Homeschooling 1st Grade: A Look at Our Year & Curriculum

This year has been going well for my youngest son who is seven-years-old and in the first grade. At the beginning of the year, I gave you a glimpse at the basic curriculum I was going to use, but in this post, I am able to tell you more in depth what he’s been working on this year. In a future post, I’ll write more about his self-led projects.

My main focus for him continues to be reading and math. I don’t worry about finishing any curriculum in a set amount of time. We go slow so that we can keep it light and be thorough. I spend about an hour with him after lunch 3-4 days a week (while older brother practices piano), and we do reading, handwriting, piano theory, math, related games, and I read certain books that I want him to hear (see below). He also does a few lessons with his brother in the mornings — listening to the history lessons or science lessons or other readalouds. Otherwise, he gets to play while I’m working with his brother.

Reading & Language Arts

We’ve worked our way up to lesson 65 in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and he’s doing quite well. I am extremely satisfied that I waited until he was seven to start this book unlike my eldest son whom I tried to teach at five. Now I know that’s too young (unless your child is an early reader). The book gets more challenging as it goes along, so I think we may take a break from it starting soon and use some other resources. Then we’ll come back to it in the fall. But I haven’t completely decided about that yet.

I’ve also enjoyed playing games with him that may help him learn to read, such as my sight word game, sight word bingo, and also matching games with words.

We finished Handwriting Without Tear’s My Printing Book, and now I’m having him work in Printing Power.

I wrote about some of the fiction I’m reading to my 10-year-old in 4th Grade Homeschooling: Language Arts, and my 7-year-old sits and listens to some of those books. However, he still loves picture books, and every night before bed, I read something to him. This year I decided to take some of his favorite picture books that we own and order other books by the same author/illustrator from the library. For example, he loves The Mitten by Jan Brett, so he wanted to see more of her books. We got a few of them from the library, and we enjoyed comparing all of them. Then we got Lentil by Robert McCloskey because Make Way for Ducklings is one of his favorite books. (Mine too.) I also got him a big book of Curious George because Curious George has been one of his all-time favorites, and this isn’t the first time I’ve had to get more Curious George from the library. Anyway, it’s been fun to explore our favorite author/illustrators. In addition, I read a lot of Calvin and Hobbes to him. 😉

Math

We finally finished book 1A of U.S. Edition of Singapore Math. I know I probably took way longer with this book than I needed to, especially since my son is quite good at math, but I’m also glad we took our time and had fun with the activities. I will probably begin book 1B soon, but right now I’m taking a break and reading from an old World Book’s Childcraft Shapes and Numbers book, which has some fun activities and stories. (Library sale find!)

I should also mention that my youngest son loves games in general. He especially loves his digital games, which I’ll write about someday, but we also play games together several nights a week for fun. I’ve noticed how these games have quite a bit of math in them, and he enjoys doing the math himself. He can add up the dice in Yahtzee quickly, and he enjoys being the “banker” in Star Wars monopoly. He even enjoys playing the games to memorize the multiplication tables with his older brother, though that is much more difficult for him. So I feel like we’ve gone well beyond the math in our curriculum.

History

I’ve let my first grader listen along to the history lessons I’m giving my 10-year-old. (See Homeschooling: Diving into Human History.) I think he’s a little less interested, and some of it goes over his head, but he also seems to like some of it too. He also enjoys any history documentary we watch together as a family. Overall, I think he’ll get a good general idea of human history, and when he’s older, we’ll dive into it again in more depth.

Science

Science was something we used to do everyday in this house, and we attended many homeschool science classes at the nature center too. But that’s all changed, so now I’m reading our vast collection of science books to my 1st grader (mostly the Let’s Read and Find Out Science books that I picked up at library book sales), and he also follows along with his brother’s science curriculum. He especially likes the experiments! We also watch a ton of science documentaries together as a family.

In addition to this, my 1st grader still loves birds, and we make a point to read a little bit about birds in one of our bird guides after every lesson. This is a self-led project. He always gets to pick what he wants to read, and he usually chooses just one or two pages — perfect, really! I love this long-term interest and how consistent he is with it. I hope he’ll always love birds.

He also mentioned to me recently that he’d like to do more experiments, so we’re diving back into DK’s 101 Great Science Experiments, a book that I used with his older brother. I think his interest is more in doing an experiment/activity than actually learning about science, but that’s okay with me for now, and it’s why this book is perfect too. He can pick any experiment in random order as long as we have the materials to do it, and he’s still learning a little bit about science too.

Music

I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned this yet or not, but the seven-year-old started piano lessons last October! We asked him if he’d like to try piano lessons since we have the piano and his older brother is a pianist. He wasn’t sure at first, but we assured him we wouldn’t make him continue, if he didn’t like it. Well, he likes the lessons, and he’s already passed the Primer level and well into Level 1. I have no idea if this will turn into a long-term interest or not, but so far he says he wants to continue to “at least until the intermediate level.” For reasons that aren’t relevant here, he goes to a different teacher than his brother, but that is working out well, and I’ve enjoyed learning about how different teachers do things — a good education for me! If anyone is interested, all the teachers that we have had the pleasure of working with have used Piano Adventures for their beginning students. The seven-year-old’s teacher supplements it with other books and sheet music that she owns too. (If you have any questions about our experience with piano lessons, purchasing a piano, or finding good teachers, you are welcome to e-mail me. This is not something I plan to write about in the near future, but I know that for parents who have no musical background, there is a big learning curve! )

Extracurricular

In addition to these lessons, my seven-year-old has attended a homeschool class at the state botanical garden this year. This is a class I spearheaded by asking and meeting with the awesome facilitators at the garden. It meets once a month, and it’s been a great class for him. They get outside on the garden trails, learn about animals and plants, and do a lot of activities. Once they even met at the art museum. I’ve been especially happy with this class because I feel like my older son got to participate in so many classes and camps when he was younger, and his younger brother was just a tag-along then. Now it’s my seven-year-old’s turn to have his own special classes. 🙂

I think that’s about all I can say about 1st grade this second time around. What a difference it makes to have done this once before! It’s been a huge pleasure to spend one-on-one time with him and plan special lessons just for him. He is a pleasure to teach too. I’m a lucky mama.

As always, if you have any questions, ask away!

Thoughts on Photographs and the Last Ten Years

Due to several reasons, we had not been getting out for regular day hikes as much as we used to, and this made me sad. But last week we woke up, the weather was good, the time was right, and we decided at the last minute to go to the mountains for the day. (We never plan ahead for these things.) I can’t tell you how good this felt. My soul needs a good dose of nature. So included in this post are some photos from that hike.

Speaking of photos, I was also feeling sad that I have not gotten out to take real photographs in what feels like forever. My photography website has been neglected. My Nikon is collecting dust. Though I always had good intentions about pursuing photography more seriously, the life of a homeschooling mom proved to be a like an ocean wave that swept over all my prior intentions. Suddenly everything I once wanted to do isn’t so important anymore. My heart swells with pleasure at creating lessons, birdwatching, listening to classical music….all those things that my boys have brought to me. I know I will still pursue photography and all those other interests again someday, but for now, I am enjoying riding this wave.

However, I was determined to bring my Nikon with me on our hike the other day, and wouldn’t you know it, we were on the highway before I remembered that I had forgot it! How typical of me in my current state! At least my lovely husband bought me a phone with a decent camera, so I had something to capture our time on the trail.

Recently I also happened to look through some old photographs of my boys when they were babies, and it was a little shocking to me to realize that this was ten years ago for my eldest son. I mean, I know he’s ten years old, but to think that these photographs were taken ten years ago…that’s a decade! And so much has changed! We have different sofas now, but these “new” sofas are already starting to look old. The garden looked so green and fresh then, and we had grass too. Ten years of homeschooling and putting all our resources into our boys have taken their toll, and home improvements have taken a backseat too.

Yes, a lot of changes have occurred in ten years, including the fact that I’ve aged ten years. How young and thin I looked at 35! I was a new mother. A fresh mother. Now…..hmmm…..What will another 10 years do to me? **mockingly bites nails**

I have taken a lot of photographs over the years since I became a mother, and I’m so glad I did. As I scroll through a decade’s worth of photos, I notice how in ten, short years, I have already lived through a few different “stages” of my sons’ childhoods.

There was the infant stage. I remember breastfeeding, napping, breastfeeding, changing diapers, breastfeeding, going to the doctor a lot, napping, and breastfeeding. And we had a lot of visitors that year. (Family don’t visit as often after the “super cute” stage.)

Then there was the “nature stage,” which could also be considered the “science stage.” My memories are filled of visits to the nature center, snakes, making friends, walking on trails, discovering all sorts of critters, and realizing my son had a special interest in nature and science.

Overlapping with that was the “building” stage. He built with paper, cardboard, Legos, clay. He got into robotics. He took pottery classes. Life was rich with nature, science and creating.

None of that has gone away completely. He’s still interested in those things and does them when he has time, but I would definitely say we’ve moved into the “piano stage.” Or the “music stage.” And this is just another form of using his hands to create, right? A lot of time is spent everyday in this pursuit. It doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Not only does he practice piano, he reads about composers, watches classical music on YouTube, and enjoys attending concerts.

We are also in the midst of the “gaming stage.” Both my boys are deep into it. They play countless digital games and take them very seriously. They also love to watch other people playing games on YouTube. When I listen in on their conversations, it’s usually about a game, or their plans for future games. When they run around outside, I’m pretty sure they are imagining themselves in a game. Games have even increased their interest in history. In addition to this, my seven-year-old and I play board games or card games at least every other day. He’s my little gamer.

My seven-year-old also went through a “drawing stage,” and a “puzzle stage.” Just imagine drawings everywhere — on the walls, on the floors — and big puzzles all over the floor too. These interests still pop up every now and then.

Last but not least, my seven-year-old is still in the “bird stage.” It started long ago, and it’s still going on and on and on and on.

I see all these “stages” in my photographs, and I’m grateful I have a record of them. I am impressed with the longevity of these stages. People always tell me how children will flit from one interest to the next, but my boys have stuck with some of their interests for a good, long while. I know that proper support and tools inspire children to stick with things, but it may just be a coincidence too. Or my boys’ personality. I don’t know why, but I love it.

Notice, however, that I don’t call these moments in time “phases.” Somehow to me a “phase” has a connotation of something trivial that will pass whereas a “stage” is something that is natural and part of one’s development. It may or may not pass, but it’s an integral part of that development.

My husband and I take each of these stages very seriously, and despite criticism we may receive from other people, we know that it’s important to respect our children’s interests and consider each one as more than a “phase.” It’s what they are now, and we want to do whatever we can to help them do their best with it. We know that if they do their best now, they will do their best with anything they pursue in life.

I look forward to the continuation of these stages. I look forward to future stages. Really, it’s just one, big, magical time.

Homeschooling: Diving into Human History

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I’m extra excited to tell you that one of the things I added mid-year are history lessons. If there’s one thing I’ve been wanting to learn more about, it’s history. 🙂

Until now, history is something I have not worried about incorporating into our homeschool lessons for several reasons. First, I don’t think young children need a lot of history unless they are interested in it.** I doubt they will fully understand it or remember it. Also, my husband is a history professor, so I knew we would get a good history education with his help. Indeed, he peppers our documentary-watching with relevant historical facts as needed!

Until this past year, my eldest son didn’t show much interest in history. We watch a lot of documentaries, but when the boys were smaller, they needed to be nature documentaries. They liked animals and nature, but documentaries about people were boring, and frankly, over their heads. However, this changed during this past year~year and a half or so. We have slowly begun to watch other kinds of documentaries such as science, engineering and history, especially those dealing with archaeology. So I saw more of an interest in history creeping up. It was at this time I made my big history timeline, and as we watched or read about historical events or people, we would add a tag about them to our timeline. But I still didn’t do “formal” history lessons.

Then, my boys began to play digital games that incorporated military tanks and ships, etc. In the games, they would learn a tremendous amount about many, real military vehicles, and they soon wanted to know more. One of their Christmas presents was a big book about tanks, and they still study it everyday! This is one of their major interests right now.

My 10-year-old began asking questions about the world wars, and one day, I let him listen to his father’s U.S. history podcast about World War II. It was at this point that I felt we could start history lessons. I considered doing American history first since his interests seemed to gravitate in that direction. In addition, I’ve been reading to them about Native Americans now and then for a while now too. But ultimately, with my husband’s help, I decided to go with World History first because that’s what I wanted to do in the first place, and we happened to find some very cool books that we both loved. (I want to give a shout out to my online friend, Kristina Daniele, for sharing her history resources with me. She helped me get started in my search for history resources that would appeal to my young boys.)

What’s exciting about studying history as a homeschooler is that we can start at the beginning and spend time delving into each era, and we don’t have to stop. In public school, I got bits of history in each grade, but I only remember the big events of American history. I know I never studied ancient humans or ancient Egypt. I know I never understood “the big picture” of the human timeline (until now). I am sure when my boys are adults, they will have forgotten a lot of our history lessons too, but that’s why I made the history timeline, I’m going slow, and in high school, we’ll circle around to the beginning again. Even if they don’t remember the finer details, they are going to understand the big picture of human history.

I’m going to write in more detail about our history lessons as we come to each unit. But below is a blueprint of how I’m getting started and what I’m using for our “spine.”

I am using my husband’s history lectures as a “spine” or guide. Even though his podcasts are for college level students, they are short, and my boys can understand most of what he’s saying. I use the “key terms” he lists under the lectures as a guide when I’m searching for additional books at the library. I don’t try to get a book on everything, but for example, under “Mesopotamia,” one of the key terms is “Epic of Gilgamesh.” When I looked up Mesopotamia in the library search engine, I found a storybook for kids about the Epic of Gilgamesh — that’s a nice supplement to our studies on Mesopotamia!

We also bought three history textbooks that we’re reading as we go along too. My husband gets a lot of free college textbooks to review, but we obviously needed books that would appeal to young kids. Finding the perfect world history text for kids didn’t prove easy! My husband and I spent some time searching for books on Amazon, and I checked these out from the library before we bought them. I’m going to list them in order of our preference.

The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia — This is our favorite. It’s a beautiful book with rich photographs and illustrations, and it has all the relevant information in it that we’re looking for. However, this is not meant to be an in depth look at history. Like my husband’s podcasts, it can be used as a starting point. For example, “Ancient Egypt” covers a two-page spread. Still, this is the kind of overview that kids would be getting in a world history class, and you can pause wherever you like and get more books from the library about each section. (This is a perk of homeschooling — no rushing through a curriculum!) As we get further into this book, I’ll be able to tell you more about it.

The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History — This is a great book too with beautiful illustrations and photographs. It doesn’t have quite as many details as the Kingfisher, but it covers everything and then some. We bought this intending to let our son read it on his own. Usborne considers “World History” to also mean “Earth’s History,” and it begins with about eighty pages dedicated to prehistoric time, what fossils are, and evolution, etc. When I think of “World History” I tend to think of that as “Human History,” which is what they do in school. But that makes little difference, and there is something to having the “big picture” laid out in one book. However, we’ve already learned so much about Earth’s history through our science interest that we already know this information. So I’m not requiring my son to read those first eighty pages unless he wants to.

The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer — We are well aware of the criticisms of these books, but having looked at the first one, we decided we would try it because learning about history through story form might interest our sons. As a history professor, my husband reviews many college level textbooks, and he tells me that many of them have biases. The point is that you should never use just one text as your information source just as you should never use one media outlet for all your current news. By studying many different resources, you will be more informed and better able to find mistakes or biases, and learning how to do that is a good learning lesson in itself. We have not gotten very far into SOTW, and my 10-year-old doesn’t love it, but I think my 7-year-old liked it better. I am not sure we’ll continue with these books, but I’ll let you know.

As we get to each section of our history curriculum, I plan to write short posts about what we’re reading for each. For example, right now we’re studying Ancient Egypt, so I’ll tell you what books I found for that soon.

If you have any history resources you love, please tell me about them in the comments.

**Note: My seven-year-old is less interested and perhaps doesn’t understand the history I’m teaching as much as my 10-year-old. However, I usually ask him to try to listen, but if he’s really bored, I don’t make him. I think he picks up on quite a bit, however. At this point, I’m not requiring any written work. We’re just enjoying reading about history.

 

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. 🙂

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?