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At the end of a school year, I like to reflect on what I had planned to do and how things actually went.

Simon just finished his grade 4 school year this past Friday, June 24th. It was later than the local public schools (they finished June 10th), but not atrocious, especially considering how many days he chose not to cooperate or get all his work done. Clara still has two more weeks to finish kindergarten (there were many days I skipped or drastically reduced her lessons as I tried to get Simon to do what he needed to do), but kindergarten isn’t very time-consuming and she’s generally cooperative, so we’ll get it done.

I had set two main goals for our homeschool year: to improve Simon’s and Clara’s ability to learn in French and to incorporate intentional, quality daily physical activity.

I would say I succeeded with regards to the first goal. Simon can now read at roughly a 2nd-3rd grade level in French and has good oral comprehension. He completed all of a grade 3 social studies program from Quebec; while he did need help with phrasing/spelling when he had to write out answers in French, he understood the material quite well. Clara readily converses with me in French, enjoys being read to in French, did her math 95% in French (occasionally, I would clarify a concept in English, and I would introduce English vocabulary for math terms she learned in French so she would have the vocabulary in both languages), and started French reading lessons at the end of January, after she finished level 1 of Little Stories for Little Folks (our English learn-to-read program). She’s now completed the equivalent of 11 weeks of work in a 1st grade level equivalent French reading/language arts program. While her English is stronger than her French, she is comfortable in French and academically ready for 1st grade level studies in French.

I had partial success with the second goal. For the first few months of the year, we exercised consistently, but for short periods of time. To improve the situation, I switched from watching Youtube “brain break” videos to doing Darebee workouts, which gave us more exercise. That went well for a while. Then the war in Ukraine started just days before Don left the country for two weeks. Between the emotional upset of the war and the stress of solo parenting, I was barely holding things together while he was gone. I dropped exercising because it was more than I could handle. After several weeks, I decided I should make an effort to get back to it, but the kids balked at doing Darebee again after we got out of the habit. I let them exercise to Youtube videos while I did Darebee. Then the weather finally got warm enough that they were playing outside more and I didn’t feel like bothering with putting the time and energy into formal exercise when we had so many other things to get done, so I pretty much gave up.

We added Spanish, using TalkBox.Mom, to our Together Time starting after Christmas. It was rather ambitious for me to add in another language, but the kids were enthusiastic and I decided to give it a try. That, too, got dropped when the war started and I needed to pare down to the essentials. We never got back to it, but there’s always next year.

As I read back over my plans for Simon for this school year, I’m impressed that we mostly did what I planned. My goal was for him to have 160 days in which he completed a “minimum viable day” (which for most of the year, I defined as doing math, writing, and French reading or grammar). He only actually completed 128 MVDs, although there were many days that he did some schoolwork without getting all three of those subjects done. He finished Khan Academy grade 4 math during his last week of school, which was just pure coincidence, but it made me feel good that he is on track with math. He’ll be doing Life of Fred: Jellybeans over the summer. For French reading, I added another book (Comme un livre CP/CE1) that was a bit easier than the original book (La lavande et le serpolet). He did that whole book and is close to finishing La lavande et le serpolet; he’ll finish over the summer. We got through Writing and Rhetoric book 2 and we’ve done about a quarter of the US/Canadian history program (we just finished the American Revolution). Latin was kind of a dud; we did about 60% of Prima Latina last year (3 of 5 units) and only managed to do one more unit this year. I’m hoping that we can finish that over the summer too. I gave up on spelling altogether because Simon detested it so much and it seemed like a low-priority subject. Finally, and disappointingly, we never got to The Story of the Bible as it took longer than I anticipated to get through The Story of Civilization book 2 and Behold and See 4 (science). Overall, Simon did accomplish a lot and I am happy with where he is academically.

Clara pretty much did everything I planned. Both kids did get to do swimming lessons this year after missing last year due to COVID. Near the end of the year, Clara started being able to actually swim by herself for reasonable distances (~20 feet). It wasn’t pretty, but it was swimming. The other notable thing about her school year is that I am very glad that I decided to do BFSU with her for science. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t quite get as much done as I wanted to. We haven’t done any science for the past two months, though I kept up pretty well until then. I hope to do some over the summer and get caught up again next school year. I really enjoy teaching BFSU and she has learned so much. It’s worth the effort.

Both kids did learn a lot this year. However, Simon’s often negative attitude and lack of cooperation made homeschooling considerably more challenging. We have decided to have him go to school next year to see if that is a better fit for him. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I am at peace with it. He will be going to a wonderful Catholic school; the downside is that he’ll be on the bus about an hour each way. (It’s the closest Catholic school to us. I didn’t even consider it before because of the distance, but they started running a bus this past school year so now it’s possible, though not ideal.) He’ll be in a great school environment and he’ll get to socialize with other kids every day. Hopefully, he’ll be less likely to protest doing schoolwork when all the kids around him are working. Meanwhile, I’ll be able to give Clara more attention. It will be different to have only one kid home with me during the day, but we will adapt.

That’s where things stand now, at the end of this school year. We have a busy summer ahead of us and then we’ll start a new chapter in Simon’s and Clara’s educational journeys in September.

Wow! I haven’t written a blog post in almost seven months. Don’t keel over in shock; this may be a new post, but keep your expectations for it low.

It’s so hard for me to find time to write. On homeschool lesson days, I am busy from the time I get up until the younger kids go to bed, after which I’m usually too tired to do anything that takes real concentration. Weekends usually manage to fill themselves up with other things to do besides the chores that always need to be done to get ready for the upcoming week. I appreciate it when I can carve out time on a weekend to go out to Don’s office over our garage and have an hour or two of quiet time to myself to work on my own projects, but in reality, I’m lucky if it happens once a month.

Even when I find time to write, my blog isn’t the first priority. I’ve been writing a “coronavirus diary” since March 2020 and it’s usually badly in need of being updated whenever I do have time to write. I keep hoping that COVID will fade out so that I can wrap up that project and move on to other things, but it hasn’t happened yet. I do have a list of blog post topics that I want to write about someday, but I don’t know when “someday” will come.

Why am I writing now? you may ask. It’s spring break for the local public schools, which means our two teenagers are on break. Don took Amina, Simon, and Clara on a three-night trip to the Twin Cities so they could have some city fun and I could have the house (almost) to myself (Peter has been minimally noisy, messy, and demanding of my attention). After days of focused, productive work, I am now sufficiently caught up on my other projects as to be able to afford a half-hour to write something to post on my blog.

Life is going well, overall. I tried to quit my job as faith formation coordinator for my church a second time in the fall and failed again. However, it hasn’t been as difficult to keep up with over the past few months so I’m hanging in there. Don is busy and stressed with work, as always. However, he did enjoy curling this winter and he taught a six-hour class for people who wanted to earn a ham radio license. Amina and Simon both participated in the class; Simon passed the test and earned his license a week before his 10th birthday! Homeschooling is going well enough. Clara (age 5, kindergarten) is doing awesome and I’m very proud of her. She has been writing and illustrating many books in her free time; she is constantly coming up to me with a little whiteboard and a dry erase marker and asking me to write something down so she can copy it (she can’t spell much on her own). It’s so different to have a child who likes to draw and write; neither Peter nor Simon was much of a fan of either when they were in kindergarten and Simon still fights assignments that require writing. Simon (age 10, 4th grade) was in a good groove until mid-December and he’s been having a rough time since then, especially the month of January. He’s almost certainly going to have to keep doing schoolwork into the summer in order to finish the school year. However, he is still reading voraciously and getting enough schoolwork done that I know he is still learning. I’m not overly concerned about him from an academic standpoint but I would appreciate it if he had a better attitude and better work habits. Amina (age 14, 8th grade) finds school challenging academically but gets special education support so she’s not completely lost. She enjoys the social side of school, has had a boyfriend since the beginning of the school year, played on the 8th grade girls basketball team in the fall, and performed in the middle school play earlier this month. Peter (age 17, 11th grade) has become remarkably more responsible about doing and turning in his schoolwork this year and his grades have shown a dramatic improvement. He continues to be active with his school’s JROTC program and will be travelling to Utah in April to compete in a JROTC archery tournament. He wants to study computer engineering after he graduates from high school next year and has been researching various universities and programs. All of the kids are growing up in their own ways and it’s neat to see what they are becoming.

There’s my update. Not super deep, but at least you know that we are all still alive and living our lives.

This year, I will be homeschooling Simon for grade 4 and Clara for kindergarten (or, as she insists, senior kindergarten).

Peter and Amina will attend local public schools. Peter will be a junior in high school. This will be the first time in his life that he is going to the same school for a third year in a row (he was at the same school for grades 1 and 2 and was homeschooled for grades 3 and 4 and then 7 and 8, but he’s never been in the same schooling situation more than two consecutive years). Amina will be in grade 8. We are moving her to a different middle school this year, the one that feeds into Peter’s high school (they used to go to school in different districts). Her previous school gave her excellent academic support and the teachers and staff were wonderful, but the social environment was not the best and she was being negatively affected by it. We’re hopeful that she will benefit from a fresh start at a new school. At this point, it’s looking like they will both be able to have a much more normal school year than last year, which is a very good thing.

I will continue to use a classical approach to education. I have in my head a whole blog post I’d like to write about the characteristics of our homeschool that would be appropriate to link to here, but since it’s not written yet, I can’t. I hope to find the time to write it one of these days.

As before, I set two main goals for our homeschool year. The first is to improve Simon’s and Clara’s ability to learn in French, specifically their oral comprehension of vocabulary on a wide range of topics and their speaking skills.  The second is to incorporate intentional, quality daily physical activity. In the winter, especially, it’s easy to stay inside and not get much exercise. Being more active will help us all be healthier and happier.

In addition to homeschooling, I will be serving as the faith formation coordinator at my parish again. I tried to quit, but no one else wanted the job, so I’m still doing it. I’ve been working furiously to get things organized and ready before school starts. In the past three weeks, I’ve logged over 25 hours of work for the church, 25 hours that I could have otherwise used to get things done around the house (our closets will NEVER get cleaned!). I am hopeful that, since this will be a more normal year with in-person classes and other people helping teach, faith formation might not be too much of a strain to keep up with once it’s up and running. If it ends up being too much, I will quit again after this year.

With all that context established, here’s a family photo, followed by my plans:

I realize that Simon is wearing the same shirt and not smiling in last year’s picture and this year’s. I promise that he doesn’t always look like that!

Our Rough Daily Schedule:

Physical activity 1

Together Time

Read-aloud in English

Simon math

(snack break)

Clara lessons/Simon independent work OR Simon work with Mom

Lunch/recess

Physical activity 2

Read-aloud/video in French

Simon French reading/grammar

(snack break)

Finish remaining work

Clean-up time

Mom is finished by 4 o’clock (Simon may still have independent work)

Plans for Both Kids (and Myself):

Physical Activity:

This year, I plan to start both our morning and afternoon homeschooling sessions with some physical activity. The main resources I plan to use are Boks and Madame Mindset’s “brain break” videos (we have used these videos over the summer and the kids enjoy them–Amina usually chooses to join us even though she doesn’t speak French); another great resource is DareBee; we used it for family workouts last year when Peter and Amina were doing school from home, but Clara is a little young for their routines.

Together Time:

After getting a little exercise in the morning, we will sing and pray together (as I described last year). Sometimes we sing and pray in French, sometimes in English; the rest of Together Time is in English. I will read poetry aloud, starting with The Llama Who Had No Pajama. We will keep working our way through Song School Latin 2. Some days, I will add in a little devotional reading, such as My Path to Heaven. Simon and Clara will practice their memory work–learning to recite poems that they have chosen from The Harp and Laurel Wreath or other sources. (Note: Links are just to illustrate what books/resources we use and are not necessarily where I bought them or would recommend buying them.)

French Read-Aloud:

This is more like Together Time in French, but we call it French Read-Aloud, so I’ll stick with that. Last year, we usually did it first thing in the afternoon; this year we’ll start with some physical activity beforehand. I try to do some poetry, religion, non-fiction, and fiction each day (not an overwhelming amount of each, but that gives some variety in the language that they are exposed to). For poetry, we will continue reading one poem a day from Une Comptine pour chaque jour.  For religion, we will finish L’imagerie de la Bible and then read Miche de Pain: 1ère année.  In the non-fiction category, we will read L’imagerie des loisirs, which will probably be followed by L’imagerie des métiers.  We spend the most time reading fiction (because kids like stories!). I plan to read stories from Cent histoires illustrées and the Père Castor collection (classic French children’s stories). We will probably re-read Les Belles Histoires magazines that we own and read last year. This year, I started a subscription to Les Petits Livres, a company that rents French children’s books by mail in the United States (my first package is on the way here now). Because it’s expensive to buy books in French, this will let us read more books for less money. In addition to the actual read-aloud, we often watch Youtube videos in French. Videos by Monsieur Steve are a particular favorite and Mini TFO is good too, though Simon is a bit old for it. We also watch children’s songs once a week and do flip cards once a week.

Plans for individual kids:

Simon, grade 4:

This year, I’m not scheduling a particular number of days of lessons for Simon. I will keep track of how many days he completes at least a minimum viable day (MVD), which includes math, French reading or grammar, and two other subjects. I’m aiming for 160 days. Last year I scheduled 170 and we only did 151, but last year was crazy and I’m hopeful that this year will be less so.

Read-aloud–Simon will probably join in with the read-aloud that I do with Clara (it’s hard to resist listening when someone’s reading a story). In addition, we’ll do some of his US/Canadian history books as read-alouds and maybe we’ll do one or two books from the Angelicum Academy Good Books third or fourth grade list.

Reading–Simon will read a minimum of one quality fiction book and one non-fiction book per week. Every other week, the non-fiction book will have to be a biography. I generally let him choose the books (with my approval), but sometimes I steer him to particular fiction books that I think he would enjoy.

GrammarEasy Grammar grade 4. I don’t expect him to do the whole book this year, but as long as he makes steady progress, we’ll be doing better than last year in the grammar department.

Writing–Classical Academic Press’ Writing & Rhetoric series. We will finish book 1 (he was almost done at the end of last school year), do book 2, and see how far we get in book 3.

Handwriting–Cursive writing practice through copying Bible verses from The Joy of Handwriting.

Math–Simon is 94% done with grade 3 math on Khan Academy. Once he finishes it, he’ll take a released STAAR grade 3 math test (a State of Texas assessment), mostly just to practice test-taking. Then he’ll do Life of Fred: Honey before continuing on with grade 4 math. After he does 50% of grade 4 math on Khan Academy, he’ll do Life of Fred: Ice Cream, then finish grade 4 math. Life of Fred is a fun reward for making progress in the less-fun (but much more thorough) Khan Academy math sequence.

French–For reading, Simon will use the grade 2-equivalent reading book La lavande et le serpolet. We will discuss the questions in the workbook but I’m not going to make him write out the answers. We will also do lessons from Manuel de français: Étude de la langue CE1 (a grade 2-equivalent grammar and spelling program); I estimate that we’ll get about halfway through the book this year. At least once a week, he will use our French tablet to practice reading skills (with the app 1000 Mots GS until he finishes it, then 1000 Mots CP/CE1) and/or geography (with the apps StudyGe, Quiz des Provinces et des Territoires du Canada, Quiz États des États-Unis, and others).

French social studies–Éditions CEC’s Épopees 3. Simon will be using a history/geography book written for grade 3 students in Quebec, along with digital resources that support it (audio recordings of the introduction to each chapter, animated maps, online review activities, and more). After an introduction to the geography of Canada and Quebec, the book focuses on First Nations societies, mostly Algonquins and Iroquois before 1500. Simon is not at the level of being able to do it independently, but I think that with my help, he can learn in French and not just learn French. I’m particularly excited to see how this goes. I’ve put so much time and effort into teaching him French; it will be so cool to see him using a book that was written for French-speaking students just a year younger than he is.

US/Canadian history–We’re going to start the US/Canadian history sequence I did with Peter when he was in grades 3 and 4. I wove together Sonlight’s One-Year Condensed Intro to American History with a Sonlight-style, literature-rich Canadian history program to cover the history of both countries chronologically. This time, though, I won’t try to stick strictly to a two-year schedule, but rather allow more time for reading (the Canadian history program has many book suggestions for each weekly topic) and hope to finish it in three years. I have good memories of studying US/Canadian history with Peter, so I am looking forward to this.

ReligionSpirit of Truth grade 4. This is a new program for us. I like Image of God for preschool to grade 2, but not as much after that. We did it for grade 3 anyways because we already owned the book. Amina did some Spirit of Truth online last year as part of our parish’s distance ed faith formation and I could see good elements in it, but the online format wasn’t ideal. I forked out the money to buy a printed workbook and homeschool parent guide for Simon. In addition, Simon will attend faith formation classes this year for the first time ever (previously, I didn’t bother, because he got sufficient religious instruction at home, but since I’ll be there teaching, I figured he and Clara could come participate). He will be using the Discover! grade 4 program there; we did the grade 3 program last year for distance ed faith formation and we both enjoyed it.

Latin–Finish Prima Latina (currently about 60% done). Maybe start Latina Christiana (or maybe just wait until next year).

Homeschool partnership program–We are hoping to do swimming lessons again this year. After taking swimming lessons from kindergarten through grade 2, Simon had to take last year off due to the pandemic. So far, it sounds like the class will run. There are also online learning modules that he will have to complete as part of the way they get funding from the state.

Focus subjects–These subjects will be studied one at a time, not all year. This year, Simon’s focus subjects will be spelling, world history, science, and Bible.

SpellingHarcourt Spelling Skills grade 3, and maybe grade 4 if we have time at the end of the year. It’s not inspiring, but it’s inexpensive, Simon can do it on his own, and it does give practice writing words correctly.

World HistoryThe Story of Civilization volume 2: Medieval World and the associated Test Book. I know it seems like we have a lot of history going on (history in French, US/Canadian, and world history), but I think Simon can handle it. I want to keep going with the world history sequence since he did book 1 last year, but I didn’t want to wait two more years to start US/Canadian history after he finishes volume 3 of The Story of Civilization.

Science–Catholic Heritage Curricula’s (CHC’s) Behold and See 4. Simon will be using the older edition (I bought it on clearance), so it’s not as visually appealing as the new full-color book, but the text appears to be the same. I’ve been happy with CHC’s science books; Simon has used them since he was in grade 1. They have solid science content without being overwhelming and I like the way they show that faith and science are compatible.

BibleThe Story of the Bible volume 1: The Old Testament and the associated Test Book. This is by the same publisher as his history book, so the format will be familiar.

Clara, senior kindergarten:

I’m stepping it up a bit this year. For the last two years, I did 26 “weeks” of lessons with Clara (the equivalent of 130 days); this year, I’m planning 30 “weeks” (the equivalent of 150 days). (A “week” is five days of lessons, but I often spent six or seven days to do everything on her weekly schedule.) It means that I need to be more consistent and not skip as many days with her in order to finish the year on time.

Read-Aloud–We’ll be reading most of the Sonlight Core A read-aloud books from an older edition of Core A (not quite the same as what they currently schedule), along with books from Angelicum Academy’s Good Books list. She will also join in for picture books that are part of Simon’s US/Canadian history study.

Reading–We will continue with CHC’s Little Stories for Little Folks. Clara is just starting level 1 book 9. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again; this is the best value in early literacy. The program goes from just starting to sound out simple words through about a grade 2 reading level and it does a wonderful job of gradually introducing phoneme/grapheme correspondences and not bombarding kids with too many sight words or “words that follow different rules.” Clara is the sixth kid that I’ve used Little Stories for Little Folks with (I used them with our former foster child and host child, though neither of them was with us long enough to finish the series). I highly recommend them!

Math–Last year, Clara did Singapore Math completely in French and it was not at all difficult for her. I was tempted to continue doing Singapore Math in French with her, thinking how cool it would be for her to keep up with math at grade level, all in French. However, even though Singapore Math has a great reputation and is a very solid program, I really like the way RightStart Math teaches kids to think about numbers and how to manipulate them. I didn’t want her to miss out on the opportunity to learn the RightStart way of thinking mathematically. I’ve decided to do RightStart Math level A with her bilingually (the materials are in English, but I can easily translate to French as we work together) as her main math program, and use the Maths Méthode de Singapour GS workbook with her as a supplement (I didn’t buy the teacher’s manual and won’t be teaching the lessons, just helping her do the workbook activities to make sure she gets math practice in French).

Handwriting–CHC’s Little Folks Letter Practice and Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level K. We will also practice tracing Montessori sandpaper letters once a week.

French–In addition to what I have described elsewhere, Clara will be using French kindergarten workbooks (including this one and this one). She’ll also continue with phonological awareness and early literacy activities in the 1000 Mots GS app on our French tablet.

ScienceBuilding Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU). This was the most difficult of all of my curriculum choices this year. I did BFSU with Simon when he was in kindergarten and I thought it was incredible; I learned new ways of understanding the world just by teaching kindergarten science. However, it is not “open and go”; it requires a lot of teacher preparation. I didn’t get as far with Simon as I expected in kindergarten and Amina had just arrived home and needed a lot of help when Simon was starting grade 1, so I switched to Behold and See to make my life easier. As I said above, I’ve been happy with Behold and See, but I do believe that BFSU is better. I was hesitant to do BFSU with Clara because of the prep required; I have learned from experience that unless I prioritize them, subjects that require a lot of my time tend to be neglected. However, I didn’t want to just give up on BFSU because it is by far the best elementary science curriculum I’ve ever seen. I talked myself into giving it a try and if it doesn’t work out, I can do something else next year. It is just kindergarten science, after all; it’s not like Clara’s entire future is riding on getting this right.

ReligionImage of God K. As we did last year with religion, we won’t be using the workbook, just reading the stories and having the discussions form the teacher’s guide. In addition, Clara will be participating in the K-1 faith formation class at our parish, where she will use a mixture of Spirit of Truth K and Discover! grade 1.

BibleFamily-Time Bible in Pictures. These Bible stories are short, simply told, and beautifully illustrated.

Art–No particular program. Once a week, we’ll do an art project. Back when Simon was little, I compiled a list of ideas I found online; I just pick something from the list. Most projects are not overly ambitious; watercolor painting and drawing with colored Sharpies on aluminum foil are popular activities. It’s just an attempt to have her do something creative beyond the usual crayon/marker drawings she does on her own.

Homeschool partnership program–The plan is for Clara to start swimming lessons this year. I hope it works out. She also will have online activities to complete.

After finishing level 1 of Little Stories for Little Folks (there are 15 books in level 1):

SpellingAll About Spelling level 1. I don’t expect Clara to get very far in spelling while she’s in kindergarten, but we can get started.

French readingJe lis et j’écris avec Salto. This is the French reading program that Simon used for the last year and a half (without the workbook). I’ve been happy with it; in particular, I like the fact that each lesson starts with a story featuring at least one of the four children pictured on the cover (and often the monkey, Salto). First I would read the story aloud from the teacher’s manual, checking for comprehension and explaining or translating new vocabulary words, then we would listen to an audio recording of the story, so it helped with developing oral comprehension skills as well as reading skills. I wanted Clara to get comfortable with reading in English before introducing reading in French so she wouldn’t get confused, but since her English reading is coming along well, I’m confident that she’ll be ready to start reading in French this year.

As always, I start the year thinking I’ve got things figured out, and then life happens. Some things will go according to plan and others won’t. On the whole, though, I feel positive about the upcoming year. I am confident that Simon, Clara, and I will all learn a great deal.

Previous homeschool curriculum overviews:

You can see what I’ve done in the past by checking out the links below.

2020-2021 (grade 3 and junior kindergarten); end-of-year updates here and here 

2019-2020 (grade 2 and preschool, round three)end-of-year update here

2018-2019 (grade 8, grade 5–English language learner, and grade 1)end-of-year update here

2017-2018 (grade 7 and kindergarten)

2016-2017 (junior kindergarten)  [I still haven’t written up a synopsis of what I did with Simon for JK.  Maybe one of these days I’ll get there.]

2015-2016 (preschool, round two)

2014-2015 (grade 4)

2013-2014 (grade 3)

2008-2009 (preschool)

It’s a bit late, but here’s my attempt to compare what I planned to do last year with what actually happened. I already gave some information about how things went with Simon, but this post will be more detailed and will include Clara.

Our homeschool co-op only managed one outdoor meeting in September and then didn’t meet again for the rest of the year. Honestly, I didn’t really miss it; there were so many other things going on for me to try to keep up with.

I was excited about trying Classical Academic Press’ grammar program with Simon. It was a great program, but we didn’t make much progress with it. Simon wasn’t able to do much independently and it was a lower-priority subject for me to do with him, so we ended up not doing much grammar. I learned my lesson and we’ll be going back to Easy Grammar (which he should be able to do pretty independently) next year.

Simon’s writing also didn’t go as planned. This was the third time I started an IEW theme-based lesson book and gave up on it (the other two were with Peter). IEW is a solid program, but I think it’s better for a classroom setting. We switched to Classical Academic Press’ Writing and Rhetoric program in February and made steady progress, finishing most of book 1.

I gave up on doing All About Spelling with Simon early in the year. It’s a teacher-intensive program, and I just didn’t have the time to work with him on it. (Notice a theme here.) Instead, I bought a cheap workbook (Harcourt Spelling Skills grade 2) and had him work through that. It wasn’t awesome, but it did help him develop a little more endurance with independent work involving writing down answers.

Simon detested the online Philosophy for Children class that I thought he would enjoy, so we quit that after a few sessions. I bought 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking to do some philosophy with him and we did a half-dozen or so lessons together. They are written for a classroom setting, though, and not the greatest fit for homeschooling. I had a chance to flip through the book Philosophy for Kids and it looks much more adaptable to a homeschool setting. Since I’m already adding several new things to his plate for grade 4, I’ve penciled it in to use when he’s in grade 5.

Besides changing several curriculum resources, I also changed the way I scheduled Simon’s lessons starting in early February. I simplified it to a list of subjects to do daily (which sometimes I would let him skip, if life was busy) and things that had to be done weekly. His weekly list included reading a quality fiction book (I had to approve it), a non-fiction book, and a biography. Instead of having him do every subject all year long, I chose certain content-based subjects to do one at a time. For example, if his “focus subject” was history, he did history every day until he finished the history book. Then his focus subject switched to science, and he did science every day until he finished the science book. It simplified his daily schedule as he had fewer subjects to do in a day and it reduced the wasted time that often happened during transitions from one subject to another.

Neither kid made much progress on Angelicum Academy’s Good Books list. My read-aloud time with them in English was less than I would have liked, especially when Peter and Amina were doing “virtual” school, and Simon didn’t get into reading these more challenging works of literature independently. I did read The Swiss Family Robinson to him, which he loved, and I got him to read The Secret Garden on his own, which took him some effort to get into and then he really enjoyed it. We watched movies for both of those books, along with My Side of the Mountain after he read that. Watching the movies was less enjoyable for Simon than I expected; he had a hard time with seeing how they changed the stories when they made them into movies.

Both kids started the year doing Outschool lessons in French, but we ended up dropping them by mid-year. Clara enjoyed doing circle time and story time, but they were too easy for her; she wasn’t really learning much and it wasn’t worth spending the money on them. Simon wasn’t engaged in the group classes, so we switched to iTalki and he did one-on-one French lessons, which went better.

Otherwise, Clara pretty much did what I had planned. She made good progress in learning to read (she made it to Little Stories for Little Folks level 1 book 8) and had no trouble at all keeping up with doing math in French (we did the entire Singapore Math program for moyenne section de maternelle–junior kindergarten).

One notable accomplishment is that all three of us read Le Petit Prince together in the spring. I read it aloud in French, checking for comprehension and translating bits as necessary as we went along. Then, after we finished each chapter, we listened to that chapter in the French audiobook (available on Hoopla from our library). It took us several weeks, but we did it!

It was a challenging year, but both kids learned a lot (and I did too!). We were in a good groove with homeschooling at the end of the school year. I am looking forward to getting back into the groove and continuing with a similar schedule and similar curriculum resources for Simon’s grade 4 and Clara’s senior kindergarten year.

I hope that in this series of blog posts I have conveyed both the value and the challenges of taking a cross-country family RV vacation.

It was quite the trip:

  • 6 people
  • 14 days
  • 8 states
  • 12 different campsites
  • 6 National Historic Sites, National Parks, and/or National Monuments
  • 3009 miles
  • Countless memories

Going away for a while helps you appreciate what you have when you return.  Clara insisted on accompanying me when I went grocery shopping the day after we got home.  About a mile from our house, she asked, “Why is it so quiet?”  After two weeks of rattling down the road in the RV, the silence in our van was noteworthy (and welcome).  Other things that I appreciate about being home are having separate bedrooms for children, more space in the kitchen to cook, a full-size refrigerator and freezer, a dishwasher, a microwave that I can use at any time of day, a full-size bathtub to shower in, and our own washer and dryer.

Don listed the RV for sale on the internet a few days after we returned home, after Peter power-washed it.  He was inundated with inquiries.  It was already sold and gone before we had been home a week.  Now another family can make memories with that RV.

Despite my initial misgivings, I am glad we took this trip.  I am also glad that it is done.

Day 14 was the final day of our trip.

We left the campground bright and early at 8 am because we all wanted to get home.

At 8:50, we hit a snag.  The road we were on ended in a T and neither direction on the road it intersected was marked as the road that Don wanted to take.  After pulling over and checking the map, he realized he had driven forty minutes in the wrong direction.  He was none too pleased about that.

It is so incredibly handy to have a cellphone with internet and GPS when traveling these days.  It makes it so much easier to find accommodations, food, specialty stores (like the RV parts store in Mitchell, South Dakota), and more when you’re on the side of the road somewhere far away from home.  When we traveled in Ukraine, Google Translate was invaluable for both communicating with people and deciphering text, such as menus; I can’t imagine how hard it would have been without Google Translate and without knowing Ukrainian or Russian.  Our trip across the American west was nothing at all like the voyages of the early explorers and pioneers.  Even traveling a decade or two ago took much more faith that you would find what you needed along the way and involved more hassle in dealing with anything that didn’t go according to plan.  I’m sure some would argue that traveling with reduced access to information results in a greater sense of adventure, but I do appreciate how much less stressful it is to be able to find answers more quickly and easily.  GPS navigation cuts down on uncertainty and wrong turns, though of course you still need to use your brain and not just trust the computer.  Don hadn’t been using the GPS then, but he set it up and we used it for the rest of the day until we were in familiar territory.  Throughout the day, both parents and kids kept checking the estimated time remaining to see how much longer until we were home.

The kids were tired and somewhat subdued.  All of them, except Simon, napped at some point during the day.  Peter slept for a good portion of the morning, while Amina and Clara napped in the bed together after lunch.  Simon parked himself in the little space on the floor next to the bed and read for hours.

After we got on the right road, we only stopped to eat lunch in the RV and to switch drivers.  We left Minnesota, drove through Wisconsin, and on into Michigan.

We did not have the best driving conditions.  We faced bumpy roads and rain, heavy at times, with lightning flashing ahead.  It was so noisy and we were bounced around so much that it was hard to have a conversation, use a computer, or even concentrate on anything too deep.

Although my spirits were buoyant as we got closer to home, Don was in a foul mood.  He was ready to be done vacationing.  The inclement weather and the rough roads irritated him.  As we approached home, he swore at tourists snarling traffic; I didn’t point out to him that we had just been tourists for two weeks.

We arrived home around 5:30 pm Eastern time (we changed time zones again that day).  I was the first one in the house; it seemed so quiet compared to the noise and vibration of the RV.  My first order of business was making sure our cat was still alive (a neighbor girl had been taking care of him), then I prepared dinner while others unpacked the essentials from the RV.  After eating, we took the evening off to rest.

As I was supervising children’s toothbrushing, Don popped his head into the bathroom and announced, “We need to have a serious conversation later.”  I gave him a look and he added, “about selling the RV.”  After the kids were in bed, we discussed it.  The RV is expensive to own; without even driving it, it costs $700 a year for registration, insurance, and indoor storage for the winter so it doesn’t get destroyed by our heavy snowfall.  There are more expenses to use it—gas, campground fees, and repairing whatever breaks.  We’ve gotten good use out of it and made memories to last a lifetime, but it is old and will only continue to deteriorate.  We agreed to try to sell it.

I went to bed that night happy to be home, glad that our trip went well overall, and ready to move on to the next chapter in my life.

Day 13 was a driving day.

Clara woke me up crying during the night because she had to go potty, as I expected (she had refused to go before bed).  On the whole trip, she woke up during the night needing my attention maybe a third to a half of the time.  Sometimes she needed to go to the bathroom, once she couldn’t find her pillow, and another time she needed help covering herself with her blanket.  At home, she can go to the bathroom during the night by herself, but she was sleeping above the cab of the RV and couldn’t get down by herself in the dark, so I had to help her.

Everyone slept in after the full day we’d had celebrating Amina’s birthday.  Simon was up first, as usual.  He generally managed to wake everyone else up shortly he woke up, except for a couple times when he went out of the RV to play.  We got ourselves together and left around 10:20 am.

At the campground, Don had been freezing us out by blasting the air conditioning to cool off the inside of the RV as much as possible in anticipation of another hot day.  We were not happy campers; he got many complaints about how cold it was.  The thermometer said it was 61 F (16 C) in the RV when we left.  The interior temperature was in the 80’s (~28 C) by lunchtime, less than two hours after we left, so I’m not sure it was worth refrigerating us to start the day.

We just wanted to get home.  We only stopped to buy gas, for lunch in Fargo where there was a cluster of fast food restaurants (we ate food from Panda Express, Subway, McDonald’s, and Qdoba), to switch drivers, and to buy groceries.

Although we didn’t stop, we saw Dakota Thunder out the window from the highway as we passed Jamestown.  Simon had picked up a brochure for the world’s largest buffalo monument at the North Dakota welcome center two days before and really wanted to see it.

I spent a lot of the time that I wasn’t driving on Day 13 reading to or talking with Clara.  I felt that she needed more attention because she was getting worn out from the trip.  She was the least able to entertain herself for long periods of time while we were driving, so interacting with her meant she was less bored and less likely to have conflicts with Simon.

Different people preferred to hang out in different locations in the RV.  Amina sat in the passenger seat whenever possible; otherwise, she was usually lying on the couch behind the driver’s seat listening to music with headphones.  Peter’s favorite position was lying on the bed in the back, reading a book or looking at his cell phone.  Simon and Clara were more mobile, but they liked to play on the bed when they could get away with it.  Don drove most of the time; if he wasn’t driving, he sat in the passenger seat next to me or rested in the back.  When the kids were occupied and I could do some writing, I preferred to sit on the bed, as it was more shock-absorbent than the table; trying to read the screen of my laptop as it bounced around on the table was very tiring.  If I wasn’t trying to write, I liked to sit on the couch or one of the seats at the table so I could have a good view out the side windows.

There were a few modifications to our RV that were useful to us.  Before we bought it, someone added plastic stick-on hooks to several of the walls and in the shower; they were indispensable for hanging wet towels/bathmat/swimsuits/clothing, keys, and a fly swatter (which got plenty of use on this trip).  When we first bought the RV, we realized that the flimsy blinds and the plastic vent covers that served as skylights didn’t do much to darken the interior, especially on summer mornings when the sun comes up early in the north.  Don measured, cut, and labeled pieces of thick black fabric to cover every window and vent, attaching them with Velcro; they worked remarkably well.  Putting up the window coverings was part of our nightly routine, along with folding the couch down to become Simon’s bed and folding the table and seats down to become Amina’s bed.  Removing the window coverings in the morning helped convince the lazybones that they had to get up and get moving, as daylight streamed in.  I’m sure RV design has improved over the past twenty years; people with brand-new RVs may have more sophisticated ways to address the challenges of hanging things and blocking light, but we got along with our do-it-yourself solutions.

We spent the night in Crosby, Minnesota at a public park.  Clara enjoyed the large playground, while Simon and Amina watched some kids having football practice.

Day 13 wasn’t terribly exciting, but we knew we only had one travel day left and then we’d be home!

Day 12 was Amina’s birthday—she turned fourteen.

We set an alarm for 7:30 am and left at 8:30 in order to get to the day’s special activity at a good time.  We were headed for a water park in Mandan, North Dakota.  We had planned to go the following day, but it worked out well that we were able to go on Amina’s birthday, making the day more special.  The water park opened at noon, but with a time zone change in between our campsite and the park (from Mountain to Central time) and the need to stop along the way and to eat lunch before going into the park, we wanted to allow plenty of time.  We popped into a Walmart to buy a bathing suit for Peter.  He hadn’t packed one; he hadn’t even packed any shorts (you may notice that he’s wearing pants in all of the pictures).  We made it to the parking lot shortly before the park opened and ate lunch there.

We spent about five and a half hours at the water park.  It was hot!  The temperature climbed over 100 F (38 C).  At one point, when I went out to the RV to return water bottles and snacks, the thermometer said it was 106 F (41 C) both inside and outside the RV (all the windows and vents were open).  The kids had fun; me, not so much.  I spent a fair amount of the time supervising Clara (Don and I took turns).  The rest of the time I mostly spent floating on the lazy river or just sitting in the shade, trying to cool off.    The birthday girl’s favorite part of the water park was the slides.  There were two waterslides to ride with tubes and two breathtakingly tall “speed slides” that didn’t take tubes.  Simon was proud of himself for the number of times he went down the speed slides.  I tried each of the tube slides once and skipped the speed slides altogether.  I would have gone on the tube slides more if it hadn’t hurt my legs so much to climb the stairs up to them (after carrying Clara up and down the Lower Terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs and climbing the stairs at Pompeys Pillar, my legs were sore).  It took Clara a while to get comfortable in the little kids play area; she was scared of having a bucket of water dump on her head unexpectedly.  I taught her that she could wait until one of the buckets dumped and then pass underneath it because it wouldn’t dump again that quickly, then she entertained herself by repeatedly climbing up on the playground and sliding down the slides.  Mid-afternoon, Don bought the kids ice cream from the concession stand; it was a welcome treat in the heat.  I will spare posting pictures of us in our bathing suits; we Yoopers are all blindingly pale except for Amina.  We were all pretty well exhausted by the time we left the water park.

Dinner was at Cracker Barrel.  This time, there was only a five to ten minute wait, though we were prepared to wait longer if need be.  Amina chose the double chocolate fudge Coca-Cola cake (which the server called “Coke cake”) for her free birthday dessert.

We stayed at a campground in Bismarck.  The sign said it was established in 1956; that seemed quite a long time ago for an RV campground.  It should have been bedtime for the younger kids when we arrived, but we sang “Happy Birthday” and Amina opened her presents before we got the younger kids moving to bed.

After such an exciting and exhausting day, a late bedtime was not what Clara needed.  She was overtired and refused to cooperate with going potty or brushing her teeth (I forced a cursory brushing but couldn’t convince her to sit on the toilet).  Although the air conditioning had been running since we had arrived at the campground and plugged in, it was still very hot in the RV.  Clara had a fit when she was lying in bed, yelling, “It’s stupid hot in here!  I’m done with it!  I am done with everything!”  I stayed with her until she fell asleep to try to keep her calm.  Usually, she is good with going to bed on her own, but she had been so tired that I had had to stay with her a few times over the previous several days.

Traveling across time zones on the trip added a few challenges.  All the kids had been staying up late because we were so busy most days.  It was even later “home time” so we were trying to get them to bed earlier to help with the adjustment when we got back, but we weren’t very successful (it’s hard for the younger kids to fall asleep when we’re in such tight quarters and other people are still up, making noise, using lights, etc).  The Fitbit I inherited from my mom automatically reset itself when we crossed into Central and then Mountain time, then got stuck.  At the time of this writing, I’ve been home for two days and it’s still showing Mountain time.  I tried changing it in the app on my phone, following instructions I found online, and I haven’t gotten it to update yet.  I’m sure I’ll get it figured out, but it means I’m continuing to do mental math to figure out what time it is where I am.

Amina’s birthday celebration was a success.  With our last special activity of the trip done, we were ready to focus on getting home.

Day 11 was mostly about driving east, with an interesting unplanned stop.

We left our campsite relatively early to get on the road and get some miles behind us.  We were only about a two-hour drive from where Don had originally scheduled us to spend the night that day, so we decided to drive past and see how far we could make it.  We all felt a bit of an itch to get home.

About 11 am, Don pulled in at a Cracker Barrel restaurant—the first one we’d seen on our trip.  However, after learning that there was an hour wait for a table, we didn’t stay.  Clara somehow stepped in dog poop on the walk back to the RV and I had the undesirable task of cleaning off her disgusting-smelling shoes as we continued on.

Don was getting tired of driving and was looking for somewhere to pull over when we saw a sign on the highway for Pompeys Pillar National Monument.  We made a last-minute decision to stop there, even though we didn’t know anything about it.  First we ate lunch in the parking lot, then we explored the site and learned about the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Don, Peter, and I climbed the stairs to see where William Clark carved his name and the date (July 25, 1806) on the sandstone pillar; this is the only evidence remaining of the Corps of Discovery’s travels.  There were many other initials and dates carved by others who had passed by; basically it was 100- to 200-plus-year-old graffiti.  We climbed more stairs in the blazing heat up to top of the pillar to see a spectacular view of the Yellowstone River and the surrounding area.  The pillar was named by Clark for Sacagawea’s son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau (whom Clark had nicknamed “Pomp” or “Pompy”); he was born a few months after the expedition began and accompanied the Corps throughout their travels.  Although we hadn’t planned to see this particular national monument, it ended up being the most interesting part of the day.

Simon and Clara drove us crazy asking for snacks all day long.  They were getting bored with being on the road and snacking was something enjoyable to do.  I tried to reduce the requests by setting snack times for them; for example, when they asked for a snack at 1:30, I told them they could have one at 2 o’clock.  Once that snack was eaten, though, it wasn’t long before they were asking for another.

We made it into North Dakota, our final new state of the trip.  We spent the night in Medora, twenty-four miles past the border.

Because we had covered so much ground, we figured we could make it home a day earlier than we had planned.  We had scheduled our final special activity for Day 13, but we figured we could move it up to Day 12 and it would actually work out better.

It was imperative to get laundry done that night because there would be no time to do laundry on Day 12 and we didn’t want to wait until Day 13.  The sign on the campground’s laundry room door said that no loads should be started after 7 pm and the door would be locked at 7:50.  While Don cooked and served dinner, I sat in the laundry room with my laptop so that I could move our laundry from the washers to the dryers as soon as the cycle finished, and then keep feeding quarters to the dryers.  I got our laundry into two washers at 6:45 and nervously hoped to get it all washed and dried before the laundry room closed.  An employee actually came and locked the door at 7:30, but he told me I could walk through the office to get out by 8:00.  After feeding the dryers several quarters for 10 minutes of drying time each, our clothes were just about dry enough when I pulled them out and left at 7:55.  I then folded laundry on the bed in the RV and helped with the younger kids’ bedtime, so I didn’t sit down to eat my dinner until almost 9 o’clock.  After eating, I finished and uploaded a blog post before bed.

I didn’t enjoy having a lot of work to do in the evening and eating a late dinner after a long day of driving, but it was a sacrifice I made in order to get home a day earlier.

Day 10 was our last day in Yellowstone National Park.

I didn’t get a good night’s sleep; I was awake in the early morning hours listening to the rain and the wind.  It’s quite loud when rain hits the roof of the RV.

We all slept in again.  Everyone was tired; the pace of our action-packed trip was starting to get to us. We had read in a handout from the park that most people visit Yellowstone between 10 am and 6 pm so we had discussed getting up and going earlier to try to beat the crowd.  That didn’t happen, but the line into the park wasn’t as bad as it had been the previous day.

The lousy weather overnight and the unpromising weather forecast had probably deterred some visitors.  The prediction for the day was a 70% chance of thunderstorms and a high temperature of 59 F (15 C).  We had purposely visited Old Faithful on Day 9 because we knew that the weather on Day 10 looked miserable.  However, although it was overcast and the temperatures were cooler, we lucked out and it didn’t rain on us while we were in the park on Day 10.

We drove north to Mammoth Hot Springs.  It’s almost like a little town; the park headquarters is there along with a post office, clinic, justice center, visitor center, stores, restaurants, and so on.  By the time we arrived, everyone was hungry, so we had lunch before venturing out.  Simon, who had been the most easy-going kid so far on the trip, had a meltdown because he couldn’t find anything he wanted to eat.  I calmed him down by offering to make noodles.  Don and Amina, who had made sandwiches and were done eating, went to check out the visitor center while the rest of us waited for the noodles to cook and then ate them.  Finally, we were ready to go out and see some more natural wonders.

After some difficulty finding a place to park, we made it to the Lower Terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs (the actual hot springs).  There were elk visible at a distance from the path we took between the parking area and the Lower Terraces (you can see them over Clara’s shoulder in the picture if you look carefully).  The immense travertine terraces were impressive, but Clara was not interested.  She kept going on strike, sitting on the boardwalk curled up into a ball and refusing to get up or walk.  I ended up carrying her for most of our visit to that site.  Because of the weather forecast and the coolness of the morning, I had worn pants instead of shorts for the first time since we left home.  The day ended up being warmer than expected and as I carried Clara, I kept wishing I was wearing shorts.  I changed when we made it back to the RV after seeing the Lower Terraces.

I would enjoy coming back to Yellowstone again someday when Clara is older or without her.  If I could experience the park the way I would like, I would go on some day hikes and find places to just sit for a while in peace and quiet to take in the beauty of nature.  Neither of those ways of experiencing the park work well with a five-year-old.

Next, we drove up to Gardiner, Montana, just outside the North Entrance (the original entrance to the park).  There, we took pictures at the Roosevelt Arch.

This is when our carefully-scheduled-months-in-advance trip deviated from the plan in such a way that every day for the rest of the trip was affected.  Don decided that it didn’t make sense to drive an hour and a half back to our campground and then drive north again the next day.  He proposed that instead of returning to our reserved campsite in Idaho, we find a campground north of the park to save several hours of driving.  Although it meant finishing our last day in Yellowstone earlier than expected (we had been planning to stop at the Artist Paint Pots on the way back to our campground), it made sense.  We all sat in the RV while Don searched on his computer for places to stay.  He called about ten campgrounds, one after another saying they didn’t have a site available for that night.  He couldn’t find anything near Bozeman, where we had planned to go to the American Computer and Robotics Museum the next day.  That stop was mainly for Peter, who is very interested in computers and their history.  Finally, Don asked Peter if it was okay with him if we skipped the museum and found a campsite further east.  Though Peter was disappointed to miss the museum, he also saw the advantage of getting a head start on our homeward journey, so he agreed.  Don eventually found a campsite for us in Big Timber, Montana, and we hit the road.

Before we left, Don had prepared a binder with a map for each day of our trip showing where we would start and end, along with sites where we would stop along the way.  There was also a print-out of his spreadsheet with daily mileage, estimated driving time, daily agenda, which campgrounds we had reservations at, and how much we had pre-paid.  Although we took the same route home, each day was off after Day 9 due to our early departure.

The campground wanted us to arrive by 7 pm.  After stopping for gas and to pick up some groceries, we made it there with fifteen minutes to spare.  The first order of business was a rather late dinner.

Our campsite was right on the Boulder River.  The campground host told us that the kids could play in the river; it was shallow and had a slow current.  Simon and Clara climbed on the rocks along the water, but didn’t actually go in.

After eating, Don fixed the problem with the hot water in the RV.  It was good to have one RV problem solved.  However, earlier he had declared the generator dead.  The microwave used to light up when we were trying to start the generator and it wouldn’t even do that anymore; according to Don, that meant the rectifier was dead.  (Don’t ask me.  I don’t know about rectifiers.)  The most practical implication of having a non-working generator was that we could only use the microwave when we were plugged in somewhere; we couldn’t use it to heat up food for lunches if we were just sitting in a parking lot.  While having a working generator would have been convenient, we had gotten used to only being able to heat food on the stove when we were not parked for the night.

We all felt a bit relieved to be headed towards home.  We had saved hours of total driving as well as getting hours ahead of schedule for the next day.