my kids have kids!) Homeschooling was becoming more mainstream, and I think the pandemic has pushed it even further into the mainstream.

I always feel like I should write a caveat to my posts because I know how easy it is to compare yourself to other people who are writing about their lives online. I write about our successes, and while I like to think of us as a happy family, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of stresses. We are constantly trying to learn how to do better. Our resources are limited, so we feel frustration about what we can’t do for our kids. We come across plenty of subtle naysayers who don’t know much about us but assume a lot, and we’re still navigating the risks posed to us by a pandemic. I hope wherever you are on this path, you have the support of family and friends.

Documentaries we’re watching:

Our Great National Parks — President Obama narrates this beautiful documentary about some of the world’s greatest national parks.

Night on Earth — I love seeing what new technology can teach us. In this documentary, you’ll see what happens at night.

Books:

My 12-year-old just finished reading Call of the Wild, and he’s also working on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

My 15-year-old is reading The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg. (P.S. I meant to tell you that the 15yo has some new videos on his YouTube channel too.)

I have been reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. This book is a treasure and full of wisdom from two great religious leaders, but it’s not about religion. It’s about what it means to be joyful and how to be more joyful.

I hope you are feeling joyful. Please tell me how your summer is going.

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.

Quick Review: Life of Fred Intermediate Series, Fractions and Decimals and Percents

To see my review of the Life of Fred elementary series, click here.

My son has always loved Life of Fred. He completed the elementary series by the end of the fourth grade, and in 5th and 6th grade, he completed the intermediate series (Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft) and then Fractions and Decimals and Percents. He always went slowly and deliberately, carefully answering all the questions on paper, and he would redo questions that he got wrong. I used to read the books with him, but somewhere in the intermediate series, he started doing them by himself.

I would say that Life of Fred has made up over 90% of his math education through 6th grade. I have tried a few other curricula, including Khan Academy, but nothing ever stuck like Life of Fred.  He occasionally used online videos when he needed something clarified, and I have had him work through selections of test prep books before he had to take our state’s required standardized test so that he could practice using a test format.

I have read numerous reviews and comments from other parents saying that Life of Fred makes a good supplement, but it doesn’t offer enough practice to be a complete math curriculum. I always disagreed with that, but I let those comments go because, well, how did I really know? It was the only curriculum my son wanted to use, so that’s why I stuck with it. Well, now my son’s score on a recent standardized test has convinced me that Life of Fred is a good program. I don’t usually mention his scores at all, but I feel it’s important to let people know that Life is Fred can be a good option for a homeschool student’s math curriculum, if the student likes it.

Perhaps people who think it’s “just a supplement” have not stuck with it enough to realize what the author is doing? I don’t know. I can see where some kids may not like the quirky story format, and that’s a valid reason for not using it. And it certainly does not follow the typical public school math course, but if you and your kid like it, stick with it! The intermediate series and above are more difficult, and many of the problems are complicated word problems. The curriculum really makes my son think, and I think it’s served him very well.

UPDATE (2021): I stand by this review as my son has continued to do very well in his math scores. However, after attempting the Pre-Algebra Life of Fred books, he didn’t like them as well, so we switched to Khan Academy for the remainder of junior high. My younger son moved away from Life of Fred a little earlier than that. For high school, we are using an online resource, and you can read about that in my PDF resources.

Note: I realize that using Life of Fred is very controversial among some homeschoolers. (I have been reprimanded in certain Facebook homeschool groups for recommending it.) The author is Christian, and this is apparent in the books, but as liberal as I am, nothing he wrote ever bothered me. He may have other views that I would very much disagree with. I can’t blame the people who don’t want to use this curriculum for those reasons, but ultimately, I have to weigh the political statement of not using these books with the good this curriculum can do for my son. I can talk to my son about other people’s world views and biases, and I know this author’s views will not influence him, so I am sticking with what in my opinion is an otherwise excellent math curriculum.

July

I have been keeping a secret for months, and now I’m happy that I can tell you. But first let me keep you in suspense a little longer and tell you about July….

Most significant: It’s hot, and it’s humid, and I’m melting, so please send ice cream. 🙂

Also, we have just got back from a long trip, so we’re taking it easy this week. I had a lot of unpacking, laundry, sorting, cleaning and whatnot to do. Soon I need to turn my attention back to all those homeschooling things that I put away before we left. I still need to finish the progress reports and figure out what we’re going to do during the summer months for lessons and then what to add to that in September for our new year….I have most of that figured out, but I need to check my notes and order some curriculum. We also need to do our annual check-ups at the dentist and doctor and all that.

I feel like I’m always sorting, organizing, cleaning, pondering, planning and making appointments. That’s the life of a homeschool mom, I guess. But I’m very relieved that the major events for our summer are over, and I can use the rest of this season for all that administrative stuff as well as playing and enjoying our garden. We finally added a few new plants to our front garden beds this week.  Hopefully they can withstand the heat.

Edgewater Park on Lake Erie

Okay, let me tell you our secret. It was months in the making, but then it came and went so quickly. My twelve-year-old son was a participant in the 2019 Summer Sonata Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM). This was a 7-day intensive piano program held in late June. I’m not going to write too much about it, but I will say that it was an amazing week that challenged him, and he loved it. He was finally around other kids who are like him. That is, kids who are talented and work hard at music and love it too. He also got to take classes in Eurhythmics, theory, piano literature, form and composition as well as have one-on-one lessons, duet coaching and master classes. I was so proud of him. It consisted of some very long days, but he kept smiling all the way through it, so that told me all I needed to know.

The week ended with a recital in CIM’s beautiful Mixon Hall when all twenty-two participants performed, and this performance was open to the public. Here’s a photo of him during that recital. It was a wonderful place to perform and learn, and I’m so glad he got to experience this.

Mixon Hall
The twelve-year-old’s recital performance in CIM’s beautiful Mixon Hall.

Another view of Mixon Hall when we first stepped into it. Stunning, isn’t it?

When he was accepted into the program, we had to work our “vacation” around it, if you can call it that. My husband was working remotely while we were in Cleveland and he also took our son to and from CIM everyday. We all supported him in the evenings when he had homework too. But we also enjoyed our one-on-one time with our nine-year-old, and as you might guess, we spent most of our free time birdwatching. And, yes, we put a few more birds on our life lists! That was exciting.

Purple martins nesting at Edgewater Park.

This trip ended up being the “ultimate homeschooling” adventure since we used it as a way to foster the interests of our two boys, which is a major component in project-based homeschooling. For the twelve-year-old, he was going every day to CIM for an intensive music program. For the nine-year-old, we concentrated on birding, visiting the wonderful museums that Cleveland has to offer, and after the music program was over, we extended our trip a few days so that we could go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Oh my gosh! What a fantastic place. I will write a separate post about it so that I can include more information about it for you. If you are into birds, you really need to know about this place.

Lake Erie

I should mention that we loved Cleveland. It doesn’t have the best reputation, but we thought it was a beautiful city with a lot to offer. The area around CIM, which is called University Circle, was beautiful with a lot of green spaces. Across the street from CIM was the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and also within walking distance was the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Art Museum. We visited all of those.

Driving from University Circle to Lake Erie was a treat as we passed multiple mini-international gardens, creating a green belt all the way down Martin Luther King Drive. If we ever go back to Cleveland, we want to walk down that street and see all the gardens at a leisurely pace.

Taken at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The first photo in this post was also taken at the garden.

Cleveland Art Museum. There was also a contemporary art museum, which I was sad to miss.

There were also other places to visit, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to do everything. But we rented an awesome place through Airbnb — if you ever need to go to Cleveland, ask me about it. I was grateful to have this relaxing space to come home to everyday, and I was glad that the twelve-year-old had a place that felt like home to rest in every evening.

So those are the exciting summer activities that I mentioned in my last post, but they turned out even better than I ever imagined. Stay tuned for more photos from the Cornell Lab in Ithaca, New York.

Please tell me about your summer adventures.

How Did We Do? Our 2018/2019 Homeschool Review

Song Sparrow

At the beginning of each year, I write a post about what curriculum and resources I’m planning to use. At the end of each year, I write a follow-up, letting you know what I changed. Because I always change something.

So this is my follow-up to At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s 6thand 3rdGrade Curriculum, which I published on the home/school/life blog.

6th Grade

  • Writing – I stopped using the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s (IEW) student writing intensive before my son finished it because I felt he got out of it what he needed to, and that was good. I also used part of a textbook I received from a teacher, and it was helpful. Now we’ve moved on to using the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Program (MCT) exclusively, which includes grammar and writing, and I think I’ll probably stick with this program from here on out.
  • Grammar – I stopped the IEW Fix it! series (for now), and I’m going to keep using MCT. I’ll be writing more details about this decision for the HSL blog, and I’ll link to that here when it’s published.
  • Extras — In addition to his language arts program, I also had my son work through Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes; Note Taking: Lessons to Improve Research Skills and Test Scores; and Study Skills Strategies: Outlining. Except for the cursive, these were things I had not planned on incorporating at the beginning of the year.
  • He recently began working in The Basics of Critical Thinking by the Critical Thinking Co., which will carry over to next year. He likes this book!
  • Reading – My son is an avid reader, and his dad helps him pick out new novels, which I’m thankful for because I can’t do everything. I can’t remember the titles of all his choices, but I can say that he enjoyed the entire Percy Jackson series this year. Before that, he read all the Harry Potter books.
  • Math – This never seems to change. We’ve had a lot of success with the Life of Fred series. (Using this curriculum seems to be quite controversial among secular homeschoolers, which I think is a shame.) Occasionally my son will use Internet resources, if he doesn’t get something, but that’s rare. I especially like Mathantics.com for that. He also worked on math in his test prep book (see below).
  • Music – My son just celebrated four years of taking piano lessons, and he’s more passionate about it every year. His dad is instrumental in helping him get all the resources he needs to achieve his goals. We have discovered that the Great Courses Plus has a lot of courses about music history that appeals to him, so we’ve added time for that.

3rd Grade

  • Reading – My third grader has improved his reading comprehension and has enjoyed several chapter books this year. His most recent favorite book was Goosed! by Bill Wallace.
  • Grammar – He has continued working in the Star Wars 3rd Grade Reading and Writing workbook this year, and I recently decided to begin Level 1 of the MCT curriculum with him. He listened to it while I was reading it to his older brother last year, but this time we’re going slower and using the Practice books too.
  • Math – My younger son loves Life of Fred too. He also completed the Star Wars 3rd Grade Math workbook, and we have used a lot of flashcards to learn the times tables. (I had him watch Time Tales, but that did not help him as much as it helped his older brother, so I guess I would recommend it only if your student is a visual learner.)

Note: Even though there are Star Wars workbooks available for 4thgrade, and we were using them because my son likes them, I think we’ll stop here with those workbooks. Between both boys, I’ve used them for what? Six or seven years? I’m ready to move on, and I think my son will benefit from spending more time on our other curriculum.

  • Birds – Birds has always been a special interest of my youngest son, so we do a lot of bird watching and reading about birds. (We are all bird fanatics now. This is why you will see a lot of bird photographs on my blog.) We put up a birdbath this year, and observing the wildlife it attracts has given us all much joy!
  • Music – My younger son will be celebrating two years of cello lessons later this summer. I’m so impressed with his progress and stick-with-it-ness.

6th and 3rd or what we do together

  • Literature – Although the boys read their own books that they pick themselves, I have continued to read out loud to them this year. We finished reading The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then we started Chickadee by Louise Erdrich. Yes, the books I read to them are slow-going because we have a lot of other work to do. We’ve also been reading poetry, books about poetry, and a lovely book titled Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, which is written in poems! See this post for more information on how I’m teaching poetry. I also read history books out loud too. (See below.)
  • Test Prep – This was a testing year for us, so we worked our way through these test prep books (I skipped parts they didn’t need), and I gave the boys the practice tests so that they were aware of what the test would be like. My younger son, especially, had no experience filling in those little bubbles. It’s not something I like doing, but it’s helpful too. We used Test Prep: Grade 6 and Test Prep: Grade 3 by Flash Kids Harcourt Family Learning. I am so grateful that as homeschoolers, my boys don’t have to suffer the stress of too much test-taking or grades, though curiously, now that they understand what a grade is, they get excited to know what their grade is on these tests! lol I am toying with the idea of giving them some practice tests at the end of every year, but we’ll see.
  • Grammar & Writing – In my beginning-of-the-year post, I mentioned that I was reading the MCT Level 1 books to the boys during the summer, and I liked them so much that I was going to try to squeeze in time to finish them all. Well, as you read above, I liked this curriculum so much that I’m completely switching to it!
  • History – We have continued to make slow but good progress on our history lessons. We completed our first unit of U.S. history on the Native Americans, and we also did a unit on Ancient Rome. My son is still watching a Great Course on Ancient Rome. Those courses are really long, so while he watches it, I went ahead and started a new unit on the Islamic World. I haven’t written a blog post about this yet, but the link goes to my husband’s screencast on the Islamic World. I use his screencasts as a guide to what to study. Look at my top menu for links to all our history units. I will continue to add to these posts as we rediscover some of these topics in different ways over the next few years.
  • Science –
    • We did science-related projects this year! See Project-based Homeschooling: Plant Project and Project-based homeschooling: American Elm to learn more about them! I will be writing more about our ongoing birding projects in the future too.
    • The boys also attended two homeschool science courses at our local nature center this year.
    • As far as the formal science lessons:  As I wrote in that beginning-of-the-year post, we did science on Saturday mornings this year. It was the only time I could squeeze it in. But we ended up using an Earth Science For Middle School textbook from CK12.org. (You can also download the teacher’s manual and test and quizzes book to go with this.) I feel it’s so long that we may never finish it, but my 12-year-old really likes it, so we’re sticking with it and will continue to work on it next year. Next year, he’ll be doing science more often, and my third grader will too. He did less science than his older brother this year. Of course, we watched lots of nature and science documentaries, though, and we’re a science loving family in general, so we keep up to date with the latest science discoveries etc.
  • Foreign Languages – Oh how I wanted us to learn both Spanish and Chinese! How cool would that be?! But my boys talked me into letting them just learn Chinese, and I’m fine with that. Curiously, they thought Spanish was boring, but they enjoyed the Chinese lessons. We kept at it four days a week until about a month ago when I pared down our lessons to the very essentials because….it’s spring, we had a lot of appointments, we have a test coming up, we have other things to do, and it’s spring….
  • Music – We had a great year of music lessons and attending a few free concerts at the nearby university.
  • In addition, we have begun watching A Children’s Guide to Folklore and Wonder Tales, a Great Course taught by Prof. Hannah B. Harvey, Ph.D. This is a great supplement to their language arts program.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. We had a good year, and though we never get to do everything I hope we’ll do, I know we’re making good progress. It’s not over yet either. We still need to take that test, and we have some important educational events and activities happening this summer. We’ll continue to do some “lite homeschooling” through August too. Our 7th grade and 4th grade year will begin in September. (Yikes!)

Another note: Since I have less time to write these focused blog posts, I have begun to write monthly or bimonthly updates. There’s not a lot of “how to” in them, and sometimes I ramble or wax poetic, but I try to give you updates on our homeschool, activities and favorite books/resources. If you’d like to keep up with how we’re doing, please consider following my blog.

And I’d love to hear from you too. What is your homeschool like? What are your favorite resources? If you have any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them. Thanks for reading!

 

How to Teach Poetry to a Kid Who Hates It

For a couple of years, I have been wanting to squeeze poetry into my sons’ course of study. But how to do this, especially when my eldest son loves to tell me how much he dislikes it. This makes me sad. When I was his age, I was writing poetry!

I understand how poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though, and some kids may need to grow up before they begin to appreciate it. Sometimes it’s an acquired taste; sometimes not. I thought my musically gifted son would be able to understand poetry in a way I never could. After all, music has a lot in common with poetry. But he doesn’t like it. Not yet. (With the exception of Shel Silverstein.)

I don’t make it a habit to force my kids to do something they really don’t want to do, but then again, there are things I think are important for everyone to learn or become aware of, if not an expert at. I would love for my boys to develop an appreciation for poetry, but even if they don’t, I don’t feel I’d be educating them properly if I didn’t teach them about it. But I waited until the right time and resource came along…

Along it came a couple of years ago when I did a review of grammar programs for home/school/life magazine. I received a complimentary copy of Music of the Hemispheres because it was part of the first level of the Michael Clay Thomas language arts program by Royal Fireworks Press. I was not reviewing that specific book, however, so it sat on my shelf for about a year and then last summer I picked it up after we finished reading through Grammar Island and Sentence Island. It was in the sequence of books for this curriculum, and we loved the first ones, so I thought I would read this one to the boys too. And, wow! I loved it. I mean, Where was this book when I was a kid trying to understand poetry better?  Not only is it a beautiful book and visually appealing, it explains all those tricky elements of poetry in a way that kids can understand. (Okay, iambic pentameter and dactylic, iambic and trochaic tetrameter is still a bit tricky, but it was a good introduction.) It was a beautiful way to explain simile, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and it’s not a long book, so it’s perfect for kids. (Tip: If you’re on a tight budget, all you need to buy is the teacher’s manual.)

With this book, I came up with a game plan on how to teach poetry to my kids.

How to teach poetry to a kid who hates it? Here’s what I decided NOT to do:

  • I’m not going to require him to memorize it. While I love the idea of memorizing poetry, why put him through that when he hates it? What would it really achieve, especially when he’s memorizing great musical works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Scarlatti and many other great composers?
  • I’m not going to make him write poetry. Not even a haiku.
  • I didn’t make him do the exercises in Music of the Hemispheres.

This is what I decided I WOULD DO:

  • Read poetry to him. But….>
    • …just once a week
    • a few poems at a time
    • 30 minutes tops
    • he is fine with that
  • Also, I will read from children’s poetry anthologies or other works that are age appropriate and hopefully more appealing than the esoteric stuff I read in college.
  • Along with reading a few poems, I’ll read a few pages from Music of the Hemispheres. (See above for a review of that.)
    • All I did was make him listen to a few pages, and I occasionally asked questions or expanded on the book with my own knowledge. Again, just once a week.
  • When possible, I will find unique poetry that may interest him more, such as Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science which was a gift from relatives. (Thank you!!) He actually likes this book, which uses poetry to tell the stories of three important scientists.
  • In lieu of memorizing poetry, I bought three folders with fasteners, and I told both the boys that as we read the poetry, whenever they find a poem they really like, I will photocopy it and put it in their folder. That way, they can slowly accumulate a nice booklet of poems that they like.

Fortunately, my younger son does like poetry. What a pleasant surprise! He has picked several poems to include in his folder. My eldest son? Well, after a full year of reading poetry, he’s picked one. At least there was one! lol

It is my hope that exposing him to poetry in this (hopefully) less painful way will at least make him aware of the art form because as a musician, I think it’s important that he has knowledge of and respect for all the arts. (Everyone should, really!) And as for my younger son, I’m pleasantly surprised that he enjoys it, and I’m glad I’m exposing him to it because otherwise it may have taken him a long time to *find* poetry on his own.

As for the future, I plan to get the next poetics book in the Michael Clay Thomas language arts program, but I’m not sure when. I plan to keep reading poetry once a week to the boys. Since we finished the Oxford Children’s Anthology, we’re working on Finding Wonders now. Yes, it’s a slow way to teach poetry, but it’s perfect for my reluctant poet, a good introduction for my younger son, and over time, a little bit each week builds up to a good dose of poetry.

Do you teach poetry to your kids? What are some of your favorite resources?

Project-based homeschooling: American Elm

‘Princeton’ American elm.

Happy Arbor Day!

In my last post, I told you a bit about my boys’ interest in plants and how we began identifying all the plants and trees in our yard. Even more so than plants, I think my eldest son is interested in trees, and he loves to try to identify them and propagate some of them, which I also mentioned in my last post. Today is Arbor Day, so I thought it would be the perfect day to write about my son’s special interest in American elm trees.

Sometime during this past year he read about the American elm tree. This is a beautiful tree that can grow to over 100 feet tall and live for a thousand years. You may already know how this beautiful tree used to line many urban streets in the central and eastern United States, but around the 1930s almost all of them died from Dutch elm disease. (Millions of elms were killed by this disease.) There were a few American elms that didn’t die, however, including one cultivar named ‘Princeton’ American elm. (Named so because it was developed by Princeton Nurseries in 1922.) Today these trees are under conservation, and many ‘Princeton’ elms are being replanted in urban settings. We have even found a few of these young elms in a town square of a small Georgia town we’ve traveled to.

For the first time, we’ve been able to see new leaves emerge on our American elm tree.

After learning about the American elm and the conservation efforts to save it, my son wanted to get one to plant in our yard. We certainly don’t need more trees, but how could we say no to our little conservationist? Last October, we got one from Thomas Orchards, and we planted it in a grassy area in our front yard, which is near the street. It’s been exciting for us to see its first leaves appearing this spring and to think that someday it may tower over our street just like American elms did long ago.

Planting our new tree last October.

By coincidence, several years ago I got the opportunity to photograph an estate in Twin City, which is a tiny town located in central Georgia. On that property, there was a huge American elm, which was a rarity. The owner of the house said that researchers from the university had come to see her tree and study it. Here’s a photo I took of that tree:

Quite impressive, isn’t it?

What is your favorite tree and why?

Project-based Homeschooling: Plant Project

A winged elm (Ulmus alata). We found two fully grown winged elms in our yard when we began our mission to identify and label all the plants and trees in our wooded yard.

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, I thought I would write about a project we’ve been working on for over a year. My older son has always had a special interest in plants. When he was little, he became obsessed with seeds for awhile. Then he had his carnivorous plant project, and we still grow the carnivorous plants. My younger son also enjoys gardening and likes having his own plants to care for too.

Wild ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) grows abundantly in the woods behind our house, and I love this wild plant. If you pull back the leaves, you can see their bell-shaped flowers.

About a year ago my twelve-year-old became extra interested in plants, especially trees, and he even asked to go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden for his birthday.  He’s been learning how to grow and propagate trees by himself, particularly redbud trees. His younger brother wanted to try this too, so he’s trying to grow some hickories. Needless to say, my refrigerator has been packed with little pots of dirt and seeds this past winter! If they have any success growing these trees, I’ll be sure to write about it in the future.

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea). We found this growing wild by our driveway!

There are some trees that are very difficult to identify, such as this prominent oak in our front yard (center). We think it’s a post oak. (Quercus stellata)

What started all this? Well, we decided to try to identify and label the plants and trees that grow naturally in our wooded yard. I had mentioned trying this a long time ago, but I never did it because it was a huge undertaking. Finally my twelve-year-old wanted to do it in earnest, so we got serious about it.

So far we have identified and labeled 20 different species of trees and plants! It feels like we’ve made a lot of progress, but there are so many plants we still haven’t identified!

Plants we’ve found:

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea)
Wild Ginger (Hexastylis arifolia)
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatom Communtatun)
St. Andrew’s Cross (Hypericum hypericoides)
Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum)
Pennywort (Hydrocotyle microphylla)

Trees:

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)
Hawthorne (Crataegus)
Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)
Water Oak (Quercus alba)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Carolina Basswood (Tilia americana caroliniana)
Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)
Holly (Ilex)

Water Oak. (Quercus nigra) Surprisingly, we have only one water oak in our yard, but it’s huge, and it’s near our front porch. It also happens to be my favorite tree in the yard.

As a homeschooling mom, I can say it feels great when your kid gets old enough to do the hard work by himself. This project has led my twelve-year-old to learn how to use a dichotomous key when trying to identify plants and trees. He has used Tree Finder: A Manual for Identification of Trees by their Leaves (Eastern U.S.), Winter Tree Finder, A Field Guide to Eastern Trees and the Internet to identify several plants and trees. Then he lists the plant names in a notebook. Sometimes he takes photos of them, but I often do that. I’ve also been helping by uploading some of our photos to iNaturalist, which has been a big help in identifying plants and trees too.

We have several white oaks. (Quercus alba) The ink on the label has already faded in just one winter. Time for a touch up.

I also help by writing out the labels that we put on or near the trees and plants (because I have the nicest handwriting). We always put the common name and the scientific name. My yard is starting to look a little bit like the botanical garden….well, I guess it would need to be much neater before I could say that! But I enjoy seeing the labels nonetheless.

We have a few wild black cherry trees. (Prunus serotina) They surprised me one year by producing small, tasty cherries! These trees have beautiful bark too.

This Friday is Arbor Day, so I’m going to use that day to post about a particular tree my son wanted to buy and plant in our yard.

There is one small willow oak (Quercus phellos) trying to grow among the the other hardwoods in the backyard.

I hope you are having a happy spring!

March

Today the weather finally feels like spring. We’ve had other spring-like days this winter, but I think we were too busy to notice. But today it’s Sunday, and we took advantage of this warmer, cloudy day to go bird watching at Ft. Yargo State Park. There were very few people there since the forecast predicted rain, but as I write this, it’s late afternoon, and we haven’t had any rain yet, so our instincts were right. 🙂

We had a very successful bird watching expedition this morning. I believe birds are beginning to migrate back up north, so we were able to add some new species to our “life lists.” This included lesser scaups, a pied-billed grebe, and hooded mergansers. We also saw Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks. As for songbirds, we saw the ever-present cardinals, Carolina wrens and white-throated sparrows. I also saw a red-bellied woodpecker, though I wasn’t able to identify it until I cropped the photo I took on my computer. In fact, cropping photos helped us identify the pied-billed grebe and hooded mergansers too.

lesser scaups

You may be thinking that my blog is turning into a birding blog, and maybe it is. LOL But as I have written many times, birds are a favorite interest of my youngest son, and my eldest son loves birds too. In fact, I think my eldest son helps keep the interest alive in his younger brother as he’s more adept at identifying the birds and looking them up in the bird app. But now that the nine-year-old is growing more capable, I hear a lot of fussing over who gets to do the “looking up.” (And who gets the binoculars too.) But it’s all good. I love to see them work together and get each other interested in something.

mallard

Other than this, we are still in the middle of what I call “piano season.” Along with the state piano competition, my son has other events he’s attending, so he’s been busy preparing for those, and with the temperamental weather, we’ve mostly been inside….another reason why today was so special. We finally got outside for awhile!

One good thing about being stuck at home for awhile is that we get a lot of lessons done. I feel like we’re making very good progress this year, though I have ditched a few things and changed resources on a couple of subjects. But this is the best part of homeschooling — getting to change it when it seems for the best. I will try to write about that in more detail at some point.

signs of spring

We are especially having fun with our subscription to the Great Courses Plus. The boys have even found courses that they are willing to watch on their own free time! (How to Play Chess and Robotics)  We are also watching The Rise of Rome for history and an Intro to Geology for science. I have also discovered that the course How to be a Superstar Student is great for my boys, and it’s introducing them a lot of skills that we’ll be going over again as they get older. It is targeted for high school age students, but the silly parts are probably more funny to kids that are my boys’ age instead. We have also watched a course on mathematics that we’ll slowly continue as my eldest son reaches each concept in his math curriculum. (Most of the courses, however, are college-level, so I am not recommending that homeschoolers with young kids subscribe. What until you get to junior high or high school.)

Do you see me? great blue heron

Also exciting to me is that I have started reading Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, the fourth book in the Birchbark series, out loud to the boys. This series has to be my favorite young adult series that I’ve read so far. I’m not extremely well-read when it comes to young adult novels, but I’ve been adding several titles to my list as I read books to prepare for my rising 7th grader’s literature study next year. I have decided to do a theme-based literature unit on books about “survival.” It’s been a lot of fun to read the books and think about all the ways humans “survive” this world.

Well, now it’s Monday morning, and I am trying to wake myself up after the dreadful time change. I will finish up this post with a few photos from our birding expedition yesterday. And please tell me–how are you doing this early spring?