Supporting the Little Makers

{How to Support Kids Who Like to Build Things}

Some kids will be natural builders. They will gravitate toward toys such as blocks, Legos, Zoob pieces, Tinker toys or many others that are available. They can also do wonders with cardboard and lots of tape. They like building, making, and creating. Let them do this to their heart’s content. There are other kids who may not like building, or they just do it a little. That’s okay too. Let kids do what they want when they have free, unstructured time.

Supporting the little makers is perfect project-based homeschooling territory, and over time, it may help you see how these techniques work.

Every parent wants their child to be independent and do things on their own, but that’s not going to happen until well into adulthood. So don’t think that when I say “fostering independent learners” or something similar, it means that you need to let your kids struggle or always play alone. On the contrary, when you follow project-based homeschooling techniques, you’re going to be available to your child and offer them the support they need.

During the time you set aside for your child’s projects, you can consider your child the boss, and you’re the employee. Your child gets to tell you what they want to happen, and you can do it for them. This is especially helpful when your child is little, and they may not have the manual dexterity to create what they envision. The important thing is not to take over your child’s project. Just ask them what they need you to do and don’t do anything else.

Don’t wander off or look at your phone during this time unless it becomes clear that your child doesn’t want you there. Sit there and let them know you’re available to help. Be interested in what they are doing. You can show interest by asking them questions about what they are building, but sometimes they’ll be happy if you just watch. Be enthusiastic. Just taking 30 minutes to an hour to sit by your child’s side even if they don’t need you to do anything will show your child you love and support them!

You can sometimes make suggestions, but I recommend waiting until they’re a little stuck or having a hard time accomplishing something. Always hesitate and ask questions. Wait and watch to see if they can figure it out on their own. Project-based homeschooling is about letting your child do the work when they can. You may think your child could not possibly figure out a way to fix a problem, but they might surprise you. I know there were a few times when I was working with my son, and I could see an easy way to make whatever it was he wanted, but I didn’t say anything. I saw him start doing something that I didn’t think would work, but then guess what? He made it work! His mind was working differently from mine, but his way worked just as well.

Of course, there were also times he got frustrated, cried, and I wondered what the heck I was doing. This is definitely a long road and takes practice for the parent. You are getting to know your child, learning when to step in and when to back off.

Do you have a little maker? I’d love to hear about them!

Also, please join me in one of my video chats as I discuss more project-based homeschooling techniques and answer all your questions. I’m going to schedule one for January, so please contact me, if you’d like to know when I do that. Alternatively, patrons can unlock access to all my classes, PDF resources, and much more, so please check out my Patreon page!

Private Homeschool Support Group for Project-based Homeschoolers, a.k.a. any Homeschool Family :)

I’m excited to share some news. I have created a Patreon account so that I can form a small, nurturing community of like-minded parents. Space will be limited, so we can get to know each other.

It will be a homeschool support group for project-based homeschoolers, but you don’t have to consider yourself a project-based homeschooler (PBH) to join. You just need to be interested in becoming a better mentor and guide for your child, which is what PBH is all about! Seasoned project-based homeschoolers are more than welcome too!

Project-based homeschooling might seem like unschooling or common sense parenting, but there are actually a lot of tips and tricks that I learned that helped me find a balance between stepping in to help my kids and stepping away when appropriate. That’s harder than it seems! I will be sure to share everything I’ve learned in this support group and help you with whatever comes up in your daily homeschooling life. I hope everyone in the group will support each other.

We will not be restricted to talking about project-based homeschooling! As a support group, we can discuss all aspects of homeschooling, parenting and daily life as homeschool parents. Also, you can use PBH techniques whether you unschool, use a strict curriculum or are somewhere in between.

So, if you’d like a small, nurturing group that you can check in with daily, weekly, monthly (whenever it’s good for you), please join. If you’d like to share your child’s projects and successes, but you don’t want to put it out for everyone on the Internet to see, please consider joining. If you’d like some camaraderie with like-minded parents, please join. 

I want to make it accessible, affordable and easy to join, but I can’t do this for free because I need to pay fees to keep up the infrastructure. I have created two tiers that I hope you find very reasonable:

$3.00/month subscription — Join the group I’m calling the “Wrens,” and you will receive the following benefits:

  • You will unlock posts on Patreon that are not on my public blog. I can be a little more candid there. Some of what I’ll share:
    • Resources I’m using right now and my candid feelings about it.
    • Curriculum I don’t like.
    • Ups and downs of daily life.
    • Our research into colleges and universities and what I need to do to help my kids reach their goals.
    • The pitfalls of homeschooling.
  • Ask me any question in a comment, and I will respond ASAP. Or you can access a private Discord server for this group that I will monitor daily. Share your child’s projects, ask advice, or just chat with the group!
  • As a sign on bonus, I will give you access to all my PDF resources.
  • You will also be supporting this ad-free blog (which will remain unchanged), and you will have my deepest thanks!

$6.00/month subscription — Join the group I’m calling the “Ravens,” and you will receive the following benefits:

  • You will have everything from the Wrens tier plus:
  • I will offer a monthly, live online support group meeting. Day and time will be determined by the first few members, so please don’t hesitate to sign up!
  • As a sign on bonus, you will have access to the classes in my store. That is, you do not have to pay extra for these classes. You can even take them more than once. (Each class is worth between $10-$25 each, and I will be adding more classes in the coming months.)
  • I will also create classes/presentations by request from my patrons on specific topics.

NOTE: I also have a $1 tier for anyone who would like to support my blog and read my posts on Patreon, but you don’t need a support group.

Click here to access My Patreon. Also, please share this post with your social networks. Thank you!

If you aren’t sure what project-based homeschooling is all about, start here: https://mamaofletters.com/project-based-homeschooling/

To learn more about me, see https://mamaofletters.com/bio/

Please join. Will you? Please comment or ask questions below.

Time for a Change

Here it is October, and I’m relieved by the cooler, beautiful weather. Yet the boys are full swing into their new homeschool year, and I’m already feeling the crunch of time. Sometimes I sit and breathe and remember that all will be well. No matter what we get done or don’t get done, my boys are growing into intelligent, caring people, and what more can I ask for?

Whether I like it or not, life is always changing. By that I mean people change and circumstances change, and I can’t control it. I’m getting older, and my body doesn’t agree with what my mind wants it to do. I can’t get society to act in ways that I wish it would, so instead I accept what is, and I do what little I can to help my family and make the world a better place.

One thing I have always loved to do is offer encouragement to other homeschooling parents. I don’t do this because I’m an expert at it. I carefully consider my every move on this unsure journey. However, I feel confident I have found some things that work well for the boys and me, and as they get older, I find it’s the boys themselves who are validating the overall choice to homeschool, go at their pace, and focus on their interests. (This doesn’t mean I think everything is perfect or that I don’t wish I had more resources at my fingertips!)

I hope we can help them in this later stage of homeschooling as they take what they’ve gained here and make their way into more independent lives and, most likely, higher education. I can’t wait to see what happens, but I’m humbled by knowing anything could happen, and nothing is certain.

I also think about myself and what I will do when I finish homeschooling. There are things I’d like to try, but I have less interest in the things I used to do. Will that interest come back when I’m less exhausted and have more time? Maybe. For now, I hope I can continue to be a source for homeschooling parents.

I have always been available by email, but I need to change that. I have less energy for typing long emails. So I’m going to try out video chats so that I can talk to parents. Unfortunately, I can’t do this for free, but I don’t need much to sustain it.

This Saturday, I’m giving a presentation on project-based homeschooling with plenty of time for a Q&A. (I can also make it available at a time that’s good for you.) These simple but powerful techniques helped me shift from thinking of myself as a parent-teacher to more of a mentor. It helped me identify my kids’ interests and not just the ones I thought were education-worthy.

I think it’s important to say that this is not about helping kids get into the best schools or putting them on a certain career path (unless that helps them with their goals). It’s more about supporting kids where they are at and creating a relationship of trust so that they know you are their advocate. Every kid should have an advocate that truly cares about what they care about! I think it’s these relationships that create a path of success for kids, and by success, I don’t mean just financial success. I mean a path that will be meaningful to them and the community they live in. When you respect kids and their interests, they will turn around and respect others. And that makes the world a little bit better.

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. I hope you’ll sign up for my presentation. Click here to do that.

Also, you can unlock my posts about middle school/high school and my reflections on the elementary school years by joining me on Patreon. Depending on what tier you pick, you can also unlock access to all my classes and resources for a low, monthly fee.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Homeschooling

a rare selfie 🙂

I’ve been homeschooling for over ten years, and now that I have some hindsight, it may be a good time to tell you what I love about homeschooling. Keep in mind that this is my experience; it may be different for other families. I may follow this up with a post about what I don’t love about homeschooling, but I’ll have to think about that.

So here are the top five reasons why I love homeschooling:

  1. Flexibility. Whether it’s curriculum, taking time off, or giving my kids the time they need to master a subject, I would say that flexibility has been the best part of homeschooling. We are not on anyone else’s calendar. We can sleep in, if we need it. When Life gets hectic, we can take some time off. If I end up disliking the curriculum I bought, I can toss it and try another one. My boys can take their music lessons with their teachers during the school day, so we can get a good time for that, and we can go to the park or zoo when it’s not crowded. Since my husband’s time off from his work does not correlate with the public school calendar, that is a big bonus too. This doesn’t mean we aren’t busy. It means my family gets to decide how we use our time.
  2. Out of the Box Learning. Although I try to match the traditional course of study as much as possible, I have a lot of flexibility in how I teach it, and if I can tell it’s not working for my kids, I can put it off or skip it. (If they hate it, they are not learning it.) We can learn so much in an informal way, such as through the documentaries we watch, visiting museums or conversations with knowledgeable people. My kids also like looking up the answers to their questions on the Internet, though they learn in many other ways too, such as through video games, T.V. shows, and, yes, books. Sometimes they surprise me with knowledge I didn’t even know they had. It’s amazing how good kids’ memories are when they are interested in something.
  3. Going at their pace. I have nudged, and I have challenged, but I don’t force learning, and that makes a big difference. Take, for example, how my boys learned how to read. I started them off around the age of four or five with 15~20 minute reading lessons, and depending on how well they did, I either kept going or I took long breaks from teaching it. I took a full year off from teaching reading to my eldest son when I could tell he wasn’t ready for it, and when we went back to it, I spent 20~30 minutes a day teaching him how to read. I remember getting a little anxious and stressed about it. Would they ever learn? But I knew going at their pace was better than pushing it. Around seven-years-old, they started to get it, and then at age eight, they began reading perfectly. At nine-years-old, they started reading books without being told to read. I never made them read anything outside our short lessons, and I also let them read whatever they wanted. They both started with comic books and graphic novels. Now they are avid readers, and they read long novels or non-fiction on their own time. In fact, we can’t keep enough library books on hand for my younger son! I love this, and I hate to think how different it may have turned out, if they were in public school and forced to meet certain milestones in reading before they were ready.
  4. Discovering interests unencumbered. If homeschooling parents give kids enough freedom, they have time and energy to discover what they’re interested in. Then they can begin to gain valuable skills. (If you’re lucky, this will prevent them from floundering for years as a young adult like I did.)  I don’t think you have to be an unschooler to do this. I don’t unschool, but I have used project-based homeschooling techniques (PBH), which helped me see how I could give my kids the time and tools to create and explore while also teaching them subjects I thought were important. Some kids don’t want to explore or create. They may prefer reading or gaming. Others will keep trying new things and not settle on any one thing. That’s okay! Let them do that. You never know where it might go. Other kids may find something and wham! You can see that they’ve found their vocation. That happened for my eldest son, the pianist. The flexibility of homeschooling gives my son time to practice the piano, do his lessons, and just be a kid too. If you’d like to learn more about PBH, I am offering a class on it.
  5. Close family ties. This is a byproduct I never thought about before I started homeschooling. I love how close we are as a family, and I love that my boys are best friends. They rarely squabble, and when they do, it’s amusing to watch. Since my boys are three years apart, I think things would have been very different, if they attended school. I’m grateful I have been there for every special moment and milestone, and I know my husband is too. (However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t need space from each other. When we need space, we have places to retreat to in the house.) This is an unexpected part of homeschooling that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

If you would like some camaraderie about homeschooling in a new private, online support group, please consider signing up for mine here.

What do you love about homeschooling? If you are considering homeschooling, what is holding you back?

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.

Slow and Steady

Time plays tricks on us. There are days that I feel the swift passing of time. I turned fifty recently, yet I hardly feel fifty. Well, maybe my aches and pains tell me I’m fifty, but all the memories from my life are stacked up neatly in my brain as if they happened yesterday. Something might trigger a forgotten memory, and it will come alive as if I just lived it.

My boys grow taller. They both have deeper voices now. Weren’t they just chubby cheeked and needing more hugs? Weren’t they just knee-deep in projects that created chaos on our activity room floor?

I am being swept away in this river of time, and I can never get to the shore.

On the other hand, when I think about homeschooling, I notice how this is a slow life. We tend to want to speed it up. We want our children to learn how to read so that we can tick that off our list of anxieties:

“Can I teach my kid how to read? I think I can, but I won’t know until they start reading. Lesson time, kids!” But maybe our child isn’t ready to read, so we reign in our impatience and go at their pace. Slow and steady.

“When will I get around to teaching a foreign language? I have so many other subjects I need to teach.”

“Why are they having trouble with math? They weren’t having trouble last week. Is it the curriculum? Is it me?”

There is so much about this life that we won’t be sure about until it’s all over. Tests don’t tell us everything we’d like to know. This can be hard. For most of my homeschooling-parenting life, I have had a good dose of confidence with a heaping spoonful of insecurity — perhaps just enough to keep me on my toes.

For anyone venturing onto this path of home education, I would say that if you’re reading this, you’re probably reading other materials on homeschooling too. You’re probably doing a lot of research about your options and any particular issues that you are dealing with. If you’re doing that, then I have confidence that you’re a good parent, and you’ll be just fine. You may have bad days. You may have years that aren’t the greatest. But this a slow road.

You build an education for a child bit by bit, according to what he/she/they can handle. You won’t notice the progress until one day something jumps out at you. Your child might say something very kind, they may do something generous, and you’ll be awash with relief — you fostered a nice person! Another day, your child may be presented with a challenge that you have no control over, and — bam — they handle it beautifully. Or you may get those standardized test results and — whoa!– your child scored in the 95th percentile! You weren’t expecting that, but now you’re a happy homeschooling mom.

You’re never expecting it, but time will take care of all your worries. If you feel you need to try something else, trust me, you have time. Kids unfold like flowers, one or two petals at a time, and you’ll know what you need to do when you need to do it. Enjoy being home with your kids. Enjoy the slowness of this path. Enjoy the uncertainty too because tomorrow that one will be gone and there may be a bigger uncertainty looming.

Nothing stays the same, and while it doesn’t always feel like it, this river of time is swift. I’m going to drift along and see where it takes me.

Is time going too fast or too slow for you today? Please answer in the comments section. And if you need any help with homeschooling, I hope you’ll check out my store. Thanks!

Why I changed my mind about standardized tests for homeschoolers

Cover of the IOWA Assessments that my eldest is taking.

We are almost finished taking our standardized tests this year, and for my 15-year-old, it’s the last year that I’m required to test him by law. Yay! But I’ll probably test him every year now because he wants to prepare to take the SAT. When he was in the 3rd grade, I thought testing him was a waste of time. (I still don’t think that age should be tested.) As he got older, I found it useful, and it’s a good tool for a homeschool parent. There’s a difference between the testing that goes on in the public schools and the testing I do here at home, although my son takes the same kind of test, and he does it all on his own. (Someone actually accused me of cheating since we could cheat, if we wanted to, and that’s extremely insulting to me. I would NEVER cheat, and my husband and I teach our kids to not cheat and ALWAYS be honest.) The difference is that I can create a relaxed atmosphere around the test taking.

Here is why I like administering standardized tests in my homeschool:

1. We can schedule the test whenever it works in our schedule. I always test my boys around May/June, and I test for the academic year they are in even if they haven’t finished all the coursework for that year. (We homeschool lessons year-round, if we find time during the summer.) But I can pick the week and make sure we’re free of other obligations.

2. We test over a few days, which is recommended by the manufacturers of the tests, so the boys only take one or two tests on any given day.

3. On the days we do the tests, I don’t require the boys to do any other lessons that day, although my 15-year-old did do more math homework in the afternoon this year.

4. Since all we have to do is take the test on those days, it gives us time to go for more walks and relax or do whatever those days. So it’s actually a less stressful day for us!

5. I always tell the boys to not worry about how they perform on the tests. It’s truly a tool for me to see which subject areas they may need a little more instruction in. But so far, it’s given me huge peace of mind that we’re doing okay.

6. For my eldest son, and also my younger, testing them every year starting at the end of middle school will give them practice for if/when they take the SAT/ACT. (By state law, I’m required to test them every three years starting in the 3rd grade and ending in 9th.) They already seem more relaxed about taking the tests. They like to tell me about the test and what they found easy or what they had to guess at. (The tests are written in a way that they couldn’t possibly know the answer to every question.)

Who else is giving their kids a standardized test this year?

If you have any questions about standardized testing or homeschooling general, I’d love to help. Check out the resources I offer, and if you can’t find something helpful, send me an email.

January 2022

My daffodils are blooming early, and they will always remind me of my dad who died in January 2021. He had given me these bulbs. They were growing on a back corner of his property, and they may have originally been planted by my great-grandmother! I have many more around the front of my yard.

It’s the last day of January, and whew — I’m glad it’s over. This has been a very busy month, and it has been cold outside with a few days of almost warm. It also has been a month of remembering….remembering loss from last year and remembering pre-covid times when everything was so much easier. I have been doing lots of random things like going to physical therapy, and I have been ordering specimens for my son’s biology labs. I also baked a loaf of bread for one of his science experiments. I haven’t baked in a long time, but I was pleased to have the skill when it was needed. I finished another James Herriot book, and I discovered that I absolutely love Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m so lucky to have musicians in my house!

The project that has taken the most time, however, is my 12-year-old’s new YouTube channel! Yes, we have taken the bird project to new heights! This year my 12-year-old is in an online ornithology club, which has really inspired him to dig deeper into the world of birds, and then I wondered if he might enjoy recording the birds in our yard and starting a YouTube channel. I was right, and he’s so excited about this. Every few days he’ll put the camera outside, picking a new place or a different angle, and we’ll put the seeds out there. Then we go inside and hope the birds will show up. They usually do. (And we’re at the window with our binoculars.)

This project is teaching my son more than just how to record birds. We have sat together to edit the film, and I’m surprised that he has so much patience to go through the recordings! He picks out the best parts, and I’ve shown him how to trim them. We are also going to learn more about video editing together, and I can see that it won’t be long before I won’t need to help. You never know where this could lead.

Naturally, he is most excited about getting new subscribers on his YouTube channel. So if you feel inclined, I hope you’ll subscribe. You never know, I might be fostering a YouTube star. LOL. Or, maybe Mr. Cardinal will become the star. We’ll see. 🤣

Here’s one of my favorite videos. Please go to his channel and click on “videos” at the top to see them all. And then you’ll understand why I’ve been so busy. This kid likes recording!

 

How has 2022 begun for you? I hope it’s starting out well.

Our 5th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

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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! 

August 2021

This long year at home has given me a new appreciation for hostas.

I have finally completed the paperwork and put together the portfolios for my boys’ 8th and 5th grade years. This is something I do every summer. I save their loose papers in a 3-ring binder along with anything else from the year, such as brochures from field trips and programs from classical music concerts (sadly not included this time because of the pandemic). I also have daily charts I check off, which is how I keep track of attendance. Most importantly, I write up progress reports (as in accordance with the law in my state), which lists all of their work, including curricula, books read, test scores, and my comments, etc. These are several pages long. This year my 14-year-old had a resume I included too. (I did not have a resume at 14. This kid is something.)

This year feels really special to me because my 14-year-old has completed the 8th grade, and now he’s entering high school. And I got him here! I had help from his dad, of course, but I can safely say I did most of facilitating and all of the organizing. When my boys were younger, I also did all the teaching, but in the past couple of years, my eldest son is mostly self-taught. I find curriculum for him, and he does the work. I make sure he stays on task, and I help him when he gets stuck.

When kids get to a certain age, they can tell you when they need more help. They also tell you what they’re most interested in and what they want to spend their time doing, although they may not say it in so many words. You’ll figure out, if you’ve been observing them with an open mind. They’re mature enough to realize that they will need to spend some time on stuff they don’t like, but as long as they see the purpose for it, they are okay with that.

My younger son has completed the lower elementary grades, which is another milestone. Wow. Sixth grade will be more challenging, and my job will be to keep him on task so that he’ll be ready for high school in three years. I tell him he is lucky that I’ve already homeschooled his older brother, but in truth, he offers me plenty of challenges because he’s different than his brother. His education is not a repeat of his older brother’s education.

Starting next year I will be doing less teaching than I ever have because we’re going to be using Outschool and other online classes more. I know the boys will enjoy this change, and it feels like a relief to me too. They are getting to a higher level of learning, and I just can’t do it all. The online classes are fun for them, and I love how they’re interacting with other teachers and kids even if it’s all virtual. But the year may still be my busiest yet. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Besides wrapping up last year and planning next year, I’ve been enjoying watching highlights from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with my boys, and even more close to our hearts is the 18th Chopin Competition. It’s an olympics of sorts for piano players. You can already watch the entire preliminary round on YouTube, and the 1st round will begin in October. You can read about the competitors here.

What are you looking forward to this coming year, and what’s keeping you busy now?