New Curriculum: Vintage Poetry for Modern Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Did We Do? Our 2018/2019 Homeschool Review

Song Sparrow

At the beginning of each year, I write a post about what curriculum and resources I’m planning to use. At the end of each year, I write a follow-up, letting you know what I changed. Because I always change something.

So this is my follow-up to At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s 6thand 3rdGrade Curriculum, which I published on the home/school/life blog.

6th Grade

  • Writing – I stopped using the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s (IEW) student writing intensive before my son finished it because I felt he got out of it what he needed to, and that was good. I also used part of a textbook I received from a teacher, and it was helpful. Now we’ve moved on to using the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Program (MCT) exclusively, which includes grammar and writing, and I think I’ll probably stick with this program from here on out.
  • Grammar – I stopped the IEW Fix it! series (for now), and I’m going to keep using MCT. I’ll be writing more details about this decision for the HSL blog, and I’ll link to that here when it’s published.
  • Extras — In addition to his language arts program, I also had my son work through Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes; Note Taking: Lessons to Improve Research Skills and Test Scores; and Study Skills Strategies: Outlining. Except for the cursive, these were things I had not planned on incorporating at the beginning of the year.
  • He recently began working in The Basics of Critical Thinking by the Critical Thinking Co., which will carry over to next year. He likes this book!
  • Reading – My son is an avid reader, and his dad helps him pick out new novels, which I’m thankful for because I can’t do everything. I can’t remember the titles of all his choices, but I can say that he enjoyed the entire Percy Jackson series this year. Before that, he read all the Harry Potter books.
  • Math – This never seems to change. We’ve had a lot of success with the Life of Fred series. (Using this curriculum seems to be quite controversial among secular homeschoolers, which I think is a shame.) Occasionally my son will use Internet resources, if he doesn’t get something, but that’s rare. I especially like Mathantics.com for that. He also worked on math in his test prep book (see below).
  • Music – My son just celebrated four years of taking piano lessons, and he’s more passionate about it every year. His dad is instrumental in helping him get all the resources he needs to achieve his goals. We have discovered that the Great Courses Plus has a lot of courses about music history that appeals to him, so we’ve added time for that.

3rd Grade

  • Reading – My third grader has improved his reading comprehension and has enjoyed several chapter books this year. His most recent favorite book was Goosed! by Bill Wallace.
  • Grammar – He has continued working in the Star Wars 3rd Grade Reading and Writing workbook this year, and I recently decided to begin Level 1 of the MCT curriculum with him. He listened to it while I was reading it to his older brother last year, but this time we’re going slower and using the Practice books too.
  • Math – My younger son loves Life of Fred too. He also completed the Star Wars 3rd Grade Math workbook, and we have used a lot of flashcards to learn the times tables. (I had him watch Time Tales, but that did not help him as much as it helped his older brother, so I guess I would recommend it only if your student is a visual learner.)

Note: Even though there are Star Wars workbooks available for 4thgrade, and we were using them because my son likes them, I think we’ll stop here with those workbooks. Between both boys, I’ve used them for what? Six or seven years? I’m ready to move on, and I think my son will benefit from spending more time on our other curriculum.

  • Birds – Birds has always been a special interest of my youngest son, so we do a lot of bird watching and reading about birds. (We are all bird fanatics now. This is why you will see a lot of bird photographs on my blog.) We put up a birdbath this year, and observing the wildlife it attracts has given us all much joy!
  • Music – My younger son will be celebrating two years of cello lessons later this summer. I’m so impressed with his progress and stick-with-it-ness.

6th and 3rd or what we do together

  • Literature – Although the boys read their own books that they pick themselves, I have continued to read out loud to them this year. We finished reading The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then we started Chickadee by Louise Erdrich. Yes, the books I read to them are slow-going because we have a lot of other work to do. We’ve also been reading poetry, books about poetry, and a lovely book titled Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, which is written in poems! See this post for more information on how I’m teaching poetry. I also read history books out loud too. (See below.)
  • Test Prep – This was a testing year for us, so we worked our way through these test prep books (I skipped parts they didn’t need), and I gave the boys the practice tests so that they were aware of what the test would be like. My younger son, especially, had no experience filling in those little bubbles. It’s not something I like doing, but it’s helpful too. We used Test Prep: Grade 6 and Test Prep: Grade 3 by Flash Kids Harcourt Family Learning. I am so grateful that as homeschoolers, my boys don’t have to suffer the stress of too much test-taking or grades, though curiously, now that they understand what a grade is, they get excited to know what their grade is on these tests! lol I am toying with the idea of giving them some practice tests at the end of every year, but we’ll see.
  • Grammar & Writing – In my beginning-of-the-year post, I mentioned that I was reading the MCT Level 1 books to the boys during the summer, and I liked them so much that I was going to try to squeeze in time to finish them all. Well, as you read above, I liked this curriculum so much that I’m completely switching to it!
  • History – We have continued to make slow but good progress on our history lessons. We completed our first unit of U.S. history on the Native Americans, and we also did a unit on Ancient Rome. My son is still watching a Great Course on Ancient Rome. Those courses are really long, so while he watches it, I went ahead and started a new unit on the Islamic World. I haven’t written a blog post about this yet, but the link goes to my husband’s screencast on the Islamic World. I use his screencasts as a guide to what to study. Look at my top menu for links to all our history units. I will continue to add to these posts as we rediscover some of these topics in different ways over the next few years.
  • Science –
    • We did science-related projects this year! See Project-based Homeschooling: Plant Project and Project-based homeschooling: American Elm to learn more about them! I will be writing more about our ongoing birding projects in the future too.
    • The boys also attended two homeschool science courses at our local nature center this year.
    • As far as the formal science lessons:  As I wrote in that beginning-of-the-year post, we did science on Saturday mornings this year. It was the only time I could squeeze it in. But we ended up using an Earth Science For Middle School textbook from CK12.org. (You can also download the teacher’s manual and test and quizzes book to go with this.) I feel it’s so long that we may never finish it, but my 12-year-old really likes it, so we’re sticking with it and will continue to work on it next year. Next year, he’ll be doing science more often, and my third grader will too. He did less science than his older brother this year. Of course, we watched lots of nature and science documentaries, though, and we’re a science loving family in general, so we keep up to date with the latest science discoveries etc.
  • Foreign Languages – Oh how I wanted us to learn both Spanish and Chinese! How cool would that be?! But my boys talked me into letting them just learn Chinese, and I’m fine with that. Curiously, they thought Spanish was boring, but they enjoyed the Chinese lessons. We kept at it four days a week until about a month ago when I pared down our lessons to the very essentials because….it’s spring, we had a lot of appointments, we have a test coming up, we have other things to do, and it’s spring….
  • Music – We had a great year of music lessons and attending a few free concerts at the nearby university.
  • In addition, we have begun watching A Children’s Guide to Folklore and Wonder Tales, a Great Course taught by Prof. Hannah B. Harvey, Ph.D. This is a great supplement to their language arts program.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. We had a good year, and though we never get to do everything I hope we’ll do, I know we’re making good progress. It’s not over yet either. We still need to take that test, and we have some important educational events and activities happening this summer. We’ll continue to do some “lite homeschooling” through August too. Our 7th grade and 4th grade year will begin in September. (Yikes!)

Another note: Since I have less time to write these focused blog posts, I have begun to write monthly or bimonthly updates. There’s not a lot of “how to” in them, and sometimes I ramble or wax poetic, but I try to give you updates on our homeschool, activities and favorite books/resources. If you’d like to keep up with how we’re doing, please consider following my blog.

And I’d love to hear from you too. What is your homeschool like? What are your favorite resources? If you have any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them. Thanks for reading!

 

History Lesson Log #4: Ancient Rome

We have had a lot of fun exploring Ancient Rome, though as you can see, I haven’t used a lot of resources. Now that we have a subscription to the Great Courses Plus, this seems to be the best resource I can find. My twelve-year-old and I have really enjoyed watching the lecture, and there are more courses we are planning to watch as well. I highly recommend the Great Courses for mature middle schoolers or high school students.

Sources I’ve used for this topic:

Web

My husband’s lecture and screencast titled “Ancient Rome.”

Home Library

The Kingfisher History of Encyclopediapages 62-67, 80-81

From the Local Library

Tools of the Ancient Romans by Rachel Dickinson (This is a really good book. My nine-year-old especially enjoyed it.)

Documentaries

Great Courses: The Rise of Rome (Click link to view the trailer.)

Field Trips

Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University

U.S. History Lesson Log #1: Native Americans

Though we began a more formal study of U.S. history earlier this year, starting with life in America before the arrival of Europeans, I have been teaching my boys about Native Americans in a variety of ways over the past few years. The resources listed here will reflect that. I will return to this page and add more resources as we continue to learn about Native American history and culture.

(Note: We are also continuing our study of world history, and eventually I’ll post a lesson log about Ancient Rome.)

Sources I’ve used for this topic:

Web

My husband’s lecture and screencast titled “North American Before 1842” and “Contact: Europeans and Native Americans

Home Library

Suitable for small children:

The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose

North American Indians by Marie and Douglas Gorsline

The True Story of Pocahontas by Lucille Recht Penner (Though I am weary of any resource that claims to be “the true story.”)

Raven: a Trickster Tale From the Pacific Northwest

 

Suitable for older elementary kids or teens:

Smithsonian Children’s Encyclopedia of American History, pp. 18-21

Life in a Pueblo, A Bobbie Kalman Book

Exploring Bandelier National Monument by Sarah Gustafson

 

Fiction:

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

The Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich

The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich

(Click to read my reviews of the Birchbark books. I highly recommend these books, and we intend to finish the series.)

From the Local Library

The Cherokee: native basket weavers by Therese DeAngelis

Sequoyah by Doraine Bennett

The Cherokees by Jill Ward

Only the Names Remain by Alex W. Bealer

Journey to Cahokia: A Boy’s Visit to the Great Mound City by Albert Lorenz

Red Power on the Rio Grande by Frank Folsom (I do not recommend this particular book for young children or sensitive kids.)

Field Trips

See my post Trip West. We visited Bandelier National Monument, the Indian Cultural Arts Center, Petroglyph National Monument and many other cool places.

Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University

Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, GA

On our bucket list: Etowah Indian Mounds

History Lesson Log #3: Ancient Greece

I usually wait until I’ve covered three history topics until I write another log, but I’m eager to share our Ancient Greece resources. We spent quite awhile with Ancient Greece because The Odyssey and the myths took a long time to read, and we’ve been taking a break this summer from history too.

Although these are the resources I’ve used so far for Ancient Greece, we probably won’t stop here. I will add more resources to this list as we find them. I plan to move on to Ancient Rome in the near future, but my eleven-year-old is interested in doing U.S. history too, so we’re going to start with that this September, and we’ll see how long it takes to get back to ancient history. Having a big timeline on our wall helps us keep the dates straight! If you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.

Ancient Greece

Sources I’ve used for this topic:

Web

My husband’s lecture and screencast titled “Ancient Greece

Odyssey Online: Greece (See field trips below for explanation)

 

Home Library

The Kingfisher History of Encycolpedia, pages 52-56

The Usborne Encylcopedia of World History, pages 154-161

Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times, pages 137-187

 

From the Local Library

Ancient Greece by Philip Wilkinson

The Odyssey retold by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaires

 

A year later, we found these graphic books, which are great for older kids:

George O’Connor’s The Olympians Series

The Odyssey A graphic novel by Gareth Hinds

Documentaries

There are some fun videos on Ted Ed about Ancient Greece. Do a search for Ancient Greece.

 

Field Trips

Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University – This museum has artifacts from many ancient cultures! According to their website: “Some 17,000 artifacts from ancient Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome, the Americas, Asia, and Africa, as well as works on paper from the Renaissance to the present day.” We spent an afternoon this summer at Emory, and we loved this museum. A post about this museum is coming up next.

If you aren’t local, check out their website. They have Odyssey Online, which are interactive web sites for kids. Some of these are still in the making, but the one on Greece is great. They also have a podcast.

PDF Resource: How To Homeschool 1st Grade/The Early Years

How do I teach 1st grade? What are my kids supposed to learn? What resources should I use? How do I plan lessons and schedule my day? How do I meet other homeschoolers? 

The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching the Early Years will answer these questions and more.

This simple guide also shows you how to create an environment that will honor your child’s natural desire to learn, how to foster creativity, give tips on setting priorities, and start you on the path to becoming a family of life-long learners. Recommended for parents of children from 4 to 8-years-old.

Shelli Bond Pabis is senior editor of home/school/life magazine. She’s written hundreds of articles, newspaper columns and blog posts about the homeschooling life, motherhood, how to homeschool, project-based homeschooling, books, curriculum and more. She and her husband, a history professor, homeschool their two boys. Besides the fundamentals, they have learned a tremendous amount about science, engineering, classical music and birds because of their boys’ interests.

48 pages : $4.00 : Click here to purchase

Share on Facebook and Twitter, and you can receive a 25% discount. 

Secular Curriculum I Can Recommend

This is a master list of all the curriculum and resources I have used during the elementary years that I can highly recommend. The link will go to my review, if I’ve written one, or to where you can purchase the product online. Feel free to e-mail me with questions, if you have any. Everything is secular except where noted.*

For middle school and beyond, please check My Store for my curriculum recommendations and more. (Our 7th grade curricula can be found here.)

Reading

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Starfall.com
Usborne Very First Readers – set of 15 books

Language Arts

writing & grammar

Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Student Writing Intensive Level A (I would recommend this curriculum for children who are struggling to write. If you have a child that is naturally drawn to writing, you may have more success with a less formal approach.)
Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree: Student Book 1 with Teacher’s Manual
Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1 and Part of Level 2

poetry

Vintage Poetry for Modern Kids
Music of the Hemispheres (part of the Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program)

spelling

All About Spelling — This is a solid program, and I really liked it. However, my son hated it, so we stopped after Level 1.

handwriting

Calligraphy Set & an Instruction Book (makes learning to write fun)
Handwriting Without Tears My Printing Book
Handwriting Without Tears Printing Power
Beginning Traditional Cursive
Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes

Free Typing Lessons

Math

Life of Fred* elementary series
Life of Fred* intermediate series
Life of Fred: Fractions*
Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents*
Khan Academy
Mathantics
Spectrum Workbooks
Singapore Math (U.S.) (Level 1A & 1B)

General 

Workbooks are good for extra practice, to make sure you are covering the basics, or for preparing for standardized tests, but I mostly prefer working with other resources that are more engaging. If you want a workbook, I recommend:

— If your child likes Star Wars, check out the Star Wars workbooks.
Spectrum workbooks are good. (These are sold on Amazon.)

Also, Ducksters.com is a helpful website for basic information on history, science and geography in elementary school.

If you have a mature middle school student or high school student, I highly recommend Great Courses Plus streaming service.

Social Studies

my husband’s history lectures
The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia
The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History
One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship
The Kids Books of World Religions
Documentaries!
Follow my history lesson logs…These list the resources and library books that I use for each history topic.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales

Science

Documentaries!!!
Magic School Bus Books
Let’s Read and Find Out Science Books
My Citizen Science Projects
See my homeschool science posts for more ideas.
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding This is a very good curriculum, and it’s secular. However, it requires A LOT of reading and prep work on the part of the parent!

Spanish

Risas y Sonrisas
Salsa
Mango (free via public library)

Chinese

Better Chinese

Art

Developing a Sketchbook Habit (doing this has been invaluable)
Cave Paintings to Picasso
Georgia Museum of Art (field trips to)
Carla Sonheim online art classes (link goes to her free stuff)
Drawing for Older Children & Teens by Mona Brookes

I also recommend my resource, The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching the Early Yearsfor anyone with a child up to eight-years-old. It will get you started in creating an atmosphere at home that will promote independent learning. It also has a big list of secular resources in the back. And tons of other tips and practical advice. I hope you’ll check it out.

 

* The author of the Life of Fred  series is religious, and this is apparent in the books, but there are few references and nothing preachy. It was a non-issue for us. However, this is a controversial issue in some secular online forums where followers don’t want to support an author with his views.

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. (IMPORTANT: Please read my update at the bottom of this page.) 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 learning a good bit from this 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.

[UPDATE (8/2/2017): I recently noticed that secularhomeschooler.com rates Elemental Science as neutral science. This disappoints me. “Neutral science” refers to curriculums that teach science yet conveniently leave out anything that might offend a religious person who believes in a young earth. This is not real science at all, and, unfortunately, I didn’t realize this before buying the curriculum. However, it uses textbooks that are secular and includes evolution. The textbooks are great, and there is some merit in each lesson, so I’m taking this rating with a grain of salt. We may or may not continue to use this curriculum.]

4th Grade Homeschooling: Language Arts

hs4g

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. 🙂

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.