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I foolishly thought that I’d have more time to blog after the school year started and the two older kids transitioned from homeschooling to regular school.  As always, life is busy, but I squeezed out some time to put together an update for my adoring fans who might be wondering how my family is doing.

  1. Peter is off to a great start in his freshman year in high school. He’s keeping up with his school work reasonably well and he survived marching band season (our first snow wasn’t until the day after the last football game he had to play at).  In addition to Scouts and moving up to our parish’s high school faith formation program, he’s now involved in several clubs and activities at school.  I’m looking forward to seeing him perform with the JROTC rifle team at the Veterans Day ceremony next month.
  2. Amina, on the other hand, hasn’t had quite as smooth a start in middle school. Let’s just say that school is giving her many opportunities to learn to be responsible for herself.  Academically, she is getting plenty of support from the school, which I appreciate.  On the social/behavioral side, she’s still finding her way.  She enjoys going to school and being a cheerleader, and she is excited to have started our parish’s middle school faith formation program (I didn’t send her to faith formation last year, as she wouldn’t have understood enough of what was going on).
  3. Simon, as always, is a bundle of energy and big plans. He is becoming quite a reader; among other books, he’s read the first four Laura Ingalls Wilder books and just this week, he picked up the first Harry Potter book from the library and polished it off in four days.  Not bad for October of second grade!  He was enthusiastic about selling popcorn as a Cub Scout fundraiser and sold over $400 worth.  Last week, he was involved in an intensive theater experience.  The kids auditioned, got their parts, and started rehearsing on Monday, then rehearsed every evening until they performed on Friday and Saturday.  Last year, all three school-aged kids did it, but this year it was only Simon.  It’s a great experience, and although it makes for a crazy week, it’s only one week.  This year, they did the Jungle Book.  Knowing that in advance, I read the book to him this summer.  He was a jackal and had a lot of fun with his part.
  4. Clara is happy and cute. She loves going to her preschool class at our weekly homeschool co-op and she is always excited about going in the pool with me during Simon’s swimming lessons.  She enjoys being read to and often looks at picture books by herself, retelling the stories from memory and from the pictures.
  5. While “balance” is elusive, I’m finding it easier to manage homeschooling two kids rather than four. Our house is calmer during the day when the big kids are gone, and I’m not as stressed about trying to meet everyone’s needs.  I can never quite seem to get school done and get caught up with all the housework; I feel like I could do it if only Don didn’t go out of town this week or Simon didn’t have play practice that week or I didn’t have to take kids to dentist or optometrist appointments, etc.  However, on the whole, I’m getting things done that need to be done.
  6. So far, the biggest downside of school is transportation. Peter’s school doesn’t provide transportation out-of-district, so he needs to be dropped off and picked up every day; usually Don takes care of it, but not always.  Amina rides a bus in the morning and some afternoons, but she has cheerleading practice or games three days a week, so I often have to pick her up.  We’ve already looked into driver’s ed for Peter.  There is only one driving school here that he can attend and there is more demand than they can meet, but we’re hoping to get him in a class in the spring.  It will certainly be more convenient when he can get himself to and from school and his various activities, but that’s over a year away.
  7. My in-laws are coming to watch the kids while Don and I escape for a low-budget cruise vacation. We’re using airline miles to pay for our flights to New York City, hotel rewards miles for a hotel room there (we’re flying a day early in case of bad weather or mechanical problems—flights from our little airport are often delayed or cancelled), and the cruise itself was a fantastic deal because it’s the last New England/Canada cruise of the season.  We’re looking forward to spending some quality time together with no child-related interruptions.

That’s what’s going on here, in a nutshell.  Find more 7 Quick Takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum:

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As I hinted in the curriculum update for last school year that I wrote in June, this school year will be a real change for us.  Last year, I had four kids at home–a toddler and three homeschooled kids, including a pre-teen newly adopted from Ukraine who needed to learn English and start with the basics of academics, from our English alphabet to one-digit addition and subtraction.  This year, I will only have two kids at home on school days: Simon (grade 2) and Clara (preschool).  Peter will be a freshman at a local public high school (sadly, there is no Catholic high school anywhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and Amina will be in 6th grade at a local public middle school (the nearest K-8 Catholic school is a 45-minute drive, which is just not do-able).  We are taking advantage of Michigan’s Schools of Choice program for both of them; neither is attending school in the district that we live in.  Peter and I toured three high schools in the spring and talked with the principals, then he chose the school that he felt would be the best fit for him.  For Amina, Don and I interviewed principals from three different middle schools to learn what kinds of supports they would offer her, as well as their attitudes towards helping her.  We are excited about the school we’ve chosen, which is in a different district than Peter’s school (and is, in fact, in the opposite direction from our house).  Having both big kids in school will give me more time and energy for teaching the two younger ones.

I follow a classical education philosophy in homeschooling.  For this year, the only real difference that makes is in my choice of read-aloud books for both kids and reading books for Simon, memory work for Simon, and the inclusion of Song School Latin in Together Time (I don’t really expect Clara to learn Latin, but she enjoys singing and I figure it won’t hurt her).

family aug 2019 small

Our family in early August.  The two kids in the front are the ones who will be homeschooled this year.

Together Time:

I’m going to keep Together Time simple this year.  As with last year, we’ll begin with a song, say a prayer, and read two pages in a book of nursery rhymes or poetry.  Over the summer, I brought back Song School Latin, which I originally started with Peter and Simon before Amina came home; we will continue that.

 

French:

My overall goal for the year is to help Simon and Clara develop their language skills in French (as you may know if you’ve read my “About me” page, I used to be a French teacher).  I intend to use French regularly in day-to-day life, to read aloud to them in French every day, and to use multi-media resources (tv/videos, stories on audio CD, websites, tablet games) to make their exposure to French frequent and enjoyable.  Because I didn’t want Amina to feel left out, I used very little French with the other kids last year.  Now that Amina will be in school, I will feel free to use French with Simon and Clara during the school day.  I hope they will develop a solid foundation in the language while they are still young.

We’ll do some French every day, but I’m planning to try doing all of our Thursday afternoon lessons in French for a real immersion experience.  We can do Together Time in French–we can sing and pray in French and read French comptines (nursery rhymes).  Simon can do Khan Academy math in French and/or play math card games with me in French.  Clara will be doing her math in French every day.  Simon will practice reading in French.  We have a French Bible storybook that we can read for religion.  We have various fiction and non-fiction books for read-aloud, science, and history.  The key will be to make it seem special and fun that Thursdays are different from the rest of the week (Thursday mornings we will be at co-op).

 

Co-op:

I have been helping organize a new Catholic homeschool co-op that is starting this year in our area.  We will be meeting once a week, on Thursday mornings.  After 9 am Mass (which we may or may not attend, as the parish we’re meeting at is a half-hour drive away), kids will have a snack, then preschool and nursery will split off and grades K-8 will do art.  After art, K-3 will do hands-on science and 4-8 will do writing.  I will be teaching writing, Simon will do art and science, and Clara will be in the preschool class.  This should be a good opportunity for socialization (for kids and parents alike), for me to teach kids who are NOT my own, and for the kids (Simon especially) to do activities that I would not be likely to do at home.

 

Simon, grade 2:

Read-aloud–Angelicum Academy’s Good Books program. We’ve read about half of the First Grade Good Books so far; we’ll finish those up.  Then we may do some of the Sonlight Read-Alouds C, but I’ll also have Simon sit in on the Nursery level Good Books that I’ll start reading to Clara.

Reading–Combination of Sonlight and Good Books.  Simon is currently working his way through the Sonlight 3 Readers and his second book from the Second Grade Good Books list.

Grammar–Easy Grammar’s Daily Guided Teaching and Review for Grade 2.  I’m not going to do formal writing instruction with Simon this year, but he will learn basic grammar and mechanics (capitalization, punctuation, etc).

Handwriting–Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 2.

Spelling–All About Spelling.  Simon finished Level 1 at the end of last school year; he’ll continue with Level 2 and we’ll see how far he goes.

Math–Life of Fred: Cats, Dogs and Beast Academy.  Life of Fred is our fun summer math enrichment that we don’t seem to manage to find enough time to finish during the summer.  We’ll spend September wrapping up the first grade Life of Fred books before picking up where Simon stopped in level 2B of Beast Academy.

History/geography–RC History’s Connecting With History volume 1: Old Testament and Ancient Cultures.  Last year, we did the first unit and started the second unit.  We’ll pick up where we left off and aim to finish volume 1 this year.

Science–Behold and See 2: More Science with Josh and Hanna and Behold and See 3: Beginning Science.  We did all of Catholic Heritage Curricula’s grade 1 science program and half of the grade 2 program last year.  We’ll finish the grade 2 book and move on to the grade 3 book.

Religion–Image of God: Grade 2, CHC’s Preparing to Receive Jesus, and the New St. Joseph First Communion Catechism. This will be a big year for Simon because he’ll be preparing for his First Reconciliation and First Communion.  For years, I’ve heard other homeschooling moms gush about how wonderful CHC’s sacrament preparation materials were, so I bought them last year for Amina.  I quickly realized that with her limited knowledge of English, they were not suitable for her, so I used the First Communion Catechism with her instead.  I’ll use both with Simon.

French–Bien lire et bien écrire.  In addition to what I described above, my big goal is for Simon to develop basic literacy skills in French.  We will be using a multi-sensory, phonetic program intended for teaching French-speaking children to read.  Since Simon already knows how to read and just needs to learn the particularities of reading in French, I’m hoping that he will progress quickly.

Memory Work–RC History’s Rhyme-line Cards volume 1 (to coordinate with our history studies), some of the First Communion Catechism, and English From the Roots Up flashcards volume 1.

 

Clara, preschool:

Now that I’m teaching preschool for the third time, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing.  Clara’s preschool curriculum will be very similar to Simon’s.  I’ll describe the schedule and list curriculum resources below; if you’d like to know more about my choices, check out the post I wrote on Simon’s preschool curriculum.

As I did with Simon, I am planning to do 26 “weeks” of preschool, but each week doesn’t necessarily correspond to a calendar week or happen in exactly five school days.  I will print weekly schedules; after completing the activities on one schedule, I’ll change it to the next week.  If life is busy, I can skip preschool for a day or do less than a day’s work, stretching a “week” out to six or seven days (or longer).  That’s the beauty of homeschooling and scheduling only 26 weeks’ worth of preschool.

I will alternate between math and literacy days, with three math and two literacy days per week.  Literacy will be in English, but I will teach Clara math in French.  Although I will be using math curriculum resources written in English, at the preschool level it’s easy enough to just translate the material myself when I read it aloud and Clara can’t read the English text anyhow.

Here is my weekly plan:

Every day—read-aloud in English and French, color the day’s calendar square.  For English read-aloud, we’ll start Angelicum Academy’s Nursery level Good Books list mid-way through the school year, when Clara is about three and a half years old.  Until then, I’ll continue reading her picture books.  French read-aloud will be a variety of stories and non-fiction books.  We will color the calendar squares following simple patterns, starting with AB patterns such as red/yellow/red/yellow, and discuss the day of the week.

Once a week—read a story from The Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers, make an animal craft (from Alphabet Art), do a Montessori activity.  These activities aren’t scheduled for a particular day, they just need to happen at some point during the week.  This gives me more scheduling flexibility so I can work around what is happening in any given week.

Day 1 (math): RightStart Math level A.  This is their kindergarten math program, but I will do it with Clara the same way I did it successfully with Simon when he was in preschool–teaching one lesson a week and repeating each lesson (so doing the same lesson two weeks in a row).  Thus we will cover the first 13 lessons of level A during the preschool year.  This provides a gentle introduction to the RightStart way of thinking about numbers.  (See my post about Simon’s preschool for why I like RightStart Math.)

Day 2 (literacy): phonemic awareness activities from Why Our Children Can’t Read and What We Can Do About It, sound practice, Jolly Phonics story/coloring page for the letter of the week.  It’s important to note that I teach the most common sound associated with each letter, not the letter name; this makes it easier to learn to read as there is less to memorize and less chance for confusion.  Kids can learn the letter names quite easily after they have started reading.  The letter of the week is not done in alphabetical order; I follow the Jolly Phonics sequence so that letters that are used most frequently are introduced first.  Sound practice means reviewing the written letters/sounds that have already been introduced.  We do this in a variety of ways, such as playing Go Fish, playing memory, matching capital letters and lowercase letters written in little dog bones and feeding them to a “doggy,” tracing sandpaper letters, or just reviewing flashcards and saying the sounds.

Day 3 (math): Mathematical Reasoning Beginning 1 (2 pages) and cahier (2 pages).  I think RightStart Math is sufficient on its own, but Mathematical Reasoning is a good supplement and both Simon and Clara enjoy these colorful workbooks.  (I showed the workbook to Clara when it arrived a few weeks ago and she keeps begging to “do math”; we’re already 5% of the way through the book.)  Since I’m teaching Clara math in French, it seems worth a few extra minutes of math practice each week to help her practice the vocabulary.  Cahier is the French word for a workbook; we will be using a few different French preschool workbooks like this one and this oneCahier isn’t math, even though it’s a math day; scheduling it like this is just my way of making sure we do it twice a week.

Day 4 (literacy): phonemic awareness activities, sound practice, make the Alphabet Art letter craft for the letter of the week.

Day 5 (math): Mathematical Reasoning (2 pages) and cahier (2 pages).

Preschool academics don’t take much time.  Most of preschool is playing, interacting with people, and having a wide variety of life experiences.  However, it’s worthwhile to spend a certain amount of quality time on academics to lay a solid foundation for future learning.

 

Previous homeschool curriculum overviews:

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

2018-2019 (grade 8, grade 5–English language learner, and grade 1)

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)

 

When I first started homeschooling, I didn’t identify a specific educational philosophy that I subscribed to; I just wanted to give Peter an excellent education.  Over the last few years, however, as I’ve come to better understand the classical education approach, I have adopted it as a guide to my curriculum planning.

The tenets of classical education align well with my personal beliefs.  Classical education involves contemplating beauty, truth, and goodness, making it a fitting approach for Christian education (which is why all the Catholic schools in my diocese use a classical curriculum).  Rather than focusing on teaching specific content, classical education emphasizes teaching children how to learn and training them to think.  It recognizes that children of different ages have different capabilities and interests and that they should be taught specific skills at certain times in developmentally appropriate ways.  Classical education also includes the reading of good works of literature.

Classical education divides children into stages.  Traditionally, there are three stages–grammar, logic, and rhetoric–based on the trivium, a curriculum developed in the middle ages based on ancient Greek and Roman curriculum.  However, many classical educators now divide the grammar stage into younger (foundations or primary) and older (grammar) groups.  The stages are roughly: foundations/primary (grades K-2), grammar (grades 3-6), logic (grades 7-9), and rhetoric (grades 10-12).  Children in each stage have certain characteristics, which should be taken into consideration when planning their curriculum.  For example, primary and grammar stage students memorize easily and take pleasure in memorization, so that is a good age to have them memorize poetry, famous quotations, and history facts.  Logic stage students become argumentative, questioning the world.  This is a good age to teach them formal and informal logic so they can critically evaluate what they hear and read.  Rhetoric stage students want to express themselves, so this is the age to particularly focus on the skills of writing and speaking well.

Modifying my curriculum from my “excellent education” approach to a classical education approach didn’t require many changes.  I already followed a literature-rich curriculum, I just shifted it to include more Good Books/Great Books (Peter enjoyed taking online Great Books courses from the Rolling Acres School).  The study of grammar was already part of my curriculum.  For my younger students, I added memory work–memorizing poems, catechism questions/answers, and the like.  At the middle school level, I added the study of logic.  Also at the middle school level, as part of the contemplation of beauty, I included art history/theory/appreciation.  The one area in which my classical approach has been somewhat deficient is the study of Latin.  Peter started Prima Latina in grade 4 but never finished it and I did Song School Latin with Peter and Simon for a couple months before Amina’s adoption, but then dropped it.  I plan to do Song School Latin with Simon and Clara this year and have Simon do Prima Latina when he is in grade 3.

For years, I didn’t understand what classical education was all about.  I hope I have provided a useful summary here.  If you’re interested in learning more about classical education, I recommend reading or listening to Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 talk “The Lost Tools of Learning” (the text is here or you can purchase an audio CD here) and reading or listening to Christopher Perrin’s An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents (the text is here or you can purchase a printed copy or an audio CD).  If those resources leave you hungry for more, check out the variety of offerings on the subject of classical education from Classical Academic Press.

Amina has been wanting to go to school ever since she came home last year.  She is very social and the transition from orphanage life (spending almost all of her time with other kids, who were mostly around her age or older) and going to a regular school in Ukraine to our family life (with only three other kids, two considerably younger than her) and being homeschooled was hard for her.  I think she also felt she was being deprived of a “real” American school experience.

At the beginning of last school year, the gap between Amina and her peers was so great that we wouldn’t even consider sending her to school.  Although she had learned some rudimentary English, she still used Google Translate regularly to communicate.  Adding three single-digit numbers together had her in tears because it was too hard.  She could read only the very simplest English words.  Her overall knowledge of the world was stunted because of the limited experiences and stimulation she had at her orphanage (as I discussed in this post).  We felt that being homeschooled would be best for her to bond with her new family and would allow her to develop her English language and academic skills in a supportive environment (with no peers making fun of her).  Although we’ve heard stories of internationally adopted kids who started school in America within days or weeks of homecoming and who were able to successfully adjust, we felt that we could provide more one-on-one attention and support at home than we could reasonably expect from a public school.

Amina has come a LONG way in a year.  She is now fluent in conversational English (with a few grammatical errors here and there, but she can understand and easily be understood by just about anyone).  She can read at about a second grade level.  She has completed kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade math on Khan Academy and is working hard on learning multiplication in the 3rd grade math program.  She has also learned to swim and ice skate, played on a soccer team, learned to cook a variety of foods, learned how to handle a knife without cutting herself (this took many months and many Band-Aids!), celebrated a year’s worth of American holidays (plus Canadian Thanksgiving, as we celebrate both), was baptized, had her First Reconciliation and First Communion, been to Totus Tuus (Catholic day camp), been to “sleep-away” camp, spent a week at a cabin on a lake with extended family, visited Chicago and Windsor, Ontario, and done many more things.  She is still behind her peers in many ways, but the gap is not quite so daunting as it was.

Making the decision to send Amina to school was difficult, as Don and I had different opinions on what we should do this school year.  He wanted to keep Amina home for another year so that I could continue to work with her one-on-one, because he felt that that would lead to her making the most progress academically.  However, contemplating the upcoming school year, I didn’t feel that I could teach three kids with very different educational needs, keep up with all the housework, deal with everyone’s extracurricular activities, and have enough time and energy and patience left over to be a good wife and mother, besides trying to find a little time for anything for myself.  I was feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious about how I would do it all.  For most of last year, Amina had a light academic load, as I felt she needed to focus on learning English and bonding with her new family.  Now that she’s at a level where she needs to be pushed more academically, her attitude towards her lessons has been rather negative.  I believe it would be better for our relationship to have someone else challenging her academically so that I can just be in the supportive mother role, rather than trying to balance being her mother and her teacher (and everything else I do).  Although Don wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Amina going to school, he recognized how stressed I was and finally agreed to send her to school so he could have a sane wife.

Now that we’ve talked with the principal and the teachers and been to orientation, we both think that going to school will be a positive experience for Amina.  She has a real chance of keeping up academically with the extra help she will receive, including two periods a day of intensive reading/writing support in a class of no more than 12 students.  We know she will enjoy all the “other” stuff that comes with going to school, like being in band, participating on the cheerleading squad (she had her first practice today), and hanging out with friends.

Amina’s wish to go to school will soon be fulfilled.  School starts on the day after Labor Day.  While she is eagerly anticipating her first day of school in America, I am feeling optimistic about the growth and development she will experience and feeling more positive about my ability to keep up with everything in the upcoming school year.

 

Amina’s T-shirts

When we hosted “Valentine,” clothing him was easy.  I just went into our storage closet and pulled out boxes of clothes that Peter had outgrown.  However, when we decided to adopt Amina, our only daughter was not yet two, so we didn’t have a stock of hand-me-downs for an almost-11-year-old girl.  Our community stepped up and several families generously donated quite a collection of clothes to outfit her.

Neither Valentine nor Amina could read the words on the t-shirts that were provided for them, but they wore them anyhow.  Seeing Valentine wear Peter’s old shirts brought back memories for me, but I recognized that they didn’t have the same meaning for him.  Seeing Amina wear shirts that had no personal meaning to her or to me was a different experience.  One of her favorite t-shirts was from an after-school child care program, which she never participated in.  Another was from a dance recital in a town that’s a couple hours’ drive away that happened when Amina was three years old.  I couldn’t blame her for liking the bright-colored images of people dancing, but I felt sad when she wore it because it was so obviously not reflective of her own life.

Fortunately, now that she’s been home a little over a year, Amina has accumulated a number of shirts with memories attached.  She has a t-shirt from the ice show that she skated in and a jersey from her soccer team that she sometimes wears just as a shirt.  She has t-shirts from Totus Tuus (Catholic summer day camp) and the sleep-away camp that she went to in June (her first ever and a very big deal to her).  She has two bright orange shirts that we bought at Goodwill before she went to camp because she was going to be on the orange team at camp.  She has a t-shirt from my family reunion in July and a shirt that she tie-dyed while we were there.  With this influx of shirts that mean something to her, she rarely wears the old hand-me-down shirts now.

Last fall, it was very emotional for Amina when she outgrew the clothes she’d brought from Ukraine.  Now, she has clothes that are tied to experiences she has had here.  Her wardrobe reflects the fact that she belongs here now and her life is progressing here.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 40th birthday!

Five years ago today, I arrived at our house for the first time with Peter and Simon.  (Don and a friend had come a couple days early to do some painting, while I broke up the driving into shorter days since I had the kids–Simon was only two.)  Don had been to our house for an inspection, but although I’d seen photos and videos, I’d never been here until I arrived to move in.  I had thought it was pretty cool to get a house for my birthday until Queen Elizabeth gave Prince William a helicopter for his birthday.

The two older kids have been at camp this week (Peter at Scout camp and Amina at a Catholic camp).  Amina’s camp ended today; Peter will be done tomorrow.  Don took the two younger kids camping yesterday and then brought them with him to pick up Amina, giving me over 24 hours of being home alone.  It’s been wonderful.

Last night was the first time since Clara was born that I slept at home without her here.  I woke up this morning and realized that no one was going to need me to get out of bed; I could stay in bed as long as I wanted without anyone interrupting my rest.  However, I didn’t stay in bed late as I had so many things I wanted to do with my rare free day.

Most of my morning was spent being productive.  I worked hard yesterday to get my “regular” chores done–I finished all the laundry, cooked a bunch of food, and washed all the dishes–so that I wouldn’t have to deal with those things today.  (Simon didn’t understand when he saw my weekly meal plan why I would schedule “leftovers” for my birthday.)  This morning, I tackled the jobs that seem to keep getting shoved down my to-do list–cleaning the stove top, cleaning the bath tub, and organizing Clara’s outgrown clothes so I could pass on hand-me-downs to a friend.  It may seem strange to decide to start my birthday with a couple hours of cleaning, but it feels good to finalize get those jobs done and I appreciate having a cleaner-looking house.  I’ve long said that you do things for two reasons–because you want to do them or because you want to have them done.  Those were things that I didn’t particularly want to do, but I wanted to have done, and thus were a good use of my time.

After spending my morning working, the rest of my day was more on the “things I want to do” side.  I had lunch with a group of friends; we got take-out from a favorite restaurant and ate by the waterside.  Then I spent some time playing with my new toy–my birthday gift from Don.  It’s a gizmo called Arsenal that attaches to your camera and uses artificial intelligence to help you take great pictures.  I’m still learning how to use it; stay tuned and hopefully I’ll share some stunning photos in the near future.  So far my best picture is one I took of a Lego piece on the floor.  Here it is:

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Here’s to my next forty years!

What we ended up doing this school year is so different from what I planned that, for months, I have been feeling that an update was in order.  Here’s what we actually did this school year.

Peter, grade 8:

Peter’s curriculum changed the most from what I had planned.  By mid-October, it was obvious that things weren’t working.  I decided to make some radical changes, based on inspiration from a podcast by Jennifer Fulwiler on “Joeschooling.”

I wasn’t prepared to have Peter study only one subject at a time, but I felt it would be reasonable to take a semester approach.  I decided to pare down the number of subjects he did at a time and have him do more work in each subject, then switch subjects midway through the school year.  Because he was taking weekly saxophone lessons through the local school district’s homeschool partnership program and he was taking an online Great Books course, saxophone practice and Great Books stayed on his daily schedule all year.  Besides those, he had two core subjects and one “other” subject at a time.

In the first semester, Peter’s core subjects were history and math.  In math, he finished Life of Fred Decimals and Percents, Pre-Algebra 1, and Pre-Algebra 2.  For history, he read Story of Civilization volume 1 and Light to the Nations book 1.  So far, this is what I had planned, just done at a faster pace to be able to finish earlier in the year.  However, inspired by “Joeschooling,” I bought a subscription to the Great Courses Plus.  For history, Peter watched all of the lectures in The Foundations of Western Civilization I as well as selected lectures from The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World.  For math, he watched all of the lectures in Mastering the Fundamentals of Mathematics and The Secrets of Mental Math.  The video lectures seemed to be a good fit for him; he often set up a laptop and started watching a lecture while he was eating his breakfast, whereas previously it was a challenge to get him to start his work each day.

In the second semester, I intended to have Peter’s core subjects be science and English grammar/composition.  However, despite the fact that he had done well in the Life of Fred pre-algebra books, Peter didn’t quite do as well as I would have liked on the STAAR grade 8 mathematics test.  We decided that continuing to work on math would be more beneficial than switching to science, so we dropped science for the year.  Peter worked on Khan Academy’s grade 8 math until he had earned 60% of the possible points, then he re-took the STAAR test.  I then selected one activity on Khan Academy that dealt with the topic of each problem he missed.  After finishing each of those activities with a 100%, he moved on to Life of Fred Beginning Algebra, which he will continue over the summer.  He probably won’t finish it, but he’ll be better prepared to succeed in an algebra course in the fall.  For English, he used the writing and grammar programs I had originally planned to use.

In addition to the core subjects, Peter had one “other” subject at a time.  For the entire school year, his “other” subjects were: typing, religion (1st half), art history, formal logic, and religion (2nd half).  I ended up dropping current events, memory work, and French altogether.

Amina, grade 5:

Just about everything I planned for Amina, we did, plus I added more.  She did science with Simon all year (all of grade 1 science and half of grade 2 science).  By mid-year, her English comprehension had improved so much that I had her join Simon for religion, history, and read-aloud.  Both of them did art together until Christmas break, at which point I dropped it (I will bring art back for summer lessons).

In addition, inspired by “Joeschooling”, I added workbooks to Amina’s daily schedule.  She started with Brain Quest grade 1, then did Test Prep grade 1, moved on to Brain Quest grade 2, and is now on Test Prep grade 2.  The Brain Quest workbooks have been good for introducing a variety of topics, such as basic grammar concepts and US history and geography, for providing opportunities to write, and for giving her more practice in reading and math.  The Test Prep workbooks help familiarize her with standardized testing formats (a reality she’ll have to face when she goes to school–she would rather go to school than be homeschooled so we are working towards getting her caught up enough academically that she could succeed in school) and give me another means of assessing her learning.

Simon, grade 1:

After about a decade of using Sonlight, I finally gave up on Sonlight history and geography in February.  I was putting too much effort into trying to modify Sonlight and wanted a history curriculum with a Catholic perspective.  I decided to switch to RC History’s Connecting With History instead.  We did the first unit of volume 1 and started the second unit.  Because of uncertainty about what will be happening next year (we may be doing volume 1 Connecting With History with a co-op), I decided to take stop there and wait until the fall before continuing history.

I did do most of the Sonlight read-aloud books with Simon (and Amina, once she started being able to understand them).  However, I also added first grade read-aloud books from Angelicum Academy’s Good Books program.  We haven’t read all of the books on that list yet, but we will continue them over the summer and into next school year.

Simon was complaining about his math being too easy, so in December I gave him the Beast Academy placement test and he scored well enough to start level 2A.  The comic book format of the textbook as well as the variety of interesting, thought-provoking problems in the workbook proved to be a good fit for him.  He finished level 2A and is currently on the first unit in 2B; once he finishes this unit, we’ll put it away until fall and switch to Life of Fred for the summer.

In science, even at a fairly easy pace, Simon and Amina wrapped up the grade 1 book around February, so I started them on the grade 2 book.  I figured that Simon could handle it and Amina would benefit from getting caught up a little closer to her age level.  We made it halfway through the grade 2 book.

Memory work, French, and art all suffered this year.  We did them, but not consistently throughout the year.

Final thoughts

Looking back, I see how much we’ve done and how much all of the kids learned this school year (especially Amina, who still regularly used Google Translate to communicate at the beginning of the school year).  I wrote this post to detail their curriculum more than their learning, but the learning shines through.  I have struggled to meet the very different needs of four children this year (as well as my own needs) and it does make me feel better to see what we have accomplished.  There are changes in store for next year and not all decisions have been made yet, but I trust that summer will restore me and I’ll be ready to dive in again wholeheartedly in the fall.