Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

I’ve been wanting to write this for weeks, but I’ve been so busy doing adoption stuff.  Now I am finally caught up to the point where I don’t feel guilty about spending the time on this.  Better late than never!

This year, I am homeschooling two kids: Peter (grade 7) and Simon (kindergarten).  I have homeschooled each of them for two years previously, but not at the same time (Peter was homeschooled for grades 3 and 4, then attended public school for grades 5 and 6, during which time I homeschooled Simon for preschool and junior kindergarten).  One-year-old Clara, who requires time and attention, is also home with us.  We are a Canadian-American family and we live in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula.  We are in the process of adopting “Valentine” (not his real name), a 10-year-old boy from Eastern Europe who we hosted for the summer.  Barring major unforeseen complications, we expect to travel to Valentine’s country for the adoption in the spring; we’ll see how that messes with our school year when the time comes.

Funny family pic

In previous homeschool curriculum overviews, I’ve included our most recent family picture.  This goofy picture from March is not only the most recent, but is the only picture I have of all five of us.  If anyone wants to donate the services of a professional photographer to take a family portrait, I’m game.  (It would be a great present after Valentine comes home…just saying.)

Most of Peter’s curriculum resources are from publishers that we haven’t used before.  The jump from the grade 4 resources we used previously to the grade 7 resources he needs now is pretty big, and I was disappointed with some of the materials we used before (Memoria Press materials in particular, which we used for three subjects when he was in grade 4).  Thus, I’m trying new things that I think are a better fit for him now.  Simon is using a blend of “tried and true” materials–ones I used with Peter and liked–and new resources.  In addition to what’s listed below, Peter is participating in the 7th grade band at the local middle school and both boys are taking weekly swimming lessons through the local school district’s homeschool partnership program.

Together time:

Together time is a positive new development for us in homeschooling.  What many people call “morning time,” I decided to call “together time,” since it’s the only time the boys are doing homeschool stuff together (there’s not a lot you can combine academically with a kindergartner and a grade 7 student).  I implemented together time during the summer as part of my effort to establish routines to keep all the kids on track.  Because of Valentine’s limited English language skills, I intentionally kept it very short and simple.  After Clara went down for her morning nap, we started with a song (“This is the Day that the Lord has Made”) and continued with a prayer (the Glory Be).  I read a short story from the Family-Time Bible in Pictures and finished by reading a couple pages from a nursery rhyme book.  Now that Valentine is gone and we’re into the actual school year, together time looks pretty similar.  We’ve changed the song a couple times, switched the prayer to the Our Father, kept the Bible stories, graduated from the nursery rhyme book to a book of poetry, and added a French comptine (nursery rhyme) to the end of the routine.  Generally, we are able to make a smooth transition from together time into read-aloud and then into other lessons, though I’m not sure what will happen when Clara stops taking a morning nap.  Adding this short structured period has helped get our homeschooling day off on the right foot.

Peter, grade 7:

History/geography/read-aloud/reading–Sonlight Core F (Eastern Hemisphere).  Sonlight is the main thing I decided to keep for Peter’s curriculum this year; we have previously done everything from their pre-kindergarten core through their one-year elementary American History (Core D+E).  When we decided to homeschool Peter again this year, I gave him the choice between studying the Eastern Hemisphere and starting a two-year World History sequence.  He chose the Eastern Hemisphere.  While I actually studied the Eastern Hemisphere in grade 7 also (I remember learning about China and Africa), I didn’t retain much.  With the captivating stories in the quality literature that Sonlight is known for, I think Peter will get more out of his studies than I did.

Writing–Institute for Excellence in Writing: Following Narnia Volume 1.  I’ve heard for years that IEW is top-notch for writing instruction, but when I checked out their website, I found their products confusing and I was put off by the high price of their program.  I was never happy with the writing that I did with Peter before, though, and he LOVES to read fantasy books, so I decided to bite the bullet and figure out their system so that I could use their middle-school-level writing lessons based on the Chronicles of Narnia.  I am very glad I did!  I am thoroughly impressed with their approach to writing and the quality of the training in the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVD seminar.  I feel more confident than I ever have about my ability to help Peter (and eventually my other kids) develop strong writing skills.

Literary analysis–Essentials in Literature: Level 7.  So far I’m happy with this.  Peter watches brief lectures on DVD, reads material online, and does assignments from a workbook–there’s almost no prep for me.  I have been reading the short stories so that I can discuss the assignments with him, but that hasn’t been a burden, as he spends over a week on each story.

Grammar–Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree.  This is from IEW; I decided to give it a try because I thought that having only one sentence per day for Peter to mark up and copy over wouldn’t seem too onerous to him.  So far, I think Easy Grammar (which we used when Peter was in grade 4) is more thorough, but at least he’s doing the Fix It! Grammar without complaint.

Math–Life of Fred: Goldfish through Decimals and Percents.  Unfortunately, Peter developed a negative attitude towards math and his ability to do math while he was in public school.  Now that he’s homeschooled again, I decided the first order of business in math was to rehabilitate his attitude.  I chose Life of Fred because it is so entertaining and different from any other math program I’ve ever seen.  I intentionally started Peter below his level so the work would be easy and he could build confidence.  At the rate he’s going, he’ll be starting pre-algebra next year, which is behind an “honors” pace in math but entirely acceptable.  He probably could have done pre-algebra this year, but it would have involved a lot more frustration and stress for both of us, so I think holding back on it for a year while he strengthens his foundation in math and improves his attitude is worth it.  So far this year, he is not only doing math without complaint but actually enjoying it (at least at times), so my strategy seems to be working.

Science–Novare Earth Science.  Peter wanted to study earth science this year.  I wanted science from a Christian viewpoint that shows that there is no conflict between faith and science/reason.  Novare seems to deliver what I was looking for.

Religion–Image of God: Grade 7 along with Case for a Creator for Kids, Case for Christ for Kids, and Case for Faith for Kids.  Peter did Image of God in grades 2 and 3.  Although I liked the overall approach, I remember disparaging the cartoon-y illustrations then; fortunately, by the grade 7 book, the cartoons have been replaced with photographs of people and pictures of stained glass artwork.  This gives the book a more mature look.  The “Case for Kids” books are a little below Peter’s level, but I figured they wouldn’t hurt.

French–I set up a rotating schedule for Peter to read books or magazines in French,  watch tv in French, and do his current events in French.  I plan to incorporate some formal grammar instruction this year, but I’m still waiting for materials from the local school district’s homeschool partnership program (I only submitted the purchase order in August…grr…), so that’s on hold for now.

Current events–Every other day, Peter needs to either find an article online or watch the first 10 minutes or so of a news program on tv, then discuss with me what he learned.  Half the time he does it in English and the other half in French.

Scout work–Once a week, Peter needs to do some work towards a Boy Scout-related goal of his choice, such as rank advancement or a merit badge.

Logic–The Art of Argument.  He hasn’t started this yet; it’s scheduled for the second semester.

Simon, kindergarten:

History/geography/read-aloud–Sonlight Core A (Introduction to the World: Cultures).  I did this program with Peter when he was in kindergarten and it’s a pleasure to do it again with Simon.  Kids at this age love being read to–they enjoy listening to stories and they soak up information about the world from appropriate non-fiction texts.  Sonlight selects high-quality books, which makes it easy for me to focus on reading, not planning.

Reading–Little Stories for Little Folks.  I love these little books!  They are a wonderful resource for teaching reading and a great value.  I wrote about them in the fourth paragraph of this post.  In addition to Simon, I’ve used them with Peter, with a foster child, and with Valentine during the summer (and will continue to use them with Valentine once he comes home).

Writing–We are doing a daily journal in a primary composition book (with lines for handwriting at the bottom of the pages and blank space for drawing pictures on the top).  We talk about the day of the week and the date when we write those.  Simon dictates the text, I print it neatly, and then he illustrates it.  He is proud of his journal and often asks me to read previous days’ pages to him.

Handwriting–Little Folks Letter Practice and Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level K.  Peter did levels 2 through 4 of Catholic Heritage Handwriting and I was happy with it, so I figured I’d start Simon with the same program.  I generally like the printing/cursive styles that they use, I appreciate the spiral binding at the top so that kids aren’t trying to write with their hand bumping into the binding, and I find the cost reasonable.

Spelling–All About Spelling.  We’ll start this after Simon finishes level 1 of Little Stories for Little Folks.  I did the first three levels or so of All About Spelling with Peter and found it a solid program, much superior to the traditional spelling-words-list-of-the-week approach.

Math–RightStart Math: Level A and Mathematical Reasoning: Level A.  We are doing a four-day rotation in math: RightStart Math lesson, 3 pages of Mathematical Reasoning, RightStart Math game, 3 pages of Mathematical Reasoning.  RightStart Math is another of my favorite curriculum resources that I used with Peter and am now using with Simon.  It is hands-on, very visual, and focuses on building mathematical concepts.  I started Simon in RightStart level A (which is intended to be a kindergarten-level program) when he was in preschool, doing one lesson a week and repeating each lesson (so weeks 1 and 2 we did lesson 1, weeks 3 and 4 we did lesson 2, et cetera).  Last year, in junior kindergarten, we continued in level A, doing one lesson a week without repeating.  We will finish level A this year, doing one lesson every four days.  RightStart has a wide variety of games to provide the practice necessary for students to master math skills.  Last year, we played a math game once a week; sometimes I chose the game based on what I felt Simon needed to practice, and sometimes I let him choose.  This year, I’m mostly picking the games.  As much as I love RightStart, I do feel that it benefits from some supplementation.  I had Peter do Singapore math workbooks along with RightStart, but I have since discovered the Mathematical Reasoning series, which I think is better-suited to my goal of promoting critical thinking, problem solving, and conceptual understanding.  I think that using both RightStart Math and Mathematical Reasoning provides a good balance between hands-on activities, games, and workbook exercises.

Science–Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: Volume 1 (Grades K-2).  Of all the new materials I’m using this year, this is probably the one I’m most excited about (though Life of Fred comes close).  The author, Bernie Nebel, seems to have a strong conceptual understanding of how to teach science so that kids will really learn science.  You can check out a video of him explaining the basics of his approach on the BFSU Community website.  The program is very flexible, allowing me to determine how much time and energy to spend on each topic depending on Simon’s interest, his understanding of the concepts, the resources I have available, et cetera.  So far, Simon is loving science.  We recently finished the lesson on states of matter, during which we made a little book; Simon dictated the words for me to write and then he illustrated it.  He must have asked me to read him that book at least two dozen times.  He can’t wait to make an entire library of science books.

Religion–Image of God: Kindergarten.  We did the Image of God preschool program last year and Simon learned quite a bit.  The kindergarten program repeats a lot of the same material (which serves to reinforce it), but also includes some saint stories, which are not in the preschool program (both contain Bible stories).

French–Currently, in addition to trying to use some French for day-to-day activities, I’m just reading Simon a story or part of a story in French every day, along with one or two pages from a non-fiction book in French.  I have plans to do more, but I’m still waiting for materials from the homeschool partnership program.

Visual/spatial/analytical skills–Hands-On Thinking Skills.  This book has tear-out pages with activities using pattern blocks, attribute blocks, and interlocking cubes.  As long as I color the shapes for him, Simon thinks it’s fun.

Art–We’re doing art once a week.  I’m not using any particular curriculum, just coming up with ideas as we go along.  I have a list of ideas that I used last year, but I’ve also found inspiration from the books we’ve been reading.  We made a clove apple after reading about one in Little House in the Big Woods and we made papier mâché after coming across a mention of it somewhere.

So that’s what we’re doing this year.  It seems like a tremendous amount, but most of the subjects don’t take that long to do, and we don’t do every subject every day.  Peter does a good chunk of his work independently, and it takes maybe an hour to an hour and a half daily to do Simon’s lessons.  If you’re interested in what we’ve done in the past, you can check out the links below.

Previous homeschool curriculum overviews:

2016-2017 (junior kindergarten)  [Apparently, I never wrote anything about what I did with Simon last year.  Maybe one of these days I’ll put something together.]

2015-2016 (preschool, round two)

2014-2015 (grade 4)

2013-2014 (grade 3)

2008-2009 (preschool)



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  1.  Today marks one month since we said good-bye to “Valentine” (not his real name), the 10-year-old boy from Eastern Europe that we hosted for the summer.  One month ago, we hugged him in terminal 7 at JFK airport in New York City and then left him there.  It will be many more months before we see him again.
  2.  I finally put pictures of Valentine up on the wall in our living room.  When I ordered prints for the souvenir photo album I made for him, I also ordered some for us.  I’ve been so busy ever since we got home that I didn’t get to it until a few days ago.  It’s heartwarming to be able to see his face every day now, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy seeing his pictures on display when he comes home after the adoption is complete.  (At this point, he doesn’t even know that we are working to adopt him.)
  3.  This week, I took an afternoon off of homeschooling Simon to make headway on adoption paperwork.  Faint though it may be, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  If Clara naps well, I might be able to finish the homestudy paperwork and required online training this weekend.  It will be such a relief not to have it hanging over my head anymore.  I haven’t baked anything since we got home because I would feel too guilty spending the time baking when I have adoption paperwork to do, which is of course more important.  I’m looking forward to celebrating reaching the end of the homestudy paperwork by making chocolate chip pumpkin bread.
  4.  Clara is just starting to point at things.  I can see her little mind working as she notices things and points to share her interest with me.  At 14 months, she still doesn’t have any recognizable words, but she clearly understands a number of words and makes a variety of tuneful vocalizations, so I’m not concerned.
  5.  Peter and I are both enjoying his Life of Fred math books.  To help Peter develop a better attitude towards math, I decided to use Life of Fred books this year because they are so entertainingly different from traditional math books.  My strategy seems to be working.  We’ve had no yelling or tears over math so far this year (I can’t say the same about his math homework last year when he was in public school), and he enjoys reading humorous parts of the text aloud to share them with me.  He just finished one book and started the next one yesterday; on the ride to drop him off for band, he actually set aside whatever fantasy novel he’s currently reading so he could dive into the first chapter of his new Life of Fred math book.
  6.  ‘Tis the season for our apple trees to produce in abundance, attracting ungulates with their fallen produce.  Last year, we were graced with the visits of many deer in the fall and early winter.  Our first visitors of this year turned up on Tuesday while we were eating lunch. IMG_0162 small
  7.  We want photos of your beautiful faces for the collage poster that will go in Valentine’s bedroom.  Please check out my Hearts for Valentine page for more details!

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  1.  Our Hearts for Valentine adoption fundraiser information is now online.  For the last two weeks, I promised I would get to it soon, and I finally got it done.  If you can spare a few dollars to help an orphan get a family and you like taking selfies or cute pictures of your kids or of crafts you make, then please participate!
  2.  As of right now, $1567 has been donated towards our adoption expenses.  It’s a great feeling to see our Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program account grow.  We still have a long ways to go, but every dollar donated gets us closer to getting this adoption paid for (and reduces my stress level as I worry about paying for it all).
  3.  We had our second social worker visit on Wednesday.  I was a bit more relaxed in preparing for this visit, knowing that she’s already seen the house and the first impression is over with, and because Don had to work late on Tuesday night so I had to take all the kids to Peter’s Boy Scout Court of Honor myself (which meant Simon and Clara were up past their bedtimes).  Clara slept in Wednesday morning because she was up so late, so I did some last-minute paperwork to give to the social worker (I’m still not done with all of it, but I’m getting closer).  Then I spent the hour before she was due trying to eat breakfast, get dressed, get Clara ready for the day, and make our lived-in house look reasonably presentable.  I tidied the kitchen and had the boys do the living room and downstairs bathroom, and didn’t worry about the rest.  It worked out–since she toured the house last time, she didn’t go anywhere but through the kitchen to the living room, and the dirty dishes in the sink didn’t seem to bother her.  She’ll be back on October 4th and that should be her final visit.
  4.  I mailed off our FBI clearances to be authenticated.  Getting the FBI clearances for our dossier has been a multi-step process.  First, we had to get our fingerprints done, which required going to the county sheriff’s office (they walked us back and did the actual fingerprinting in the county jail, which is not a fun place to go).  Then, we had to mail the fingerprints off for the clearances.  Finally, we need to have the clearances authenticated (apostilled) to be able to send them overseas.  Most of our documents are apostilled at the state level, and we are lucky to live in Michigan, which only charges $1 per document for authentication (some states charge $10 per document).  However, since FBI clearances are federal, they have to be authenticated by the US Department of State.
  5.  We’re still settling into our routines for homeschooling.  We just need a little more time to get our routines well-established, since we’ve had a lot of disruptions.  In our first eight days of homeschooling, there was an early release day at the middle school, we had a chimney sweep come, and we had the social worker’s visit.  Today the boys start mid-day swimming lessons through the local school district’s homeschool partnership program, so that’s another adjustment to our schedule.
  6.  I’ve been so busy that I’ve wondered how I’m going to manage having another kid, but I would be pretty much caught up if I wasn’t trying to pull off an international adoption in my spare time.  Of course it will be challenging once Valentine is here permanently, but it will be do-able.  I reflected this summer when he was here that out of four kids, one was still in diapers, two didn’t speak English, and three couldn’t read.  Parenting will become easier as those numbers decrease.
  7.  So far, the best part of homeschooling is read-aloud time.  I’m reading one book to both boys in the morning, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and another to just Simon in the afternoon, Little House in the Big Woods.  We’re all enjoying the stories, and Simon’s read-aloud has been quite educational for him.  We’re going pretty slowly through Little House because we keep stopping to look things up on the internet (Google image search and Youtube are a homeschooler’s best friends).  We’ve researched brass buttons, calico, bugles, square dancing, jigging, hazel bushes, and clove apples, among other things.  We were inspired to make our own clove apple.IMG_0153 small

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I decided to do a themed 7 Quick Takes this week: “Why Next Year Will be the Best Year of Homeschooling Yet” (or, “Why I Think Homeschooling Peter Will Work This Time When I Gave Up in Frustration and Enrolled Him in School in March Two Years Ago”).

For those who don’t know, I have been homeschooling my son Simon for the past two years (preschool and junior kindergarten); he will be in kindergarten next year.   I homeschooled Peter for grade 3 and most of grade 4 before giving up and sending him to public school because I was completely burnt out.  We are going to try again next year, when he will be in grade 7.  Here’s why I think it will work this time:

  1.  I have read several books that have changed my perspective, and I think the insights I’ve gained will help me keep a better attitude when the going gets rough.  In particular, I was inspired by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté’s Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.  As a former high school teacher, their descriptions of the dangers of peer orientation brought back vivid memories of former students and situations.  I am now consciously aware that while getting schoolwork and chores done is important, maintaining a healthy relationship with my kids is more important.  Although I do slip sometimes when I’m tired and frustrated, I’ve gotten reasonably good at using techniques from Hold On to Your Kids and No-Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, which takes a similar approach.  Finally, I also bought and read Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace.  It’s a short book and an easy read, but very apropos.  I expect to flip through it for inspiration at challenging times during the school year.
  2. My spiritual life is in better shape.  A stronger relationship with God makes it easier for me to find the strength, peace, patience, endurance, et cetera that I need to successfully spend a lot of time with my kids.  One of the resources that has been most helpful to me is reading Regnum Christi’s daily meditations.
  3. I am going to use a more flexible approach in scheduling.  When I homeschooled Peter previously, I made a complicated chart every week with every assignment for every subject for each day.  When life happened, as it does–when someone had a dentist appointment or got sick or there was some special event going on–and we couldn’t finish all of the assignments for a day, it would throw everything off.  This time, I’m going to set up some basic routines; for example, reading, writing, and math will happen every day, while science and history will alternate.  Each subject will be scheduled separately, so if we miss a day in one subject, we’ll just pick up with it where we left off and it won’t affect the schedule for the other subjects.
  4. I’m going to put the boys to work around the house.  Peter did have chores to do before, but now that he’s older, he can do more.  Simon also can do some useful chores now.  The work they do will help lighten my load so that I have the time and energy to instruct and supervise them.  I’m also going to try off-loading some of Simon’s read-alouds to Peter.  I figure that it’s a positive way for the brothers to spend time together, reading aloud is a good experience for Peter, and it will save me some time.  I will still do some read-alouds with Simon because it’s one of my favorite parts of homeschooling and I don’t want to miss out on it.
  5. I am streamlining the curriculum.  I pared my subject list for Peter down to what I felt was the bare minimum.  Then, after reflecting on my mission and vision for homeschooling, I carefully added in only two other subjects, both of which will be done for less than half the year.  In addition, I’m integrating several subjects.  For example, not only will Peter’s literature selections be coordinated with his history/geography studies, but about a third of them will be in French.  A good chunk of Simon’s read-aloud and science books will be in French.
  6. I’m going to be using some great curriculum resources.  I won’t go into details now (maybe I’ll do a post around the beginning of the school year), but I am looking forward to using some exciting new materials for both boys as well as some tried-and-true materials with Simon (I’m enjoying homeschooling for the second time around, getting to repeat the good stuff and replace the stuff I didn’t care for as much).  Of course, every year I’m enthusiastic about the resources I’m planning to use and sometimes I end up disappointed once we get into them; we’ll have to see how they go.
  7. Finally, I have gotten better at self-care.  I recognize when I’m starting to get run-down and I take steps to get back on track.  I know that when I get really tired, I feel sad, so I have learned to tell myself not wallow in my sadness when the real problem is that I’m tired.  I know what kinds of activities rejuvenate me and I find time for them at least semi-regularly.  On the whole, I’ve been eating better and doing a better job of not staying up too late, so I have more energy and don’t get run down as often.

And that’s my first themed 7 Takes!  Maybe it would have been better to write at the beginning of next school year, but all these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head since we decided we would homeschool Peter again, so it feels good to get them down in writing.  Perhaps it will be useful to look back at this post in a few months when the new school year is getting underway.

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Several weeks ago, I went to a parents meeting for the local school district-homeschool partnership program.  Simon will be enrolled with them for kindergarten next year and next year’s schedule was one of the meeting’s agenda items, so I figured it would be worthwhile for me to attend.

What I didn’t appreciate was that developing mission and vision statements was the main purpose of the meeting.  Getting a roomful of people (maybe a couple dozen) to try to formulate and agree on mission and vision statements in less than an hour is unrealistic to begin with.  Add to that the poor conceptualization of the process and the instructions we were given, and it was doomed before we even started.  We were told that the vision was suppose to describe what we wanted to achieve and the mission was supposed to describe how we would make the vision happen (I’m not sure I agree with that, but let’s leave that aside).  Then the room was split in half, with one half told to work on developing a vision statement and the other half to work on a mission statement.  Hello?  How are we supposed to describe how we’re going to make the vision happen if they’re still figuring out what the vision is on the other side of the room?  We tried anyhow, but in the end, we had about five statements proposed by different people (one of them mine) and no consensus.  Then we got together as a large group again to share our work, and their vision statements sounded suspiciously like our mission statements.  I asked whether we really needed to have separate vision and mission statements and was brushed off.  On the whole, it was a frustrating experience.

However, the experience did have value in that it got me thinking about mission statements and defining the purpose of the things we do.  I had come across a quote online that I have not, for the life of me, been able to locate since, so I don’t know the exact wording and I can’t attribute it to its original author (it may have been St. Katharine Drexel).  It seems like a great mission statement (or is it a vision statement?), so I have adopted it for my homeschool.  It was something like, “The purpose of education is to prepare our children for whatever service God may someday call them to.”  This is rich; there is a lot there to ponder on.

Then I went on to make a list of my goals, what I want my children to be able to do as a result of their education (dare I say, a vision statement?).  In no particular order, here’s what I came up with:

  • to think critically
  • to value truth and reason
  • to communicate effectively
  • to be respectful and empathetic to people in diverse situations
  • to have a well-developed conscience; to be honest and responsible
  • to appreciate beauty as found in nature, art, and music
  • to know, love, and serve God
  • to have the skills to carry out projects independently—to plan a project, locate resources, use resources effectively, keep materials organized, manage time wisely, work diligently, and produce appropriate results
  • to make choices that promote health, both physical and mental
  • to understand the interconnectedness of human lives with each other and the environment; to value social justice and environmental responsibility
  • to apply knowledge to real-world situations; to do “hands-on” problem-solving

Next year will be a challenging one for homeschooling.  Not only will Simon be in kindergarten, but we have just decided that Peter will return to being homeschooled for grade 7.  He will still go to school every day–he will be in band and Science Olympiad at the middle school he currently attends.  We believe that this will give him the best of both worlds.  However, it will be an adjustment for all of us.  I am hopeful that defining my mission and vision before we begin will help me make good decisions as I plan for next year and deal with issues as they arise.

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I wrote a fairly extensive post on homeschooling for preschool back in 2009.  An even more extensive comment that was made on my post a couple months ago brought it back to my attention.  It was interesting to re-read my post six years later and see how my approach to homeschooling for preschool has evolved.

My overall approach to literacy education is very similar.  I still swear by Diane McGuinness’ book Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It.  I am still using The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd.  This time around, I am photocopying the page for each letter and having Simon color it, since he doesn’t mind coloring (Peter really disliked it).  We’re doing slightly different practice activities, such as tracing Montessori sandpaper letters and playing Go Fish and memory/matching games with index cards that I wrote the letters on.  One thing I am doing differently this time is teaching uppercase and lowercase letters together; with Peter, I focused on lowercase letters, but then when he started reading he had to go through a period of learning which uppercase letters corresponded with which lowercase letters.  I’m taking it slow on introducing letters/sounds, going at a pace of one a week, in the order that they are presented in the Jolly Phonics program.  This gives us time to do the Jolly Phonics story/action/coloring page and two art projects per letter, and it’s not an overwhelming pace for Simon, who was 3 1/2 when we started.  Because we took several weeks off here and there, we’re about halfway done with the alphabet (I know there are more sounds than letters, but I’m focusing on the most common sound associated with each letter for now, and we’ll get to digraphs and alternate pronunciations later).  We practice segmenting and blending orally a couple times a week; Simon can identify the first sound in a word pretty reliably, but has trouble with the last (or any other) sound, and he doesn’t have the hang of blending yet.  It will come.

I have added the book Alphabet Art by Judy Press.  Even though I don’t do the rhymes and fingerplays in the book because they focus on letter names instead of sounds, this book has still been a great resource.  Every letter has an art project to make the capital and lowercase letter out of cut and decorated paper plates; for example, M has macaroni glued on and S is “silver” (wrapped in aluminum foil).  Each letter also has an art project to make an animal that starts with that letter.  I have been impressed that all of the projects have been relatively simple and use inexpensive materials that I mostly already have around the house, like yarn, paper bags, aluminum foil, paper muffin cups, and pipe cleaners.  Simon is getting good fine motor skills practice cutting the letters out of paper plates and doing the gluing, etc.  It’s good exposure to the letter shapes, and he enjoys playing with the various animals that we’ve made.  For me, it’s been motivating to have appropriately-scaled art projects all planned out; I always felt like I should be doing more creative stuff but didn’t have the energy to plan it.

I chuckled when I read that I had written, “I’ve had a hard time finding decent simple phonics readers at a reasonable price.”  I really struggled to find appropriate very-beginning phonics books; most “phonics” books use too many irregular/more advanced words, and most have very little text and rather dull stories.  I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found Little Stories for Little Folks.  For less than $1 per story booklet, the forty-five stories in this program progress from extremely simple (only two short vowel sounds are used in the first story) to what is easily second-grade-level text.  They are broken up into four levels; when Peter went through them, we had a family celebration with ice cream every time he finished a level.  They don’t dovetail perfectly with Jolly Phonics; that’s why I’m skipping digraphs like “ch” and just teaching Simon the most common sound for each letter.  Little Stories for Little Folks develops basic reading fluency before introducing digraphs and other more complicated phonics. I found them a great value, and they helped Peter become a very strong reader (at the beginning of this school year, in 5th grade, he tested at a high school reading level).  Note that Little Stories for Little Folks is an unapologetically Catholic program.  If you’re not Christian, then you might not be comfortable with the content.  If you’re a non-Catholic Christian, you might be okay with using it, knowing that you would have to explain a few Catholic vocabulary words and/or concepts (such as the rosary and the fact that priests are called “Father”).  As an aside, the person who commented on my previous post made me aware of these free phonics readers based on the Jolly Phonics program.  They look like a wonderful resource.  I don’t plan to use them for Simon, however, because I want him to learn to read from paper, not from a screen (I know they can be printed, but that would be an extra expense).  I already have Little Stories for Little Folks and I like it, so I will use it again.

Math is the area that I’m doing completely differently with Simon than I did with Peter.  I started Peter in Saxon Math K, then we did some Singapore Earlybird math, and then I came across an incredible program called RightStart Math.  This program is hands-on, very visual, and focuses on building mathematical concepts; I wish I had learned math this way.  Because Peter had already done two years of kindergarten math before I found RightStart, I started him in RightStart level B.  With Simon, I’m skipping the other programs and starting him in RightStart level A.  Level A is technically a kindergarten program, and we started when Simon was 3 1/2, but I am taking it very slowly for now and he is keeping up (Peter did Saxon Math K full-speed starting at age 3 1/2, but I also think Saxon Math K was less intellectually challenging).  We have been doing one lesson a week, repeating so that we’re doing the same lesson two weeks in a row.

Read-aloud is still a big part of homeschool preschool.  We’ve mostly been reading picture books from the library, but we have recently started on some of the books from Sonlight’s pre-kindergarten list.  Simon was enchanted by the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories and is now enjoying the Uncle Wiggly stories.  I love how older children’s books have sweet, innocent stories and rich vocabulary; they are so different from modern books written for children.

When I was homeschooling Peter for preschool, I was actually afterschooling him.  I was working full-time and Peter attended a center-based preschool part-time while my husband was in school.  This time around, Simon is home with me full-time.  I am making an effort to do things with him (like crafts) that I didn’t do with Peter because I figured that the preschool Peter went to would pick up the slack.  Every month I print out a blank calendar and put it on the fridge.  Every day, Simon and I color the day’s square following a pattern (this month, it’s orange-orange-blue-blue).  We have our Montessori room and we do Montessori activities a couple times a week.  I feel like we should do Montessori more often and I would if Simon were more independent, but he always wants me in the room with him, usually wants to talk to me about what he’s doing, and often wants me to do it with him.  It’s a great learning experience for him, but it means I get nothing else done for an hour or more, and I can’t always afford that.  I try to incorporate some French into every day, whether it’s responding to him in French, playing a game, discussing a book, or just watching tv.  In addition to our weekly grocery shopping trip on Mondays, we have been going ice skating on Wednesdays, sometimes to story/craft time at the library on Thursdays, and to gymnastics lessons on Fridays.  Of course, other things pop up here and there too, like taking Peter to the dentist.  I try to have at least one day a week where we don’t leave home; those are the days that I get (sort of) caught up on housework.

I’ve deliberately taken a flexible approach to scheduling this year and it has been going well.  I suspect that next year will be more challenging, with the addition of a baby to the household, but if I remain flexible and focus on what’s most important, I think we can make it work.

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I put together a post with my curriculum choices last year.  It ended up being a bit more work than I expected, but I enjoyed doing it, so I decided to do it again this year.  It ended up being a lot of work again.  I started this post at the end of August, before we started our school year, didn’t finish it before we started, and have been so busy since then that it’s been a low priority to get it done.  My options were to give up or finish it.  I don’t want to waste the work I already did so I’m going to finish it, but forgive me for not illustrating all my choices, because that’s where most of the work is.

First, my updated introduction.  We are a Canadian-American family living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our son Peter is 9 years old and entering grade 4.  This is our second year of homeschooling, but the first year in our current home (we moved here from Ontario, Canada over the summer) and the first year that I will not be working.  We also have a two-and-a-half-year-old, Simon.

Lafreniere Family April 2014

Our family in April, the most recent picture of all four of us.

We are continuing with the two-year American/Canadian history sequence that we started last year.  I have been splicing together Sonlight curriculum‘s one-year condensed version of American history with a Sonlight-style Canadian history schedule to cover both American and Canadian history together chronologically.  Peter and I have both been enjoying it.  We ended up making it a little less than halfway through last year, but I think we’ll be able to finish it off this year.

US history

I am recycling a picture of some of the Sonlight books we used last year, but we are now approaching the American Civil War.

This is just a sample of the many books we will be reading.

And again, recycling a picture of some of the Canadian history books we read.

For grammar and writing mechanics, we are trying something new this year.  We are using the Easy Grammar grade 4 book along with Daily Grams, for daily practice of capitalization, punctuation, etc.  Peter continues to write a daily journal (now a minimum of four sentences, up from three last year) and has a weekly writing assignment.



Peter made great progress using All About Spelling last year, finishing level 1 and getting halfway through level 2.  We will continue moving through the program at his pace.  I’m projecting that he’ll start level 3 sometime in November.


This will probably be Peter’s last year of handwriting.  He will finish CHC‘s Catholic Heritage Handwriting series with level 4.



For math, we will continue with the combination of RightStart Mathematics and Singapore workbooks.  We’ll be doing level D in RightStart and using the 3B and 4A Singapore workbooks.  Peter also plays math computer games for practice (Math Blaster and Vroot and Vroom).


RightStart is an American program, but they do sell a Canadian workbook (money problems have pictures of Canadian coins) and Canadian money cards for their card games. I bought this workbook when we were still living in Canada, as we weren’t expecting to move for at least another year. I think Peter will enjoy doing money problems with Canadian currency, though.


As part of my effort to maintain Peter’s fluency in French, we will continue to use materials from the French Ministry of Education’s distance education program, which are available for free online.  We are using CM1 Français and Sciences expérimentales et technologies,  and finishing up the parts of CE2 Instruction civique that I planned to do last year and ended up dropping when life got crazy as we prepared to move.  Peter watches French-language tv programs at least three days a week (through satellite tv) and will be reading some books in French (I bought a half-dozen before we moved so I can give him one a month; I’m planning to restock at Christmas, plus we have lots of books for younger kids for him to read to Simon).


Recycled sample of French language arts from last year

Instruction civique

Recycled sample of “civic instruction” (rights/freedoms, safety, etc)


Recycled sample of science

We’ve also changed our religion program this year.  Peter still has daily Bible passages to read, but we’ve switched the rest to Memoria Press Christian Studies book 1, which uses the Golden Children’s Bible.




We just wrapped up the last lesson in last year’s art book, and we will be starting ARTistic Pursuits grades 4-6 book 1, by the same author.  Last year, we made a variety of kinds of art (drawing, painting, cutting-and-pasting shapes, mosaic, sculpture).  This year will be focused on drawing in black-and-white.  Art has been a challenge for us and I’m not sure how long we’ll continue to do it, but I’m not ready to give up on it yet.  We’ll see how things go this year; I may not bother to do it again next year.

Peter started learning to type last year, but didn’t make great progress.  I still think it’s a useful skill for him to learn, so I found a different free online typing program to use this year–TypingWeb.   He enjoys the games and I appreciate the fact that I can log in and track his progress (how much time he spends on the lessons, speed, error rate).  He is only in fourth grade so I’m not pushing it too hard–he’s only doing it once or twice a week–but I’m hoping to see some improvement this year.

I added Memoria Press’ Book of Astronomy to Peter’s science this year, since he is interested in space and in Greek mythology.  We live out in the country and we can see an incredible number of stars on a clear night, so learning constellations is a great thing to do here.

Also new this year is Latin.  Near the end of the summer, Peter kept saying he wanted to learn Latin.  I wasn’t too keen on increasing his workload, but Don insisted that since one of our main reasons for homeschooling is to be able to adapt to his needs and interests, we should listen to him.  So we’re using Memoria Press’ Prima Latina program.  It’s a fairly easy program (intended to be used as young as 2nd grade), so he’s able to be successful without a whole lot of time and effort.  I bought the optional DVD set so he can sort of have the experience of listening to a teacher lecture.

We are participating in a local public school district’s homeschool partnership program.  Peter is taking a Lego Robotics class, and they are paying for part of the cost for him to play hockey (it counts as physical education).

So far, a month into the school year, we’ve had a rough start.  For the first few weeks, I was seriously tempted to send him to school so I wouldn’t have to deal with him during the day.  Things are still not going as well as I would like, but schoolwork is getting done, chores are getting done, and he is learning stuff.  We are pulling it off and I hope it will continue to get better.

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