Our 5th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

Since my youngest son is an avid birder, I’ll share some bird photos I took on a trip to Franklin, North Carolina. This is a song sparrow.

Every year I have written a blog post about the curricula I’ve used for my boys in elementary school. (Once we get to middle school, I’ll share all the nitty gritty details in my PDF resources.) This post will cover what I used for 5th grade for my youngest son last year.

You might notice that it’s not an exact replica of what his older brother was doing when he was in the 5th grade. Younger brother is a completely different kid, and he’s going at a different pace. This is as it should be. However, it’s also partly because I had all these resources and didn’t have to search for them like I did when I was doing 5th grade with my eldest. All these factors make a big difference.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments. I write detailed email responses, if I get good questions. Also, if I’ve written a review of these resources, I’ll link to it.

Tree swallow

Language Arts

He finished Fix It! Book 1 (IEW) and Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar Town and Practice Island. 

I created Type 1 and Type 2 writing prompts for him as explained in Twelve Writing Assignments Every Middle School Student Should Complete.

He worked off and on in Language Smarts Level E from the Critical Thinking Co. It’s extra practice.

He began the Michael Clay Thompson vocabulary program with Caesar’s English I. 

This kid is an avid reader, and it’s a challenge to keep enough books on hand for him. (Getting him a Kindle really helped.) He’s flown through series such as The Secret Zoo, The Familiars, Wrinkle in Time, Seekers, Guardians of the Ga’Hoole, Harry Potter, and The Land of Stories as well as single books that aren’t in a series. Right now he’s waiting for another Redwall book from the library.

Mourning dove

Math

He finished four Life of Fred math books last year, including all of the intermediate series. After trying to go further in that series, however, it didn’t seem like a good fit for him anymore (my eldest son did stick with Life of Fred for a while longer but eventually switched as well), so he switched to Khan Academy for the remainder of the year. For 6th grade, we’ve got a new curriculum, which I’ll share in another post someday.

Science

I took a real shift in science this year. Learning about science had always been part of our natural, weekly routine when my eldest son was younger, but due to a lot of factors — shifting interests, the pandemic, and how my younger son learns differently — I decided to begin outsourcing science. By this I mean online classes, and for my youngest son, Outschool.com has been an incredible resource. He enjoys the live Zoom classes. I’m also grateful for these classes because he continues to be very interested in studying birds, and if this keeps up, he may go into the sciences for a career. I want to make sure he has a good foundation in science.

So, in the 5th grade, he took the following classes on Outschool:

      • Zoology Semester Course (10 weeks) by Marc Cuda*
      • Wild Animal Wonders: Introduction to Bird Biology, Ornithology Just for Kids! (8 weeks) by Teacher Carmen
      • Wacky World of Science Summer Camp for Middle School Learners (6 weeks) by Patch Kulp
      • Extraordinary Birds Part 2 by Marc Cuda (He had already taken Part 1)

Aside from this, we also read How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer, and we continued to watch science and nature documentaries on an almost daily basis, which we’ve done since our kids were babies. (So they enjoy them!)

* If you want a review of the teachers on Outschool, send me an email. You can also read teacher reviews on the site.

Carolina wren

History

History lessons were informal. My husband is a history professor, so both my boys benefit from his insights from time to time. In the 5th grade, my 5th grader read a bunch of books:

He read Story of the World, Vol. 1: Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer by himself. He liked this book more than my older son did.

Together we read Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook, and we both liked it. As we went along, I also read history related storybooks and middle grade books that I had picked up at library book sales. We continue to do this in the 6th grade.

Foreign Language

He continued to take weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with a tutor online last year. Hiring a tutor was the best thing I could have done to make sure we stuck with a foreign language study. We still don’t keep up with it as well as we should, but we make progress because of the weekly lessons, and my youngest son is pretty good at reviewing the vocabulary a few times each week.

Tree swallow

Music Education

My 5th grader completed four years of cello lessons in August 2021! I can’t believe how time flies. 

Last year was really weird because we were stuck at home due to the pandemic, and we continue to be mostly at home now, although that’s slowly changing. There were outside activities I had hoped to get my 5th grader involved in, but it hasn’t been possible. It’s extremely frustrating, and I don’t know how this will affect him in the long-run, but I’ll always be grateful that we were already homeschooling when the pandemic started, we have each other, and we started using Outschool!  What a lifesaver that has been! 

New Curriculum: Vintage Poetry for Modern Kids

You may remember that I wrote a post last year about how to teach poetry to a child who hates it. I came up with some good ideas, but I wish I had this new resource then because I think it would have been a great way to teach poetry to my boys.Vintage Poetry for Modern Kids contains 52 classic poems and hands-on projects that can be adapted for any child at any age.

This book is beautiful and truly helpful for homeschool parents and teachers. It’s everything I want in a homeschool curriculum: easy to use and designed to be flexible. The poems are arranged by season, but you can pick and choose the poems and projects you want to use. It is secular too.

Each entry in the book includes the poem, synopsis and notes, questions that will help you start a conversation about the poem, and a section on how to guide your student to read the poem like a writer. In addition to that, there are fun projects that you can do too. For example, for “How the Little Kite Learned to Fly” by Katherine Pyle, there is a lesson on how kites fly and directions and a template to build your own kite.

Here are two selections from the book that you can read for yourself:

“How the Little Kite Learned to Fly” by Katherine Pyle
“The Grass” by Emily Dickinson

You can also read the Table of Contents and Introduction ofVintage Poetry For Modern Kids on Amazon, which is where you can purchase it too. Check out the book’s webpage on The Flourish Workshop Press for copies of the individual poems and craft templates that you can print out as needed.

I’m going to try using this resource this year with my 5th grader this year. If you try it too, please let me know what you think! I’m excited about it.

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!

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

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.

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?

2nd Grade Homeschool Curriculum Review

My little birder at work.

This is a follow up to my post Our 2nd Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum that I wrote at the beginning of the year. In that post, I wrote about my plans for this year. In this post, I’ll tell you how it all went. You’ll see some of this is a repeat of Nearing the End of 5th Grade because my second grader tags along with his older brother in many subjects.

Reading At the beginning of the year, I said we were going to pick up 100 Easy Lessons again, and we did for awhile, but then my son and I got bored with it. (I still recommend it, but having done it with my elder son, I was ready for something new.) We were reading out of easy readers for awhile, but then a friend of mine loaned me her set of Usborne Very First Reading books. I love these books!  It’s a set of 15 books, and they start off easy, but each one builds on the material from the previous books. I have taken my time with them, letting him read each book several times (once per day), do one puzzle at the back of the book, and I also printed out the available worksheet that they have on their website for each book. We begin each book by going over the sounds it introduces. He’s almost finished with this set, and I’m really pleased with how much he likes them.

We have also been working in the 2nd grade Reading Star Wars workbook. In general I don’t use a lot of workbooks, but both my boys enjoyed these since they are Star Wars fans.

Literature My second grader has listened to many books this year, including Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, The Porcupine YearThe Odyssey, and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek MythsAll of those he listened to with his brother. He and I have also read several Magic Tree House books together, Stuart Little, and The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate

Math – We switched to Life of Fred books this year, and no joke, we’ve sped through the first six books already! He loves them and always wants to do math first. Also, they were easy for him because I started him in these books at a later age than his brother, and he had already done a lot of math with his previous curriculum, Singapore. But we like Life of Fred much better. He also raced through the 2nd grade Star Wars Math workbook too. He seems to like math even though he won’t admit that!

History – My youngest son has joined his older brother in learning about history, though I don’t worry as much about what he retains because I know we’ll go over all this stuff again at some point. We’ve covered these topics over the past year and a half: prehistory, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Hebrews, Ancient India, Ancient China, and Ancient Greece. Our huge history timeline is filling up with interesting points of history!

Science – This is one subject that I didn’t do anything too formal with this year, but we’ve done a lot of science in the past, so maybe that’s okay. We did watch plenty of science and nature documentaries, raised monarch butterflies, expanded our garden, and continued to learn about birds. My 2nd grader is all about birds. We started making bird journals together too!

Foreign Language – At the beginning of the year, we began Spanish lessons, and mid-year I also started Chinese lessons. It’s been much harder for the 2nd grader and I retain to our foreign language lessons than the 5th grader, so I’ve been trying to think of ideas to help us remember our vocabulary. I will write more detailed posts when I feel like I have more to say about it.

You can read about my search to find the perfect Spanish curriculum in the Winter 2018 issue of home/school/life magazine. We have been using Risas y Sonrisas, and I love it. We’re trying out Better Chinese for Chinese.

Art – We’ve had some fun with art this year, especially before we visited the Art Institute of Chicago in November. Leading up to this trip, I spent a few weeks teaching the boys about the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists as well as a few other artists whose works were featured in that museum. During our Biloxi trip, we visited the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and the Mobile Museum of Art.

For our art history lessons, I have found the artist bios on ducksters.com to be a great starting off point as well as Art With Mati and Dada, other YouTube videos, and, of course, library books. I ordered several Chicago Institute of Art books from our state-wide inter-library loan system.

Music – At the beginning of the year, I told you that my 2nd grader decided to try cello lessons, and I’m happy to report that he’s still taking them and enjoys them! I wrote about his cello practice here. It’s been a great experience, and I’m very proud of how far he’s come with it!

So that’s our 2nd grade curriculum. We’ll continue through the summer and start 3rd grade in September! I can’t believe how fast time is going by.

How is homeschooling going for you?

Nearing the End of 5th Grade Homeschool

Spent a few days on the gulf coast this spring.

Officially, our “homeschool year” isn’t over until August, and I will continue to give my boys lessons through the summer. However, when the weather turns warm, we start making time to get outdoors, and I begin to prioritize our lessons in this way:

  1. What can we finish before June?
  2. What do I want to stop and carry over until September?
  3. What will we do for summer lessons?

I have been concentrating on those things I want to finish and putting other things aside so that we can enjoy the good weather, and I’m making flexible plans for the summer, which I’ll write about later.

There are a few subjects I plan to write more detailed posts about, but I wanted to briefly go over what we accomplished and didn’t accomplish as I look back on the plans I made for 5th grade at the beginning of this year. This is for my eleven-year-old.

Language Arts

writing

I’ve already written a detailed curriculum review — and our experience of — IEW’s Student Writing Intensive on the home/school/life blog. Be sure to check that out, if you’re looking for a writing curriculum. We haven’t finished it yet, and to be honest, I may try something else over the summer, and if we like it better, we may not go back to it. However, I think IEW’s curriculum has worked well as far as getting my son started with formal writing.

literature

We finished reading Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, and we’ve been reading The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich, which I hope to finish soon. I continue to read the Redwall series to my eleven-year-old in the evenings. We’re reading them in publication order, and now we’re on book five, Salamandastron.

Yes, we read slow! I wrote all about that on the home/school/life blog too. But we’ve also been reading some long books for our history curriculum this year, including Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Odyssey. (We used the version from our library that was illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus.) We also read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek MythsI consider these books part of our “literature” and “history” exploration.

My son also likes reading silently to himself, and my husband will pick up a tall stack of graphic novels for him from the library every month.

grammar

I still love Fix it! Grammarand we’ll be finishing The Nose Tree very soon.

cursive

This year he completed Beginning Traditional Cursive. Not sure how I’ll continue with cursive practice yet.

Math

The Life of Fred series continues to be a winner in our house, and we’ve finished up to the book titled Liver. I will probably save Mineshaft for next year. We’ve started using Kahn Academy, which my son likes. (I tried it a year or two ago, and it wasn’t a good fit then.) We also used a Spectrum Workbook, but less so, since we began Kahn Academy. We have found the videos on Mathantics to be extremely helpful.

History

I keep detailed records of what we do for history on this blog, although I have not yet published what we’ve done for Ancient Greece (coming soon).

I’m very proud of how much world history we’ve done this past year and a half. We’ve covered these topics: prehistory, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Hebrews, Ancient India, Ancient China, and Ancient Greece. Our huge history timeline is filling up with interesting points of history!

Science

When you spend a lot of time doing one thing, something else has to give. This year I feel like we haven’t done enough science, but then again, we did so much science in the past, we were kind of ahead, so maybe that’s okay. We did watch plenty of science and nature documentaries, raised monarch butterflies, expanded our garden, and continued to learn about birds.

Foreign Language

My heading at the beginning of the year was “Spanish,” but now I’ve changed it to “Foreign Language.” This is because….yes, I may be crazy!…we’ve begun learning two foreign languages: Spanish and Chinese.

Learning languages has been fun, but we’ve taken it slow (like we do with everything), and I feel like this year has been more about figuring out how to teach the languages than actually learning much of it. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m going to keep trying. I will write more detailed posts when I feel like I have more to say about it.

You can read about my search to find the perfect Spanish curriculum in the Winter 2018 issue of home/school/life magazine. We have been using Risas y Sonrisas, and I love it. We’re trying out Better Chinese for Chinese.

Art

Like I said at the beginning of the year, our art explorations ebb and flow. I thought this wouldn’t be the year for art like it was in the past, but we’ve actually had some great art lessons.

In November, we went to Chicago to visit relatives, and we took the boys to the Art Institute of Chicago. Leading up to this trip, I spent a few weeks teaching the boys about the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists as well as a few other artists whose works were featured in that museum. We did some related art projects too. It was so much fun, and my eleven-year-old especially enjoyed it. He likes art history, especially when he learns about an artist who lived at the same time as one of the famous music composers. In fact, I gave him an assignment to find two artists who lived during the time of two composers, and then we searched for their artwork at the museum.

Besides this, we had a couple of other art history/art project days that we did when we needed a break from our regular routine, and during our Biloxi trip, we visited the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and the Mobile Museum of Art, which I’m going to write about soon on this blog.

For our art history lessons, I have found the artist bios on ducksters.com to be a great starting off point as well as Art With Mati and Dada, other YouTube videos, and, of course, library books. I ordered several Chicago Institute of Art books from our state-wide inter-library loan system.

Music

If you read my blog regularly, you know that music is what our days are all about, so I won’t repeat that information here. I’ve already written about my 5th grader’s third year of piano lessons, and you can view his YouTube channel here. It shouldn’t be too long before we post more videos there. 🙂

That’s our 5th grade curriculum in a nutshell. It’s been a full, good year, and I’m very pleased with what my son has achieved. I’ll eventually follow up with a review of my 2nd grader’s year too.

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.