Saturday, May 30, 2009

Year End Critique

Since school is almost finished for the year, I thought it would be a good time to let the girls give me their winners and losers for the year. Here were the results.

Favorites: History and the Latin activity book
Least favorite: Spelling, typing, and math (She does well with these but they take more effort on her part.)

Favorites: Science and geography drill
Least favorite: History

Violet and I also had a discussion about why she didn't like history which went something like this.
M: What don't you like about history?
V: I just wasn't interested in the topics.
M: Did you like doing the lapbooks?
V: Yeah, I loved the lapbooks.
M: What about the fiction that we read?
V: Those were interesting.
M: The Childhood of Famous Americans books?
V: I liked those too.

So apparently history wasn't a complete wash.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Our first two weeks of summer break

We've spent a lot of time outside over the past two weeks, so our summer school work has been a bit sporadic. I'm hoping next week to put in place more of a summer routine. Really I just want to be able to go to bed at night knowing that I've made some progress and accomplished something beyond rescrubbing the same section of carpet because the kids tracked in mud again. Here's a quick update on what we've done.


We finished the last lesson in Zoology 2!!! All that remains for next week is the final lapbook assembly.


Last week we covered World War I and Charles Lindbergh with the corresponding booklets and timeline figures. We also made a map to show the alliances and neutral countries in WWI. This week the girls read and wrote a narration on the Great Depression. We'll assemble those booklets at the end of next week.

Other than that we just have some basic memory work that we'll hopefully do more consistently next week, and lots of time to enjoy the sunshine and spring weather.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We have a DECISION!!!

For the past several days, I've been trying to tackle the conundrum of what to do about history next year. I wanted to study Biblical history alongside of our ancient history schedule, but every time I tried to put together a framework it just didn't work. Either the Biblical history took too much time and pushed us way over in the numbers of weeks scheduled, or I felt like I was trying to cram so much into one week when we covered Biblical history that the kids would not be able to retain anything. After several failures and lots of prayers, I'm finally excited about our schedule for next year, and I feel like God has really directed me into a schedule that will work best for our family. The results: a two track history program for the upcoming year. We'll use our timelines to tie everything together for the bigger picture of to show the overlap between civilizations.

For ancient civilizations, I've divided up the year into one 13 week term and two 12 week terms. Term 1 is Middle Eastern history focused on all the civilizations mentioned in the Bible with an emphasis on Egypt. Term 2 is ancient Greece, and term 3 is ancient Rome. If I get the time we may tack on a quick 4 week study of other ancient cultures at the end. I have TruthQuest guides in route to cover Egypt, Greece, and Rome. For spines, I know Jessie will use The Story of the Greeks and The Story of the Romans by Guerber with the added benefit that I can use the schedules available from Ambleside to avoid starting from scratch. I'm undecided about using The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Payne or piecing that section together a different way. I'll make a final decision there when the guides arrive. For Violet, I'm leaning toward using the Famous Men series to cover Greece and Rome and will definitely piece together the first term. I'll have to decide how to fit Benny in each week once I start looking at the resources.

For our second track, we'll be studying Biblical history at a more in-depth level. We'll spend 25 weeks studying Old Testament history. Jessie will be using Bible readings based on The Greenleaf Guide to the Old Testament(which I picked up used at a local curriculum sale) while Violet and Benny read the corresponding stories using Egermeier's Bible Story Book. I just have to plan out a 12 week study for Jessie to cover the New Testament history. To get a bigger picture of the overall Bible, the girls will also be reading What the Bible is All About for Young Explorers by Graham. I've already pieced together a weekly schedule for the Old Testament to coordinate the kids into covering roughly the same material each week.

I still have a lot of work to do, and some days I look longingly at my three week sample of TOG wishing that most of the planning was already done for me; however, in my heart I believe that this is the course that God is directing us so I'm trusting it will all come together in the end.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WW: Our newest family member...

Meet Jack, our new 8 month old golden retriever. He's sacked out after a busy morning of walking, playing, exploring, and just trying to keep up with the kids and I.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Classical Education, part 4

When it comes to math programs, there are basically two philosophies on how to teach math: mastery and spiral. Basically when using a spiral program each lesson will have several review problems covering previous concepts in addition to problems for the new concept. A mastery program will have only problems relating to the current concept. Most programs also have review exercises every now and then to cover previous concepts. There are good programs on both sides of the aisle that have been successfully used by numeroushomeschoolers so I don't what to say that one or the other is right for every kids. The first choice offered by TWTM is Saxon math, a spiral program. However, I most certainly fall in the camp of preferring a mastery style approach to math and chose to use some of the alternative programs instead.

Why the mastery method?

  1. One problem with spiral methods that I found when researching the curriculum is that it made students hate math. Take a bright or even average student and ask him to continually work the same type of problem over and over again day after day and eventually you'll get asked the question, "Why do I have to do this again?" or simplyinformed, "I already know how to do this."

  2. Math is one of those areas where I believe it is better to cover a few topics more deeply to develop a better understanding than to try to cover a broader range of topics and only get to skim the surface. If the only topics covered in the elementary years are numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and the child is able to master these topics, then he or she will have a strong base to use to move on to higher level math. Topics like measurement, capacity, or even simple geometry like area and volume can be quicklylearned at a later point if necessary.

  3. Personality also plays a factor. Some children will find a multitude of different types of problems distracting or confusing. Others like my oldest who prefers to focus on one things at a time willfind a spiral program extremely frustrating.
Why Singapore?
  1. I believe the foundation to doing well with math is understanding the concept. Students who don't
    understand why they are doing what the are doing will struggle with the application of math in real life. Singapore's strength is in teaching math conceptually.
  2. I believe every student should be able to complete some math computation mentally. Again Singapore
    does an excellent job of teaching mental math techniques.
  3. I believe that the goal of learning a math concept is that the student should be able to apply their knowledge to a new or slightly different situation. Singapore'sIP and CWP provide an excellent opportunity to stretch the student's understanding of a concept toapply it in different ways.
Why combine with Miquon?

  1. The biggest weakness in Singapore is that it is up to the teacher to present the lesson in a concrete fashion before moving on tothepictorial format of the book. Miquon excels at hands on discovery, and I find the two complement each other quite well in this regard.
  2. Miquon fills in a couple of the topics that Singapore doesn't cover like coordinate graphing, negative numbers, and prime numbers.
  3. Using the two programs allows the student to learn how to tackle a problem in different ways.
  4. Miquon can provide the necessary reinforcement and review that some children need
    and may not get enough of with a mastery style program.
Even using both programs I have found that some concepts simply need more reinforcement. The one additional
workbook that we use is The Big Book of Time and Money. For some reason both of my girls have simply needed additional practice in these two topics to achieve the level of mastery that I believe they need. It's simple, easy, and colorful and gets the job done in minimal time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Week 38: Crossing the Finish Line

It has been a easy week and a great way to finish off most of our school work for the year. The kids have been enjoying finishing up most of their subjects and spending more time outside. Here's a look at our last full week.


Jessie finished up Singapore Math by completing the last review in the IP book on Tuesday, which she passed with flying colors. Wednesday she finished the last word problem scheduled from CWP 4. (Technically the book is not finished because we'll start next year with the review exercises.)

Violet has done much better on her math assignments the last couple of days. I'm still planning to restart her at the beginning of the 3A book for review next year, but I don't think we need to go back and reteach any concepts just provide a big more practice before moving on to new material.


Jessie finished up lesson 16 in SWO G this week. I'm going to have her complete 17 and 18 next week and then we'll stop for the year. She's passed her final R&S 4 test with a near perfect score, finished reading The Book of Three, and completed her dictation selection from The Last Battle.

Violet has finished up the last review lesson in SWO D and completed her end of the year grammar review in FLL. She also reached the end of A Little Princess on Wednesday. When she asked what she wa supposed to read Thursday and Friday, I told her anything she wanted. Do you know she actually went and wrote on her check sheet anything I want in the appropriate boxes. I had to laugh.


This week we covered the Spanish American War, Mark Twain, and the Titanic completing booklets and adding timeline figures for all three. I meant to do a map for the war, but didn't get a chance to prepare one ahead of time. We may do one next week or just skip it altogether.


Thursday we completed four booklets and completed lesson 12 covering cnidarians. One more lesson to go next week before assembling our lapbooks and taking a break.


This week's drawing were of jellyfish and coral. I just have to figure out where the papers went so I can post pictures. We didn't do music. I expect to take some time next week to finish that up.


We're done!! YEAH!! Now I just have to make sure we practice enough that we don't forget everything over the summer.


Benny's schoolwork was basically the same as last week. More counting and Bob books completed. Too much fishing to take time for a craft.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WW: Fishing Success

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Classical Education, part 3

Language arts has always been perhaps my least favorite subject in school. I would rather have a root canal than write a research paper. In fact in college, I dropped any class that required a paper and used my chemistry lab to satisfy the second writing requirement. (To be fair there were several pages of lab write ups a week.) Anyway, I didn't do a lot of research into language arts curriculum when we began schooling. I basically started with the recommendation in TWTM and then adjusted to make a better fit for our family.

In spelling and grammar, we follow the recommendations of the 2nd edition of TWTM. Both of my girls have been good spellers so we've accelerated their pace through the Spelling Workout series completing about 1 and 1/2 books a year. Jessie kept up this pace until reaching level G at which point she has switched to one lesson a week. I will probably slow Violet down next year to one level per year simply so she doesn't reach level G until 5th grade. In grammar, I really tried to like First Language Lessons for 1st and 2nd grade despite its scripted format, but just couldn't. Violet did no grammar for 1st grade, and this year has done a modified version of FLL that I put together which has worked fairly well for us. I'll probably sit down in the next couple of weeks and tweak the plans a bit here and there to improve them for Benny to use in a couple of years. For more info on what I did and why, you can read the FLL post I wrote last year on the topic.

Reading and writing are the two areas where I find myself disagreeing the most with TWTM framework. In reading, the suggested titles are tied to the four year history cycle. The first problem this creates is that some books simply don't fit neatly into given cycle. While this problem can be solved by reading the book in the time frame when it was written, it creates a massive amount of literature for year 4 relative to the other years. My solution has been to read historical fiction during the appropriate history cycle and to simply schedule other fiction as assigned reading based on my children's reading levels and interests. The second major disagreement I have with TWTM concerning reading is the recommendation to read abridged or children's versions of the classics at a younger age. We did own, and the girls enjoyed, several books in the Great Illustrated Classics series for awhile. I found that the girls would enjoy reading the books, but when they were reading well enough to try the unabridged versions, they didn't want to take the effort to enjoy the real books because they already knew the story line. Since then, I have sold all of those versions and decided to be much more selective about which books can be read using abridged or children's version. Our current list includes Shakespeare, Homer, and Pilgrim's Progress. (My kids love reading A Little Pilgrim's Progress which I consider excellent literature in its own right.)

Along with reading goes narration in a classical education. Here again I have chosen to differ with the recommendations in TWTM. When Jessie first started narrating, she would give me these lengthy, detailed, descriptive style narrations. Because I was following TWTM recommendations, I spent most of first grade trying to get her to shorten her narrations into more of a summary. The end result was that she stopped paying attention as closely as she had at first because she knew she only needed to remember the main points. The details and descriptions vanished, and she hated both narrating and history. I've spent the last two years trying to reverse this. We've switched to what would more of a Charlotte Mason style with our reading. The first goal being to get her to slow down her reading speed and give her complete attention to the text so that she gathers all the information that she needs in one reading. Second, I allow her to learn from the author instead of trying to use the text to get across the points that I consider important. Finally, I encourage the detail and description not only because it makes the narration more interesting for both of us but also because I think it helps her to be a better writer overall. I also tend to avoid written narrations until late in 3rd or 4th grade when my kids can write with greater ease. It helps keep them from hating reading and history.

Finally, the dreaded subject of writing. TWTM uses a combination of copywork, dictation, writing assignments from Rod and Staff grammar, and written narrations to form their writing program for grammar stage. Here again, I've relaxed the recommendations of TWTM to better fit our family. In Kindergarten, we work on letter formation and words. In 1st grade, we continue copywork using sentences and poems. This gives an introduction to capitalization and punctuation, but I usually find that the main focus is on spacing between letters in a single word and then between words. On second grade, we don't move on to dictation, but rather switch to cursive copywork for the year. This gives us another year to work on spelling skills. Otherwise I find writing becomes tedious when the child has to stop to sound out each word or ask how to spell certain words. Sure I could use a book like The Cat in the Hat for dictation, but I'd much rather stick to texts on the child's reading level and not below it. Sometime in third grade, we make the switch to dictation and continue it into fourth grade.

For additional writing, I find the writing assignments in the Rod and Staff grammar books to be a bit sporadic and not really very interesting. Because we don't do a lot of written narrations for history and science a la TWTM (to keep my kids from hating those subjects), we start using Classical Writing Aesopin 3rd grade. Although the program has a grammar and spelling component, I have chosen to only use the writing component for this level of the program. I'm happy with SWO and like that it can be done independently. For grammar, I find the CW program to not be a vigorous as Rod and Staff for grades 3 and 4. The program is a bit teacher intensive, but I find that it takes the guesswork out of teaching writing for me. I can clearly see what the goal for a particular level is and follow along with the suggestions for editing to work towards that goal. Writing for CW Aesop is the only work we do that goes through both a rough draft and a final draft stage. Because Jessie understands that editing and rewriting are part of what the program is designed to teach, she has been much more receptive to looking at her work critically than she would be if we tried to use the same techniques on her history narrations.

There you have it. Language arts a la the Narrow Gate Academy for K through 4th.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Week 37: Entering the Final Stretch

It's been a good week. The girls started finishing up some books and are excited that we only have one more full week left (although I wouldn't really call it a full week). It occurs to me that I need to get on the ball and organize what we're going to continue with over the break for light school to keep up skills. I also need to reassign chores, add a list of chores that Benny can do, and make new chore charts. Here's a quick look at our week.


Jessie's math this week has been all about end of the year review. A few careless mistakes here and there, but she has definitely mastered the material. She completed her textbook and workbook and began the end of the year review in her IP.

Violet's continuing to work on the second unit of the 3A Intensive Practice book. Her accuracy in computation has improved this week back to a more typical level. Most of this week's mistakes were due to not reading the problem correctly or slapping down a quick equation that doesn't actually answer the question asked. I'd say she's definitely ready for a break.


I had intended for Jessie to rewrite Rumpelstiltskin this week for CW, but accidentally returned the book. Rather than pull up a new model, I decided that she really has mastered the skills in Aesop well enough that we are done for the year. I hope to use some of the extra time next week to start reading the Homer core for next year. Grammar was light this week. Since SWO already covers some of the dictionary skills, we did the oral exercises in R&S all week and skipped the written exercises a couple of days. She did complete another lesson in SWO. I officially changed The Swiss Family Robinson from assigned reading to free reading with the stipulation that she has to give me a book report once she finishes. Her only assigned reading is The Book of Three. This allows her to finish her assigned reading by next week and insures the books can be returned to the library before they are overdue. She's been doing dictation on her own most of the week. Basically, she reads a sentence, closes the book, and then writes the sentence. It's freed me up to do some other things around the house that needed my attention.

Violet has been copying the poem "Building Blocks and Blocking Blocks" from her memory card for handwriting this week. I've seen enough to decide that we will continue with copywork for part of next year before switching to dictation. It's not that she can't form the letters. Her handwriting is just much sloppier when she doesn't have the model written out for her. She's close to finishing the review lessons in SWO D. We have two grammar lesson left that were scheduled for this week that didn't get done to finish next week. She's finally finished reading The Blue Fairy Book.and has all next week to finish up A Little Princess to wrap up her assigned reading.


This week we read biographies of Helen Keller and Theodore Roosevelt together. The girls also read a biography of George Washington Carver. We completed booklets on all three and added them to our timeline. In addition we added President McKinley to the timeline as well.


We completed the lesson on echinoderms covering starfish, brittle stars, sea urchins, crinoids, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers along with the corresponding booklets.


The girls each drew pictures of sand dollars and sea cucumbers this week.


We did three days of phonics this week to finish up the A1 series of Bob books. Benny went fishing with DH on his day off. This morning we just curled up in the chair, and I read him a stack of books for a change. His counting is finally showing some signs of improvement. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to check that off as mastered next week. He finally pulled his Kumon books back out this week (in desperation I think from being trapped inside by the rain) and completed some mazes and several of the cutting pages. Somehow I only managed to get a picture of one page that he cut out.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Classical Education, part 2

Our personal version of classical education as I mentioned in my first post on classical education is derived mainly from the framework of The Well Trained Mind. While I consider this text to be my starting point, we do not strictly follow much of the text. Starting with phonics, we have found somewhere between 4 and 4.5, similar to the recommendations of the book, to be a good time to begin phonics instruction. We keep the lessons at the beginning stages to about 5 minutes a day. That may mean we only complete 1/3 to 1/2 a page on some days once we reach the section on three letter words. We don't increase the time beyond 10 minutes until my student can read fluently enough to enjoy level 1 readers on their own without struggling.

Jessie began phonics instruction when she was 4 using Phonics Pathways as recommended in the first edition. When the second edition changed the recommendation to The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, I looked at the new recommendation but decided not to switch for several reasons. First is my general dislike for scripted programs. While they can be open and go, I find that since I didn't prepare ahead of time if my child has difficulty with understanding the lesson I'm suddenly on the spot needing to improvise a new way of teaching the concept. I also find it easier to keep my students attention by looking at them when teaching rather than looking at a book to read a script. Second, I prefer the teaching method in Phonics Pathways. After introducing the vowels, the consonants are introduced in conjunction with vowels, so the child is reading sa, se, si, so, su or ba, be, bi, bo, bu. I personally found this to work better when I was teaching Jessie. I had previously taught her that b says /b/ prior to starting the book. The problem is that in trying to pronounce the b sound individually it always came out as /buh/. She would see ba, say /buh/ /a/, and had an extremely hard time dropping the /uh/ sound out and blending the two letters. It felt like we spent a lot of time unteaching and reteaching to blend certain consonants, but the problem was isolated to consonants like b, d, g, etc. Third, I find Phonics Pathways easier to use because all you need is the book. The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading has you using letter cards and writing things down for the child to read. We prefer to simply curl up together in the recliner for phonics lessons, which is much easier when all you need is a book. Finally, I confess I like the little caterpillar and his quirky sayings. He's always been a great motivator at our house. My kids would gladly finish reading a page to find out what the caterpillar had to say that day.

Beyond Phonics Pathways, especially at the early stages when we're working on fluency with three letter words, we read Bob Books from the A1 and A2 series. Some days we pull out our letter magnets and mix up letters to make words on the refrigerator. I especially like to do this when my kids start trying to guess words. When they watch the word change from had to hat to hit to sit etc. simply by switching out one letter at a time, it helps reinforce the idea that they need to look at all the letters not just the first one or two to make certain they are reading the word correctly. Sometimes I'll throw in a nonsense word or two just for fun. Other days, I'll write words on a dry erase board for practice. This is especially useful for repeating lessons for additional practice without letting them know their repeating a lesson. (I started this because Jessie would get very upset if she didn't get something the first time and had to repeat it.) The kids enjoy either marking out or erasing the words as they go through to mark their progress.

A final thought on phonics... One of the hardest parts of teaching phonics in my opinion is simply learning to be patient. It seems to me that learning to read truly follows a stair step pattern of learning. The child breezes along through ba, be, bi, etc., but simply cannot make the jump to bat, bet, bit or was doing great with cap and mad but looks at you like you're speaking French when the words become cape and made. I think this is the point when many moms jump ship and switch to a different phonics program because they believe the first one is not working. I learned after much trial and error when Jessie used to hit these walls that I had two choices. I could back up in the book and review, or we could take a break for a week or two and try again. What exactly happens in those couple of weeks I'm not sure, but it seemed like almost every time we came back to the new material suddenly it just clicked. I always told the kids their brains just needed some time to make some new connections in order to be ready for the next step.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WW: Beginning hide and seek or peek-a-boo

Either way it produced plenty of baby giggles.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Art Gallery from Week 36

Jessie's octopus
Violet's octopus

Jessie's starfish
Violet's starfish

Friday, May 1, 2009

Week 36: Hanging in there

It's good that we only have two more full weeks of school before we lighten up and break for the summer. Benny as always is more than happy to complete his school work but spends the remainder of the day begging to go outside. I've been sending him outside with the one or both of the girls every day I can, but he's still been really rambunctious inside. Jessie and Violet seem to be having more and more trouble focusing, and their work quality is starting to lag as they do things just to be finished. At any rate, we're trying to persevere and finish the school year.


Jessie has been working through the IP section on volume. For the most part she has done an excellent job. She seems to have the concept, but doesn't always follow through for the problems. She'll multiply the length and width and move on without factoring in the height. I must say that I understand how she feels. The amount of double digit multiplication can be a bit mind numbing. Actually, Friday I cheated and used the calculator on the computer to check her work.

Violet did very well a couple of days and then it's been like she's completely forgotten how to borrow. One day I actually marked every problem wrong and told her to start over on a different page. It took forever, but she finally completed them correctly. I'm definitely leaning more towards repeating the first two chapters of 3A next year. In contrast her Miquon pages have been perfect. She still working with fractions. Using either our fraction strips or the number lines on the page, she's figuring equivalent fractions, adding and subtracting fractions, and even multiplying factions and whole numbers. She struggled a bit with a few bar diagrams this week, but they were the challenging problems so that at least I expected ahead of time.


Jessie completed SWO G lesson 14 this week. In grammar, we've begun working on the last unit covering punctuation and dictionary use. I'm trying to remember to lighten up on the assignments since Jessie has covered a lot of the material already. For CW, we finally finished editing "Rapunzel" and I printed it out on a two page spread for Jessie to make into a book tomorrow. For reading, I've increased the number of chapters that she is reading each day in The Swiss Family Robinson and The Book of Three. Even with the increase, I think the books are going to run past out school calendar. I can't decide whether to keep going as assigned reading or simply tell her that she can finish the books herself. In dictation, we've finally started a passage from The Last Battle. Jessie wanted to rewrite the scene where Trinian appears as a ghost to the Narnian children in our world.

Violet's continuing the review exercises in SWO D. I've also started retesting her on some of the previous book's lists. I haven't been very consistent about keeping up with misspelled words, so I want to make one last effort to master the lists through D before she moves on next year. She manage to escape without handwriting most of the week. Apparently I didn't prepare any copywork ahead of time, and she didn't remind me. In grammar, we've finally finished with prepositions! YEAH!! She's begun reading A Little Princess three days a week and is close to finishing The Blue Fairy Book.


We're still kind of bouncing around in the same time period learning about different people. We started off the week reading about polar expeditions and Robert Peary. Then we spent the remainder of our time reading about the accomplishments of women. Together, we learned about Maria Mitchell. Independently, the girls read biographies of Elizabeth Blackwell and Ellen Richards. The summaries have been very short and to the point, but we did complete booklets for all three women and added Peary, Mitchell, and Blackwell to our timelines.


We completed lesson 10 this week on cephalopods and chitons. Tuesday, we introduced cephalopods and learned about squid and cuttlefish. Thursday, we studied octopuses, nautilus, and chitons.


Art lessons this week consisted of each girl drawing drawing an octopus and a starfish. I'll post the pictures in a separate art gallery post tomorrow. In music we finished the brass section covering tubas and trombones before introducing the percussion section.


We tried a little bit of the next section of Phonics Pathways this week. Although Benny could read the four letter words, it was really slow going. We've switched back to the Bob books. Once we've gone through the A series a second time, I'm not sure what we'll do next. I have the Pyramid book written by the same author that I might be able to use. (I never used it with either of the girls, so I really have no idea what's in it.) We can always just place letter scramble with the magnets and see how many words we can make and read each day. His counting is about the same. I think we may need to take a different approach over the summer. We can do some of the Kumon dot-to-dot books. I'm also considering the Singapore Earlybird series, but haven't made a final decision yet. We've been reading stories from The Lion Storyteller Book. He decided for his craft that he wanted to make a kangaroo. (Don't ask me why.) So here it is.