Homeschooling 4th Grade: Our First Science Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeschooling 4th Grade: Math & the Multiplication Tables

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I love math.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Multiplication Tables

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

4th Grade Homeschooling: Language Arts

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

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

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

Literature

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

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

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

Handwriting & Beginning Writing

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

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

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

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Grammar

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

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

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

My Mid-Year Homeschooling Report in Multiple Posts

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Every year around this time, I write a “mid-year review” that compliments my beginning-of-the-school-year schedule and curriculum posts. It’s in the mid-year that I can tell you if my best-laid plans at the beginning of the year were actually good plans. Or did I change anything? I almost always change something because as homeschoolers, we are allowed to stop what isn’t working and try new things.

This year, I’m breaking up my mid-year post into several. I’m going to go over each subject matter in depth because there’s just too much to say. (Well, you know I have a hard time being brief.)

I’ve created this post so that I only have to add one link to my Table of Contents, which is getting quite large, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Suffice it to say, this is the TOC for this series of posts: (I will add links here as I post these.)

Homeschooling 4th Grade: Language Arts
Homeschooling 4th Grade: Math
Homeschooling 4th Grade: Science
Homeschooling 4th Grade: History

Homeschooling 1st Grade: Mid-Year Report (I think I can handle this in one post.)

Let me go ahead and tell you that we’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to the plans I made for the fourth grade at the beginning of the year. However, I’ve added some things! Shocking, I know! But I’ve been able to do that because I’m not pressuring myself to complete all our curriculum by the end of the year, and I’m not doing everything the science curriculum requires. I have also abandoned my idea of starting “Art Fridays” again this year. Big bummer there, but the boys just aren’t as interested in art as they used to be.

Briefly, I have added a grammar curriculum, a math workbook, and we’ve started a more earnest exploration of history. I’m so excited about this! I’ll be sure to tell you about the resources we’ve picked out for that.

As for my first grader, he’s such a delight to teach! I think I can update you on his work in one post, but I’ll change that, if I need to.

I will begin this series tomorrow, so stay tuned! And thanks for reading!

A Slow, Different Kind of Education

Days are passing fast and furious, and I’m watching my boys grow up at a tremendous speed. My youngest son’s baby cheeks have completely vanished in the last few months. He’s so tall that he’s wearing the shirts his brother (who is three years older) wore last year. My eldest is becoming a young man too. When I listen to him play Chopin on the piano, it’s easy to wonder if this kid is really a twenty-year-old in disguise. But when he begins playing war games with his brother, I’m reminded that he’s only ten. Thank goodness.

They are growing fast, but when I plan lessons, I feel we’re slowly creeping toward the educational goals I have for them. We steadily work through each lesson and subject that I think the boys need right now, but there’s so much to cover that I don’t do everything everyday. Some subjects we touch on once a week. (Just yesterday I finally finished reading the young adult novel that I began reading to them in September!) It would be easy for me to panic a little, if I felt we had to finish everything by the end of this school year, but for me, an education isn’t carved up into years. It is ongoing like a meandering river. I think that the boys are greatly benefitting from going slowly.

This isn’t to say that I never push us forward or that we’re not progressing. We are. And it’s such a wonderful privilege to have a front seat view to my boys’ progress. But it’s a completely different kind of education from the one kids are getting in public school these days. Those kids are on a schedule. They have to learn X,Y,Z by a certain date so that they can get high scores on a test or pass to the next grade. Test scores reflect not so much on the kids as it does on the teachers and the school. In the end, it’s not really about the individual student, although I know that the teachers care a lot about those students. Teachers aren’t the problem, although I do think some of them are blinded by their own education. They think if a kid isn’t doing something by a certain age, then something is wrong. In my mind, I’m thinking, “As long as they know this by the time they graduate.” Or, by the time they need it in order to reach their personal goals or my (the teacher’s) goal (though my goals are based on my child’s readiness and not by someone else’s guidelines). When you think like this, it relieves a lot of pressure, yet it also lends a structure because we focus on certain areas until we reach a level of mastery.

I have met teachers who seem very skeptical at the idea of homeschooling. I guess I can’t blame them when I’ve seen examples of bad homeschooling, but I think it’s usually a good thing. This is because the parent is paying attention to his or her child’s needs. A child is in the best place when she is with people who support, love and want what is best for her. Sure, parents can make mistakes, but I think public school makes a lot of mistakes too.

The thing about homeschooling is that the homeschooled student can look very different from their traditionally-schooled counterparts, so people who are not familiar with homeschooling don’t always realize that this is a good thing. Homeschooled students may not be given reading lessons until they turn eight. Or I’ve even read about a kid who didn’t learn to read until the age of eleven, but she did learn, and later she had no problem getting into college. I’m sure that if the local teachers had met her before the age of eleven, they would have shook their heads and considered that a homeschooling disaster. But it wasn’t. The girl had a very good mother who homeschooled three children who went on to college. Her mother gave her more time to learn how to read so that the girl wouldn’t learn to hate reading.

Another difference about homeschooled kids is that they don’t always understand the latest “fad” that is spreading through the hallways of public schools. (Although, homeschoolers sure know a lot about Minecraft. They probably have more time during the day to play it.) Homeschoolers and traditionally-schooled kids typically don’t think the same kinds of things are “cool.” For example, when I was growing up, I thought classical music was boring. But now I have a 10-year-old who thinks classical music is cool, and he doesn’t care for pop music at all. Now, I’m an avid classical music listener. He’s taught me well, don’t you think?

Homeschoolers don’t really get the attitudes or unwillingness to learn that you see in many kids. As a college professor, my husband has said that some of his best students were homeschooled students. They would actually participate in his class discussions instead of trying to hide in the back of the room. Another friend of mine who is married to a professor has said her husband has noticed the same thing.

Why are homeschooling students like this? First, I think it’s because working hard is so much easier when you also have plenty of downtime. My kids don’t have to go to school all day and then come home and labor over homework. They get all their lessons done in about two hours, and then they get to work hard on the things that they care about. And second, there is nobody around here telling them that what they love is not cool. Young people who have to spend all day/everyday together tend to aspire to the lowest common denominator, and those who don’t are usually made fun of. At least, it was this way when I was in school. Has it really changed that much? I know there are schools where this doesn’t happen, and surely there are other exceptions, but I don’t think that the “herd mentality” is always a positive thing for our young people.

Third, it may be because by being at home all day, the kids see first hand why we have to work. My kids know how much home repairs and groceries cost. They meet a lot of people working a variety of jobs, and they are smart enough to realize which jobs they would rather work at someday. Critics of homeschooling say that homeschoolers won’t learn about the “real world,” but I think it’s the opposite. I think being locked inside a school building all day with people the same age keeps kids away from the real world. How many times have you heard older people complain about the younger generation’s work ethic?

Okay, I will come down from my soapbox. I didn’t actually mean to write a tirade — I meant to write a mid-year report on our homeschool! (I’ll still do that. I promise.)

I’ll just end by saying again that I love watching my boys grow and learn in a slow, yet meaningful and thorough, way. I follow my boys’ interests, and I follow mine too. I also think about the major topics they would be learning in a traditional school, and I try to incorporate those in an interesting way — in a way that suits these boys.

This is a slow, different kind of education. We are not racing to the end of a curriculum. Instead, we are absorbing interesting topics, learning useful skills, and building a more purposeful curriculum that meets the needs of our individual students. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome, and I don’t understand why more parents aren’t homeschooling. But that’s their prerogative, and I will always say that a parent knows what is best for his/her child.

Please share how your homeschooled student differs from his/her traditionally schooled peers?

Autumn Musings

Ft. Yargo State Park

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year, and this autumn has certainly been full of interesting happenings both in my home and in the world at large. I have gotten a little exhausted at following the news and social media, so I’m limiting my time on that. While I’m disappointed with the election results, unlike so many people, I wasn’t surprised by it. I respect the democratic process, and I’m going to hope that things will be well. This doesn’t mean I’m not concerned or wondering what I can do. I am charged with the duty to raise my boys to understand that we must act out of kindness and love first and foremost. We also need to learn how to walk a mile in another person’s shoes so to speak, which I think many people on both sides think they are capable of doing, but they really are not. This includes trying to understand why others make the decisions they make and even why they decided to vote the way they did and not assume the worst of everybody. Even if that’s very hard to do, we must try.

One of my favorite posts I’ve read lately is by Jennifer L. W. Fink, who writes about what I’m determined to do better than I could. If you get the chance, go read How to Raise a Decent Human Being.

On the home/school/life blog, Amy also listed a few ways you can get involved with the political process with your kids, if that’s something you feel you’d like to do.

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The best way to live daily life, in my humble opinion, is to pay more attention to nature. Nature can certainly be cruel, but it helps me understand the world, humans, and that we’re part of something much bigger. Nature is also beautiful and inspiring, and that gives me solace.

Ft. Yargo State Park

On that note, we have spent some time out in nature a few times this autumn. For the autumn equinox, we drove down to Dauset Trails in Jackson, Ga. One other day, we spent some time wandering around Ft. Yargo State Park, and most recently, we went to Unicoi State Park to walk a lovely little trail around Burton Lake. The last time we walked that trail, my youngest son was in a stroller.

Our outdoor excursions are rarely planned. We usually wake up, realize it’s a good day to go somewhere, and then I frantically gather our things and get ready to go.

Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.
Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.

We also spend time in our yard, which is a haven itself. It’s fun to inspect what insects hang out around my son’s carnivorous plants, and to see all the leaves change color, which is happening right now in Georgia. And just yesterday, a gorgeous red-tailed hawk landed in the leaf litter right outside my bedroom window, and she stayed there long enough for my boys to come get a good look at her. We think she was trying to get a mouse or a vole, but she finally gave up. The crows and squirrels were sending out frantic warning signals while she was here too. It was quite exciting for us to watch!

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I feel like this has been the most academic year we’ve had homeschooling so far. I’m really enjoying it. That part of my brain that likes to organize and plan is getting a good workout! We do our lessons most mornings, and then the day is full of piano playing. My youngest son started taking lessons this fall, and it’s such a joy to hear him remind me that it’s time for him to practice! He takes this very seriously! He also tells me he only wants to learn piano up through “level 2,” and I told him that’s fine. Any music education benefits one’s brain. (I highly recommend following that link to a very cool video that will explain exactly how it benefits the brain.)

Dauset Trails Nature Center
Dauset Trails Nature Center

My 10-year-old has started taking lessons with a new teacher – his third teacher. It’s been quite a job to find the right teacher for our son who is moving so quickly to a higher level of classical piano. And finding someone who communicates with us well and whose schedule works well with ours is important too. If you are a parent who has no music background, there can be a steep learning curve when it comes to helping your children get the proper tools and teachers for their needs. It all depends on your child’s goals too. We have learned a lot, and I’m very thankful that my husband has been hands-on and so supportive of my son’s musical endeavor. I think we’ve finally got him in the right place, so I’m very excited and looking forward to the future.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

One thing we haven’t been this year is social. This was kind of bothering me, but I’ve come to terms with it. Playing piano does not seem very social because my boys aren’t going to a classroom with other kids to take lessons. It’s a one-on-one session with an adult, but though this is different than our past extracurricular activities, I think it’s a great experience too. They are each forming a relationship with their teachers, working toward goals, and getting all those other benefits of learning music. As my husband reminded me, if they stay with music, they will eventually participate in music camps and play in ensembles, which will connect them to other musicians. We’ve already begun to take our eldest son to classical concerts and live music in town, and we’re starting to recognize some of the same faces each time in the crowd. Perhaps if we keep going, we’ll eventually connect with those people who so obviously care about classical music as much as we do. So I feel this is a year of digging into academics and music, and other opportunities will arise in the future, as they always have.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

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On another note, I’ve been working on a few projects of my own, and this blog has been (and will be) quieter as I continue to work on them. First, I will write my grammar curriculum review for the next issue of home/school/life magazine, which will come out in January. Second, I’ve finished a rough draft of a little book about homeschooling first grade, and I’ll continue to polish it in the coming months. (I will be looking for some discerning writers to read it and give me feedback too. If you’re interested, please e-mail me.) I also have a few other small projects to take care of too.

In addition to this, November is my annual “decluttering month.” Every year I ask the boys to go through their toys and pick out what they don’t want to play with anymore so that we can give it to charity. This year feels like the SUPER PURGE. My boys have finally reached a point when so many of the toys that we have are not interesting anymore. My youngest son mostly plays with dinosaur and animal figures and zoob pieces. Legos are still popular around here too. But so much stuff is GOING, and not only toys, but books and clothes and homeschool supplies too. I am quite in awe at how my boys are growing and changing and becoming more selective about their play and activities. And I’m proud of myself for LETTING GO. 🙂

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If you have a question about how we homeschool or about our curriculum or anything else, please just ask. I am happy to chat by e-mail or perhaps write a blog post about it. I can always use ideas for what to write about, and I want to be as helpful to you as possible, so please let me know what you’d like to know. Besides this, your e-mails keep me going. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

How Will I Teach Writing and Grammar? And My Preparations for a Language Arts Review

You might think that a mom with a degree in English would have the easiest time teaching writing and grammar to her children, but that is not the case. When I was little, this was my strength. I wrote poetry and stories in my free time, and I never minded my English classes. They were my favorite classes, and I received good grades in them. I read every word of every book I was assigned, and I was the only one in my entire school who actually did the summer reading and wrote reports on those books too. (A shout out and thank you to my Aunt Carolyn for typing up those reports for me! I think she even included my errors so that my teachers would know I wrote them.)

To tell the truth, since I was good at writing, I can’t remember how I learned grammar. Even though I can write well, I can only tell you the most basic grammar rules now. I cannot diagram sentences. I’m still not sure what a direct object is. I do remember learning how to “brainstorm” and make outlines in school, and I found this helpful. I still use these tools today.

I am pretty sure I learned the most about writing by reading. I didn’t read obsessively, but I read plenty. I absorbed the words and learned how our language should sound.

But I still wasn’t perfect. In one of my favorite college classes, Dr. Weinstein would never give me more than a high B on my papers. This was so frustrating to me when I saw another woman (who clearly didn’t enjoy the class as much as I did) get a 98 on all her papers. What was I doing wrong? I went to speak to him about my grade, and he told me that I was a good writer, and he wished more students wrote as well as I did. But he wouldn’t change my grade. He didn’t say much else except that I overused the word “really.” (I still do. I have to edit out my “reallys.” Really, you should rarely, if ever, use the word “really” in your writing.)

While I was in college, I met a woman who was about ten years older than I was at the time. She was a student and a single mom and lived in an apartment across the street from the university. I complained to her about my grade on the paper, and she said that she was a good writer, and she would look at my paper for me. She invited me to come over to her apartment after my classes. So I did. I gave her my paper, and she sat down at her kitchen table and read it.

“Ah-ha,” she said.

She proceeded to go through my paper and eliminate extraneous words that didn’t need to be there. “And here,” she said, “Is there a better way you could say this in less words?” I thought a moment and answered. “Yes!” she said. “If you can say it simple, keep it simple!”

She helped me with 2-3 papers, and after that, I got it. I got it! My grades improved, and I have been a better writer ever since.

Now I’m shouting in my head: Why is it that no teacher ever explained any of that to me? I went through 12 years of public school and 2-3 years of college as an English major before I met someone who wasn’t a teacher but who was a better writer than I was and who didn’t mind taking the time to help me. It had very little to do with grammar. It had to do with word choice and structure. I had learned a lot through reading, and I must have learned grammar in school, but no one had ever gone through my writing with a fine-toothed comb. I was still trying to write with big words as many young writers try to do, and I used words like “really.”

As a homeschooling mom, I am now faced with the task of teaching my boys writing and grammar. If they were like me and loved to write, it would be easy for me. I would allow them to write and slowly but surely correct mistakes. I wouldn’t correct too much in the beginning because you need to let young children be creative and learn to love the act of writing without stymieing them. As they move into high school, you can be more nit-picky. As they were capable, I would assign books for them to read (mostly I would let them read what they wanted to), and we would talk about the word structure and grammar as we go along. If they wanted to be published writers, I would have a wealth of information to pass on to them.

Unfortunately, so far, my boys do not like writing or making up stories. (Well, they have a little in the past, but that was fleeting.) Right now, they will not put pen to paper unless forced to. For the most part, I’m kind of relieved. I am too excited to learn about all the subjects I thought I wasn’t good at as a child like science and history and classical music. Besides this, wanting to be a writer all my life but failing miserably has caused me so much pain that I don’t particularly want to raise another writer.

But I do want to raise competent writers, and I’m sure I will raise competent writers. This is because I’m not in a hurry. Like learning how to read, I believe learning how to write can come when a child is ready for it. If I continue to read to them and do short, simple lessons with them, I am sure we will slowly master the technique of writing. If I push it (like they do in school), I am sure I will raise boys who hate writing and think they are not good at it. Similar to what happened with me with math, etc.

Despite all this, I am still faced with that task of teaching them grammar because like it or not, you have to know grammar to pass standardized tests or college entrance tests. (Let me note that as an English major, I never had to answer any grammar questions in college.) And someone I was corresponding with made a good point to say that it is useful to understand the terms we use to speak about language, especially if one would like to study a foreign language.

As I mentioned above, if my boys enjoyed letting me take dictation or otherwise wrote on their own, I could slowly introduce grammar concepts to them, but they don’t like to write, so I came back to square one and wondered how I could do this without squashing their potential to love writing. I wondered if there were a curriculum out there that I would like to use. Unlike math or science where I have no background and most curricula are helpful, I knew I would be picky about this. So I decided to write a comprehensive review of language arts curricula for home/school/life magazine. I intend to do the best job I can so that you can benefit from this too.

These are the gracious companies who have sent me curriculum for my review:

Peace Hill Press, First Language Lessons
Winston Grammar Program
Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts
Lost Classics: Primary Language Lessons
Brave Writer
Institute for Excellence in Writing

These are companies who said they would send me curriculum, but I’m still waiting for it:

Learning Language Arts Through Literature

I am also going to include Grammar-land, which is a free download, into the review.

I’m writing this list here so that you can tell me if I have missed any curriculum that you think must be included in my review. Please note that I prefer secular curricula because home/school/life magazine is a secular resource, but if it’s not secular, and you feel secular homeschoolers would still appreciate it, go ahead and recommend it.

I can already see good things in most of these curricula, and I’m excited to continue to dig into them. I am open to changing my mind about how I would like to approach this subject with my children, but it’s going to take a long time to sort through them and collect my thoughts about them. I am also getting my boys’ opinion about each of them. I will let you know when my review is published in home/school/life.