Homeschooling 4th Grade Curriculum

To celebrate the autumn equinox, we visited Dauset Trails and enjoyed exploring their trails and a small zoo.
To celebrate the autumn equinox, we visited Dauset Trails Nature Center and enjoyed exploring their trails and a small zoo.

This is the third post I’ve written about homeschooling the fourth grade. I wrote about our schedule and how I will decide what to work on each day in my last post.

Our Curriculum

Language Arts

My main priority is reading good literature to my boys. I think reading is the best way to learn how to write, and you can learn about almost everything through books. So I make a point to read to my sons, although we aren’t one of those families who spend all morning on the sofa reading. I usually read 1~2 chapters of a book I’ve picked in the morning, and in the evenings we read something they have picked. I also encourage my son to read books silently to himself, which he does sometimes. He likes to read comics.

I don’t follow a curriculum that tells me what books I should read to my son, at least yet. I guess one good thing about having a Bachelor’s degree in English is that I know how to pick good books. I don’t like being confined to someone else’s idea of what books young kids should read, or more particularly, in what order. Instead, I pick what I think will engage my son or what I want him to experience. I also want to read it for the simple pleasure of reading it — not because I’m teaching grammar or making him learn what “alliteration” means. There is a time for that, but I don’t think it needs to come early in a child’s education unless the child wants it. I’m currently researching several language arts programs for a review I’ll be writing in home/school/life magazine. I’ll write more about that later. But I will always want to make reading for pleasure one of my top priorities.

I wrote in my first post how my son doesn’t like to write, so I’ve been going slow with him on this. I’m going to try a few different things this year to get him writing. The first thing is letting him work through a free keyboarding program so that he’ll have more options when it comes to writing. I’m also dusting off an old Star Wars writing workbook, which is full of creative writing prompts. This was his choice out of several writing resources I have, and I’m adapting it to his needs. It’s going surprisingly well. He’s suddenly writing and spelling like he’s been doing it for years! I’m very happy I went slow with writing.

Dauset Trails, Jackson, GA
Dauset Trails Nature Center, Jackson, GA

Math

We are continuing math with the Life of Fred books because my son loves them. If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you’ll know we started from the beginning, and now we’re moving into Honey.  I hope to complete Ice Cream and Jelly Beans this year too. After that, I’ll assess if we need more math.

Science

This summer we began our very first science curriculum! If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that my son has loved science since he was little. This house is all about science, and frankly, I have discovered a new love for the subject, which I’ll write about another time. Sadly, since we began this science curriculum, my son has told me he doesn’t like science anymore. Should I laugh or cry? That’s a great testimony for self-directed learning, but for the last year, he’s gotten very serious about playing the piano, so I’m not surprised he has less interest in science. I don’t think his love of science is entirely gone. He still loves the science documentaries we watch, and many questions he asks are science-related. And, when we read our science curriculum assignment, I think he likes it a little. It’s really cool to see how much he already knows, and how many of the experiments we’ve already done. But it’s more work. It’s more details than he’s used to having to learn, and there’s a lot he doesn’t know. To be honest, I think this is good for him.

We are using Biology for the Logic Stage by Elemental Science. This is a middle school program, but I picked it because he already has a strong background in science, and I thought the lower level would be too easy. In order to make Biology for the Logic Stage appropriate for him, I’m not requiring him to fill out any of the reports. I do make him label the sketches, and I’m considering that a win. We also do the experiments or activities, read the assignments, watch videos, and work on memorizing some terms.  I will write a more detailed review of this curriculum after we are finished with it, but so far, I like it.

Those are my priorities this year. Although I hope to incorporate art and a foreign language this year, and I have a few other things I throw in (see my last post for the details), I’m not stressing about these things because I want to stick to what is most important and the most doable while my son does his real work, i.e. that thing he’s most interested in right now: the piano.

We take the 10-year-old to many free faculty and student recitals and concerts at the nearby university. This was our view the other night.

As I mentioned before, my son is practicing piano two hours a day. We barely have to remind him anymore to practice. He seems to have hit a stride and a serious mindset about learning how to play classical music on the piano. He has developed his own taste and ear for music and sound. He notices how much more complicated classical music is to, say, pop music. He did not like the sound of the upright pianos in the practice rooms at the music store in Chicago. I think it is really cool to see my son develop into a musician and take this work seriously.

This work takes a lot of time and energy, and we also spend time working through a piano theory book and reading about the lives of famous composers. So I consider it my job to round out his music education with the fundamentals as well as preserve time for playing and getting creative in other ways. Fortunately, homeschooling gives us time to do all of that. Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that we’re homeschooling?

We were playing in the front yard the other day, and the 10-year-old decided to make this bug out of things he found in the yard.🙂

In the not too distant future, I’ll write about what my younger son’s 1st grade looks like this year.

Nature Watch: Oakworm Moth

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nature Watch: Canada Geese

One other Nature Watch from our day at Smithgall Woods State Park.

They wouldn’t let us get too close, but you can imagine our delight when we happened upon these beautiful Canada Geese swimming in a boggy area at the park.

As you may know if you read my blog, my six-year-old loves birds, but he doesn’t always like to go hiking or even outdoors. (Sigh.) It’s at these rare sightings that I get to tell him, “See?! You never would have seen those Canada geese, if we hadn’t gone hiking and exploring!”😉

What happy nature discovery have you made recently?

Nature Watch: Black Rat Snake

A month or so ago, we visited Smithgall Woods State Park, and while we were walking back to the parking lot, we came across this beautiful, medium-sized black rat snake. Black rat snakes are the most common snake in Georgia, so we’ve seen a few of them.

Snakes were my eldest son’s first love. When he was about four-years-old, he learned a lot about them by attending the knee-high naturalist program at the local nature center, and later I bought him a poster of Georgia snakes, which still hangs in his room. We started making a book about snakes too. Even though he’s decided he does not want to study snakes when he grows up anymore, he still loves snakes, and his younger brother thinks they are pretty cool too.

By studying snakes with my son, I learned quite a bit about them, and I know which ones are venomous and which ones are not. Black rat snakes are harmless, but, of course, any snake can bite, if you bother them, so you need to be respectful of them.

Snakes are very beneficial to the environment especially in that they help keep the rodent population in check, so you never want to harm one, if you find one. You might remember that many years ago, we watched a black rat snake eat a squirrel in our backyard, and I caught it on film! (So consider yourself warned, if you click on that link!)

My family has a deep appreciation for snakes, so finding this one was quite a treat!

Summer Day Camps

One morning late in the week I brought my laptop to the garden to get some writing done. I snapped this photo when the kids walked by. My eldest son is in the center, in the red shirt.

Last week my boys participated in a summer day camp at the botanical garden! It was so much fun!

My eldest son has participated in local summer and winter day camps since he was five-years-old. Last year, my six-year-old was five and could finally enroll in one of the summer camps at the botanical garden, which was a week-long half-day camp. He was very nervous about it,  but he ended up loving it. Then he got to attend the three-day spring camp there with his brother this year too.

When my eldest son was five, there were several mini-camps available at the nature center, and I’m sad those don’t seem to be available anymore. He participated in a lot of those, and I feel a little bad that my younger son doesn’t get to participate in as many programs as his older brother did, but I guess it all evens out when you consider all the extra things he does get to do because he has an older brother, and his older brother didn’t have those opportunities.

Getting ready to leave for camp in the a.m.

I think camps are especially useful for homeschoolers because the kids get to interact with regular school kids. There are tons of different summer day camps. Whatever your child is interested in, there is probably a camp for it. You just have to try them out and see what you like best.

My son is a big nature boy, so we tried a week-long camp at the nature center two years ago (which they still offer), but it was not a good fit after all. My son didn’t like it and said he’d never go back. We’ve also done pottery camps (very good!) and a robotics camp (mediocre), but we love the botanical garden camps the best. Usually we let him do two camps each year, but this year we needed to save money, so we let each boy pick one camp each. They wanted to go back to the botanical garden, and they also picked the same week, which helped cut down on driving for us.

My six-year-old performed in a skit with his group at the end of the week for the parents. He’s sitting down in the orange and white striped shirt.

Even though they took the camp together, they were separated into different groups by age, which I’m glad about. Sometimes the boys can use some time away from each other!

This year’s camp was titled Forest Explorers and Early Civilizations. The kids learned about ancient cultures and how they used the forests for survival. I also love the botanical garden camps because my boys get a good dose of nature while they attend, and since the garden limits how many kids can attend, it’s not an overwhelming experience. Plus, I think the garden staff takes care of the kids better than in other programs they’ve attended.

I love the orchids and always take photos of them whenever I’m at the garden.

This was the first time I was going to have a whole week without both boys to take care of, so I was planning to get so. much. done. I was so excited. Unfortunately, I got sick right before the camp, and all I wanted after that was for both boys to stay healthy so that they could complete the camp. So I took great pains to not expose my germs to them. It paid off because they made it through the whole camp. Yay!

But I got very little done.😦 Oh well. At least I was able to rest, and I can always look forward to next year.

Nature Watch: Cope’s Tree Frog

You’ll never guess where we found this beautiful little frog!

It was in our upstairs bathroom! We have no idea how it got there. This is actually the second time we’ve found a frog inside our house. Both times, we thought perhaps our dog had brought it in and dropped it, but now I’m wondering if somehow they came up through the toilets. That’s the only pipe large enough for them to fit through, and somewhere I heard that can happen. But who knows?

He appeared quite healthy and undamaged but also a little bewildered. We caught him, put him in a little bowl with some water to hydrate him and then released him immediately in our front yard.

I was able to identify this little guy as a Cope’s Tree Frog. The inner thigh is bright yellow or orange, and if you look closely at my photo, you can see a spot of yellow under his hind leg. This frog is small and still growing. Hopefully he found his way up to the top of a tree where they like to live.

My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers

Here’s my son a week after taking the test, super proud of a fish he just caught!

This year my nine-year-old is in the third grade, and according to the law in Georgia, I’m required to have him tested every three years, starting in the 3rd grade. Fortunately, we do not have to show the results to anyone, so it seemed like a good way to assess how he’s doing. But as I started thinking about having to administer the test, and I went over a test prep book with him, I started to realize why teachers in our public schools are frustrated with all the testing going on. This was taking valuable time away from real learning!

And, frankly, I already know where he’s strong and where he’s weak. I am the closest person to him, teaching him all the fundamentals that he would be taught in traditional school. I know what he gets, and I know what he needs more work on, or what we haven’t gone over yet, and the test didn’t tell me anything new. So, it felt like a waste of our time to have to do this, but then again, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally assess how things are going, and unlike the public schools, we only have to do it every three years. I’m grateful for that!

I spent some time trying to research the different test options, and I mostly came up empty. At best, I found brief anecdotes by parents who had used a particular test and liked it or didn’t like it for whatever reason. There were no details about how to order and what testing my child would really look like, so that’s why I’m writing this post.

Because it seemed like the easiest to order and administer, I picked the Personalized Achievement Summary System (PASS test), which is produced by Hewitt Homeschooling. This test is similar to other standardized tests, but it’s made for homeschoolers so that it is easy to administer in their homes. Unfortunately, it’s not approved in every state, but the state of Georgia (and some others) has approved it, and I’m glad because it was easy to order and administer at home.

The first thing I liked about ordering the test, besides the simple online order form, was that I could pick the date I wanted the company to ship the test. So, if you’d like to get the ordering out of the way, but you know you won’t administer the test for another month or two, you can have them ship it a week before you want to use it. You have four weeks to use the test and then return it to Hewitt Homeschooling to have it scored. (You have to do this with every standardized test. You also have to pay for them in case you didn’t know that, which I didn’t know either when I started homeschooling. The PASS test was $36 for one student.)

The test has three sections in reading, language arts and math. When you get the test, you’ll need to carefully read the instructions (but they aren’t complicated) and administer a pre-test to determine what level of test to give to your child. (If you’ve used the test before, you won’t have to do this.) This is because each test booklet (reading, language arts and math) each contains all the levels, and they are numbered from approximately 1-25. (Or something like that — I don’t have the booklets anymore to refer to.) The levels DO NOT equal grade level.

The pre-test is simply 12 questions in each section. It took my son less than an hour to take the pre-test, and then I scored it, and there were instructions to tell me which level to give him for each subject. The instructions also tell you that you can read over the recommended level, and if you think it’s too hard or too easy, you can pick another level that you think is more appropriate for your child. It said a child should be able to answer at least 50%-90% of the questions correctly.

What I also like about the PASS test is that I didn’t have to time my son. He’s never taken a test before, so I really wasn’t sure how he’d feel about sitting there for a long time taking a test. But I took three days to administer the test, giving one section on each day. I let him take a 5-minute break half-way through each test. It took him about an hour to complete each section of the test. (I’m grateful he didn’t have to take all three sections on one day! Three hours would have been a long time.) But he had no problem taking the tests, especially since all it requires is shading in those little bubbles. He kept focused the whole time, and he told me he didn’t think they were too hard.

Once you’re finished, you have to return the bubble sheet with your child’s answers and another form to Hewitt Homeschooling. You need to use a cardboard mailer so that the answer sheet won’t get bent, and you’ll have to pay the postage. You sign a form stating that you will destroy the test booklets because they are under copyright law, and you should not show them to anyone else.

In a few weeks, Hewitt Homeschooling will send you your child’s scores, and not only do they give you your child’s raw score, they’ll give you a percentile of how your child did compared to other homeschoolers who took the same test, and on top of that, they’ll  give you a percentile of how your child did compared to a national standardized test. I have heard that other tests do not give you this much information, so it was helpful to see.

If you’re looking at the PASS test, I hope this was helpful to you. I’m happy to answer any other questions too.

Click here for a list of tests that Georgia homeschoolers can use.