Monday, March 8, 2010

Reflections on Academic Hits and Misses so Far

Forenote: I almost didn't post this because it just seemed so long and windy and random. In the end I decided to push the "publish" button for a few reasons. First, I want this record for myself to remember the journey because ultimately I am blogging for me. It's my online journal, my place to "think out loud". This post really is just me getting my thoughts out there to clarify what's been mulling around in my brain.

Second, I never want to make it seem like I have it all together. I don't. Not by a long shot. I don't think any of us do but it can be so easy to make it appear that way, even without meaning to. We often don't want to meditate and write about our failures; it's so much more fun to write about the successes. And as a result we can make it look like all our days are good and all our curriculum choices are successful and implemented with excellence. Well here is one for the record that shows otherwise.

I hope this encourages someone...somehow...sometime. :)

Boy am I glad I have three boys. That way I can fix all the mistakes I've made with my firstborn and apply the lessons learned to his younger brothers (lucky them - lol).

I am now in my fifth year of homeschooling. These years have flown by and it makes me realize that the two and a half years I have left before junior high are fast approaching. And I mean fast! I realize this is not a race, not at all. Yet it is my responsibility to make sure my boys are educated at a level that will allow them to pursue any course they desire and they feel God calling them to when they get older. And that preparedness starts now, when they are young, not just when they are in high school and college is looming on the horizon.

This has been on my mind a lot lately and here are my thoughts as to where we've been and where we are going broken down by subject:

(Right) - Horizons. I will continue to use Horizons. We have enjoyed this program tremendously. I love the scope and sequence as well as the pace. The farther we get into this curriculum, the more I like it!

(Improvements)- I didn't follow the TM enough when Thatch was younger. I didn't take the time to drill and cement those math facts to the point of automaticity. Mistake. And now he is in Horizons 4 and we are spending time drilling addition, subtraction and multiplication facts he could and should have learned two years ago.

I will also spend more time playing strategy games with the boys to develop mathematical thinking. Games like chess, Othello and Blokus.

And I will use Evan Moore's Daily Word Problems each day as a warm up and to provide more practice with this skill.

(Right) - We are loving Elementary Spanish on Discovery Streaming. This year I have doubled up Thatcher's lessons so that he will complete the entire 3rd/4th grade unit this year and in fourth grade he will complete the entire 5th/6th grade unit. My goal is for my boys to be fully bilingual when they graduate and this program has gotten us off to a good start.

I am glad we started with so many fun games (see both posts) in the younger years as well. My boys think Spanish is so much fun. Cute side story: today we were at Space Center Houston and Thatcher walked straight up to a group of teenagers visiting from Mexico, stuck his hand out and said, "Hola! Me llamo Thatcher. Como te llamas?" (Translation: Hello! My name is Thatcher. What is your name?) The kids crowded around and hugged all over him.

(Improvements) - I want to further accelerate this process. I want to get my boys reading Spanish sooner with the help of books like Las Puertas Retorcidas/The Twisted Doors: The Scariest Way in the World to Learn Spanish! or First Spanish Reader: A Beginner's Dual-Language Book. This will also ensure that my boys are receiving not not only parts-to-whole Spanish instruction (predominate method in Elementary Spanish) but whole-to-parts as well.

(Right) - SOTW was the right choice for us for our first history rotation. I've enjoyed it so much and so has Thatcher. I must say that one of our favorite things is listening to the audio CD's read by Jim Weiss.

(Improvements) - We started gung-ho with a history notebook in first grade: mapwork, color pages and written narrations ala WTM and the SOTW Activity Guide. We switched in second grade to oral narrations ala Charlotte Mason which are a much better fit for us. But everything else stopped. Haddon is a crafty kid unlike his big brother so I am thinking that we'll create several simple lapbooks along the way for him as we go through his history. Honestly Thatcher would have benefited so much from this as well but when he was at that stage I had two babies in diapers so it just wasn't going to happen. ;)

(Right) - We got off on the right foot! Explode the Code is a huge hit in our homeschool. Inexpensive, easy to implement, not teacher intensive and most importantly...effective! :) This series has now taught two of my boys to read.

(Improvements) - I have realized that I haven't required enough independent reading for Thatcher. We read all day across the disciplines - history, science, logic, math and so on. But he is with me and we read together. Also each evening he reads for an hour before bed but those are books of his choosing and I don't check for understanding. I have begun implementing more independent reading time across the curriculum for him at different times during the day. He is sent to read a science book that goes along with what we are studying at one point. He is given a chapter book to read and then we discuss at another time in the day (which of course means I have to pre-read the night before and be prepared for this discussion). If we have extra history books from the library he will read those as well. My goal is to have him read for about an hour each day (not counting bedtime fun reading).

(Improvements) - Starting with improvements this time...insert huge cyber sigh here. This is an area where I can say that we have not had too many successes. Too many babies in our first years, too much therapy in recent years and not enough planning on my part to find something that really works for us. Because I am not "sciencey" (Ha! Did I just make up a word?) I need a pick up and go science curriculum that is all laid out. All I can say is that I will find something that works for us. Not sure yet what that looks like but I'll let you know as soon as I do! ;)

(Right) - Here is what has worked: A fun unit I did based on this My Body book. As a matter of a fact, I sure meant to blog about that waaaay back but never did it. Another cyber sigh. I need to be sure I can find that so I can do it again with Haddon and Beckett in a year or so. We have also loved the Let's Read and Find Out science series. I have collected many, many of these books over the years, most from

(All improvements here) We started with FLL 1/2 back in first grade. It was not a good fit. At all. I now know that it was too auditory and too repetitive for Thatch. Around the same time I started reading Charlotte Mason's works and she advocates a delayed start to formal grammar instruction. Soon after I also discovered Analytical Grammar and Junior Analytical Grammar and decided to wait.

And now I'm nervous. What if AG isn't a good fit and we've waited all this time? I had been having uncertain thoughts but pushed them down. When a friend shared the same concern it bubbled back to the surface.

If there is something we've done right in this area it's that we have done tons of incidental grammar through our spelling program (see below) but nothing formal for over two years. Now I've been looking at Rod and Staff, Easy Grammar, Growing with Grammar and Shurley Grammar. So many programs; so little time. Whichever program I decide on I will start early with Haddon and work through it gently. Or then again, I may change my mind. ;)

(Right) - We have enjoyed Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason. Thatcher will finish the first half of Book 1 this year and the remainder in fourth grade We started with Spelling Workout after we finished the entire ETC series and it just seemed like so much busywork for Thatcher. He is a natural speller with a fantastic visual memory and a strong grasp of phonetic rules (thank you Explode the Code!). SWO was just not helpful for him. We went the total opposite direction and decided to do spelling through copywork. Now he is learning to spell though poems, Scripture and selected passages of literature.

No improvement here but I have thought about the fact that Haddon is a different kid and this type of spelling program may not work for him. It may be back to the drawing board in a few years once he finishes ETC. :)

(Right) - I feel like we started off well here. Lots of good copywork along with reading tons of quality literature to provide excellent models for language. I studied different methods of teaching writing and decided I wanted to follow the progymnasmata - a series of writing and speaking exercises which develop the skill of eloquence incrementally. And to that end I discovered Writing Tales which I am so excited to start using next year with Thatcher. After corresponding with Amy, the author of Writing Tales, I decided to wait and start Thatch in this program in fourth grade based on her observations that most boys do better waiting until they're a bit older to begin WT.

(Improvements) - I need to fill in the middle better next time. I am considering using Writing with Ease for Haddon in a few years. I need to require more writing in the younger years, beyond just copywork. I have heard from several moms that in order to be certain your child is ready for WT they first need to be confident in writing their own four to five sentence narrations. I need a fill in the blank between copywork and being ready for WT in fourth grade.

(Right) - We have enjoyed Mark Kistler's Online Art Lessons this year. Also Ed Emberley's drawing books have been a great success. Haddon prefers the online lessons and Thatch prefers the Emberly books but I have them do both several times during the week. I feel that they learn different skills from each.

If you happen to be interested in the Mark Kistler online lessons you can go to the site and see sample lessons of every level. And then head over to the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op where you can purchase a three year subscription for only $49 which is 50% off the regular price. :)

(Improvements) - I wish I would have started art lessons earlier. Also I still want to work through How to Teach Art to Children with the boys. It's been sitting on the shelf for two years now. I also want to get back to doing more art appreciation through picture studies ala Charlotte Mason.

Other thoughts about things to improve upon: I want to include more classical music into our days as well as more nature walks, nature notebooks, music lessons and physical education. I wish there were 30 hours in a day!



Andrea said...

Sounds like a great overview! I find it interesting how we are getting used to some of these programs as we go and can tell which ones (for the most part) are working and/or will work for further students. Obviously you are gaining experience, teacher momma!
I didn't like the FLL either and was going to wait with our 2nd student (auditory processing delays). But we've just started - taking it slowly and lightly (last time I jsut pushed our oldest through it even though he hated it...sigh). I figure we'll pick something else up in a couple years - probably Shurley.
So glad things are going well for you! Don't worry too much about such things as science cuz you can rest assured that they are learning a ton just from observation right now.

Tana said...

Great post. We're in our second year of homeschooling and we've had hits and misses too. It's good to know I'm not alone. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Waters said...

Thanks for all that you put into this post. I use lots of the same stuff you do, so it was nice to get your take on it.

Renee said...

Looks great! When you look for a grammar program, look at BJU Press, too. I have never used anything from that company. But a local Charlotte Mason school used that program and we gave it a try. It is very easy to teach and covers the basics of both grammar and writing, all in one. You do a chapter on grammar, then a chapter on writing, and so on. It is worksheet-based. But I have found that I don't mind worksheets so much with things that require practice and drill. We study so many subjects through books and hands-on projects (science, history, art, composers, artists, reading, math, etc.) that I still think our learning is not marked by worksheets. Any way, you might like BJU. Love your intentionality and purposefulness. May God bless your efforts!

momtime said...

Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing! As far as grammar goes, we love Easy Grammar & Daily Grams! I did not think it would be a good program because it looked to simple. Someone would have to really sell me on something else now! Simple doesn't always mean bad!! Learning as I go!!

Heidi said...

Jennefer~ Have you looked at the Christian Kids Explore Science series? I just wrote a post on it a few days ago. To me, it is like the science version of SOTW (with activity guide included). Even if we just do the bare bones (read the lessons and do oral review), I feel like I am providing my boys with a systematic study of science. But it is so easy to do a few of the projects (whenever I have the supplies already on hand :)), a worksheet or two, and read a related book or watch a DVD as often as possible. The books are only $20-30 on Amazon (including all the activity instructions and additional resources lists), so they are a very reasonable investment. Anyway, just thought I'd throw that in there. ;)