Semester in Review

Having completed 101 of the required 180 days for our school year (not that we go by the 180 days thing since we school year round, but it’s a good benchmark) I decided to call it a semester.  In spite of me being pregnant and sick for much of the fall we did manage to cover a lot and the kids have really learned and grown.


We attend Classical Conversations as a social outlet and because I enjoy teaching a class there and think learning a general history timeline and doing science experiments together is a great supplement, but we don’t use it as a curriculum.  Our main curriculum is Tapestry of Grace, about which I can’t say enough positive things!  Tapestry has really helped me hold it together for school this year.  It covers history, literature, geography, art, and other subjects, all organized chronologically as they occurred in time.  This year we have covered from the beginning all the way through classical Greece so far.  By integrating subjects and using living books as well as emphasizing ideas, Tapestry is an excellent bridge between classical and Charlotte Mason education philosophies.  I didn’t get to learn history from an integrated subject approach until college, and that is something I highly value for my children.  Although we sometimes have scuffles over handwriting and math drills and piano practice, we always look forward to our Tapestry readings and activities.  I highly recommend it.

I’ll touch on the other curricula we use in the subject areas below.

History and Literature

Because of the way Tapestry of Grace works, especially in the elementary school levels, our history and literature studies have overlapped a lot this semester.  We’ve learned an immense amount about the ancient world, read some fabulous books, and done some really neat projects.

Out of the many, many books we read this semester, both together and individually (Hannah tears through chapter books at an alarming rate now and Jack has also started getting into chapter books as long as they are fairly simple, like Magic Treehouse level), we’ve most enjoyed Pepi and the Secret Names: Help Pepi Crack the Hieroglyphic CodeMara, Daughter of the NileThe Corn Grows RipeGod King: A Story in the Days of King HezekiahBlack Ships Before Troy: The Story of ‘The Iliad’, and The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of The Odyssey.  We’ve also been working on poetry memorization, and I think the one we’re currently learning, The Destruction of Sennacherib, is our favorite.

Fun history and literature projects included weaving, making an ancient Mesopotamian meal, grinding grain with a mortar and pestle, writing our names in heiroglyphics, writing Chinese characters and Mayan characters, and visiting ancient world themed exhibits at the Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo in DC, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Eiteljorg Museum, and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

Language Arts

Both Hannah and Jack read well, although we still practice reading out loud since that is a different skill.  Hannah is working on First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 2 as her grammar text and both Hannah and Jack have switched to All About Spelling since Spelling Plus wasn’t working for us.  All About Spelling has a more component based and hands on approach that seems more effective for both kids.  Hannah also has daily vocabulary to look up in her dictionary (I highly recommend the DK Illustrated Oxford Dictionary because it contains more adult-level words but the format makes is accessible for kids).

Writing has been a difficult subject this semester.  I have had the kids do copywork to practice penmanship, but sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.  Both Hannah and Jack have kept notebooks of the main characters in history that we’ve studied and a little bit of dictation, and they both enjoy writing stories, but I haven’t quite hit on a way to encourage writing that seems age appropriate.  I guess for now our focus is primarily penmanship not composition.


We continued using Saxon Math, although in the new semester I plan to start supplementing with Singapore Math.  I like the spiral approach and drill in Saxon, but Jack especially needs more idea-based and concept-based approaches than Saxon provides.  Hannah is about 80% done with Saxon Math 2, and Jack just finished Saxon 1.  Jack is five and a boy who gets frustrated when his mind works faster than his pencil, so I’ve allowed him to do a lot of math orally this semester.  He grasps math really quickly and almost intuitively, which is really interesting for me to observe.  Hannah is catching on to multiplication quite easily.  I’m happy that both kids include “mathematician” in the ever-growing list of professions they plan to tackle when they are adults and the marvelous vistas of caffeine-consumption and outside employment open to them.  🙂


We finished Apologia Astronomy and enjoyed learning about space.  I can see wanting to come back around to the topic again later on when they can study it more in-depth, but they did seem to pick up a lot.

Along the way we did a fun experiment of making an exploding volcano while we were studying Mars (see picture at left) and we also visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

One aspect of Classical Conversations that I really like this year is the science experiments.  We dissected crayfish and owl pellets, which I enjoyed just as much as the children did.  I don’t remember loving that kind of thing as a kid, but now I think it’s really neat.  We also did a totally rad experiment dissolving an egg shell in vinegar and then dehydrating it in corn syrup to learn about how cells work.


We continued to move through Prima Latina at our usual glacial pace, but I’m not in any rush.  I thought about supplementing with Lingua Angelica  but didn’t get to it.  In Classical Conversations the kids are learning the noun endings of the five declensions, which I think will be handy in later studies.


If you ever decide to use Tapestry of Grace I really recommend getting the Map Aids.  It comes with maps for each week’s topic, tailored to the age level of your kids.  I think the kids have gotten a lot out of map work this semester since it has been tied to what we’re reading about, and it has helped to keep reinforcing geography by being able to orient everything we read to where it took place.  I think they could label Upper and Lower Egypt, the Nile, the Red Sea, the Tigris and Euphrates, Greece, Troy, and Crete in their sleep, which will come in handy should they find themselves lost in the ancient world as they dream.  🙂

In Classical Conversations we’ve been working on the continent  of Africa, and last week Hannah inventively carved Africa into her lunchtime clementine.


Tapestry includes art tied to the time periods studied, so we have looked at all kinds of ancient art from painting to fresco to pottery.  We’ve also done some picture study of paintings about ancient topics, even if they were painted long after the fact.

As usual we listened to a lot of classical music, and both Hannah and Jack took piano lessons, although sadly Hannah decided to take a break from them and I think Jack is really too young.  Josh and I are talking about taking a bit of a hiatus from piano lessons next semester and then reassessing things.  It might be that the passage of time reinspires Hannah and makes Jack a little more ready.  Jack is getting a legit drum kit for Christmas (shh, don’t tell!) because he does seem to have some good natural rhythm and so we’ll see where that goes.


It has been so neat this year to relate our Bible study to historical events we are learning about.  Tapestry does a great job of linking the subjects, especially as the Bible is a key historical and cultural document as well as a religious text.  I love how the Bible stories they were already pretty familiar with have come alive to the kids in new ways as we’ve learned about Ur as we read about Abraham, what Egypt was really like, the geo-political setting for the founding and split of Israel and exile, the prophets, etc.

The kids have also been going to Awana this year, which has helped with Scripture memory work.


I have to admit that I have not done a ton of preschool with Sarah.  She sits in on all of our reading and knows more about the ancient world than most three year olds (I suspect).  She constantly begs me to give her “real school,” asks to be taught to read, and tries to prove her mathematical readiness so I will buy her a math book of her very own.  In the next semester I am setting a goal of giving her more targeted school attention, because I do think she’s showing signs of readiness.  As a more seasoned mom, I also understand better now that it’s ok to hold off on some things, so I’ll let her set the pace.  We have done some reading of the children’s literature that formed the backbone of Hannah and Jack’s preschool, but I plan to set aside special time for reading those books in the next semester as well.  They are like old friends for Hannah and Jack, and Sarah should get to love them too!


Homeschooling in general has been challenging this semester, in part due to my pregnancy sickness/exhaustion and in part because the issues we deal with in general parenting (obedience, respect, attitudes, etc) bleed over into school work as well.  At times it has been difficult to keep my focus on the big picture, which is one reason I write up these epic semester posts.  We always want to consider what is best for our kids’ education, and I don’t know how long we will homeschool (I’m really passionate about education but I don’t believe homeschooling is always or only the best option), but for now I do think it’s what we’re called to as a family and it’s working well for the kids at their particular ages and stages of growth.

And so we look forward to a relaxing break (with a couple of field trips thrown in) and hope to hit the next semester with refreshed spirits and renewed excitement!  Ancient Rome is up next!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, through Amazon, All About Learning, and Tapestry of Grace.  When you purchase through the links it kicks a little back to A Spirited Mind, which helps to pay hosting and keep us well supplied with books to review on the blog!  Thank you for your support this year; we really appreciate it!



6 thoughts on “Semester in Review

  1. I really enjoy your semester in reviews as we are just a couple of steps behind you. I plan to start K5 in January even though technically he would not start until the fall in a normal school. My son has started to read and is ready for a little more.

    I am currently in a quandary about math. Have you every looked at Right Start? I love the conceptualizing of it. Still trying to decide that. For now we are doing a lot of math in life as my son seems to have a natural inclination to think things mathematically. Just curious!

    1. Also, I meant to say. I think you are on the right track as far as piano. My husband and I are both piano pedagogues and the most common mistake is to start kids too young. There are only so many ways you can turn a melody with the hand span of a 5-7 yr old. If the child is accustomed to hearing good quality music (which yours are) than it can be discouraging because they know they really aren’t playing anything all that more complicated. From our teaching experience, 7-8 yrs seems to be a good age as they can progress much more quickly but the year still young enough that the motor skills are easy to train. Just my opinion 😉

    2. We used Math-U-See for our first formal math. I liked that it was very hands on and a gentle introduction. We didn’t continue with MUS because I didn’t feel that there was enough practice and Hannah needed something more structured. I think Jack requires more of the “why does this work this way?” conceptual approach, but I think that has to be a supplement rather than a stand-alone. At least, that’s my current thinking. I change my mind a lot. 🙂

  2. I loved this post and am seriously considering writing one myself. I think it will help tremendously as I try to regain some enthusiasm. I don’t mind the teaching, but the prep time seems to be increasing and I will be adding K is when we start in January. My four year old can count to 100 by ones and tens and almost by 5s. She knows her alphabet and letter sounds. That is what is so great about homeschooling, there’s no set timetable and requirements.

  3. I always love reading your semester reviews, as well! I am amazed at how much you fit into your schooling routine.

    I tried to follow the Tapestry of Grace link but it didn’t work…? I have never heard of TOG before and was curious to read more about it. We are currently using Sonlight, which I LOVE, but I would also like to join Classical Conversations next fall, if we can swing it. Sonlight is a little light on history (just my opinion) and we’ve been supplementing with Story of the World, although I am tempted to look into My Island Story or Mystery of History, as others have said these are well worth it.

    Will you take a long break when you have the baby next spring and pick up again sometime in the summer? Enjoy your holiday season!

  4. I’ve been looking into Tapestry more thoroughly since we spoke about it at book club and I think we may use it for next year, 1st grade with my oldest. It was funny to look through the rest of your curriculum reviews and see that there are many similarities to what we will be using next year as well!

    We use Right Start Math (started with Level B) this year and the spiral method is even helping me think about math in a more well-rounded manner!

    Great reviews! Seems like we’re headed in a similar direction in educating our children.

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