On Music

The object therefore of the instruction…should be to foster the natural good taste of the subject, and gradually to build up a fund of experience, which may serve as a standard of right and wrong, incidentally bringing him into contact with some of the great creative geniuses of the world and providing him with a treasure house of beautiful things, which will be a joy to him all his life.

infiniteA Touch of the Infinite is an excellent resource for adding music to education–in a homeschool, after kids get back from school, or for yourself. Megan Elizabeth Hoyt struck a wonderful balance between casting a vision for musical education and practical suggestions. I am so glad to own a copy of this book for frequent reference.

Hoyt includes invaluable insight into helping us understand composers and complicated music, while also explaining how simpler forms also serve a purpose. From musical instruments to singing to being an educated audience member at symphonies and other concerts, Hoyt covers so much ground in the book that there probably isn’t any way you could complete it all in a lifetime.

In that sense, I see this book as a great inspiration, a practical guide, and a lifelong handbook for growing in understanding, making, and appreciating music in many genres and forms.

Students need to know why it is important that they learn about music—what purpose it will serve for their lives. What do we expect to accomplish in providing them with a cultured existence full of art, music, architecture, and sculpture?…The benefit of learning about all aspects of the arts and sciences, mathematics and history, is that it encourages us to form relationships with people, things, and events of the past, present, and future—to understand our universe and to fully grasp our place within the broader scheme.

In compiling this resource, Hoyt drew on her own extensive background in music, as well as her review of British educator Charlotte Mason’s methods for music instruction. Even if you’re not a Charlotte Mason fan, you might be surprised to see how widely applicable the principles are in music, and Hoyt did a masterful job of discussing how CM schools handled music while also pulling in her own outside knowledge and experience.

We study a composer every school term, and often have music playing at home (classical, yes, but other genres, too). But until I read A Touch of the Infinite, I never realized how many opportunities there are for training our ears, increasing our understanding, and building our enjoyment of the music we surround ourselves with. I’m excited to put many of these tactics and suggestions into place for the new school year, and highly recommend this book.

 

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Hodge-podge: Ancient Rome Read Alouds

Our school year sputtered to an end when the reality of summer swim team gob-smacked us. Fortunately, we already had our required days in (plus three!) and had pretty much finished our semester’s foray into Roman times. Below are the books we read aloud together or which I read in order to better discuss them with the big kids. The big kids all read a ton of other related titles, but I’m only listing the ones I personally read.

The Roman Mysteries Series – I was surprised at how much we liked these books. The author, Caroline Lawrence, puts so much period detail into the books, but without making them feel didactic. So we learned all sorts of fascinating things about daily life in Roman times, but all in the course of rousing mysteries and problem solving. However, I will caveat that I only read the first four, and there were a couple of issues that I wanted to talk over with the kids, like a point where someone drinks too much (and has a terrible headache and says things they regret as a result), and a distressing choice made by one character’s mother. Both incidents were handled tastefully in the book, but really did require discussion. So be aware of that if you choose this series. Even so, I highly, highly recommend these books. The audio versions were great–check your library’s OverDrive app if you’ve got travel upcoming!

The Silver Branch and Outcast – Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my favorite children’s authors, so we snapped up her books about Rome. Actually, the kids read a couple of others and liked them as well, so really you can just look out for this author and be assured that you won’t go wrong. Her characters are complex and well-drawn, action is excellent, and you always wind up with great insight into the time periods covered. Both of these books covered Britain in Roman times, which was fascinating.

Beric the Briton – Another solid choice about Roman Britain is G.A. Henty. Although his books can be a bit slow to start, overall they are great adventure stories. I always look for Henty at used book stores, but you can also find good audio versions.

Detectives in Togas – I didn’t love this one as much this time around (having read it the last time we did Rome four years ago)–it’s not particularly noteworthy as literature, and falls far short of Sutcliff or Henty or Lawrence for historical detail. If you’re short on time, or your kids need an easy-ish read but you’re not that concerned about historical depth, this book is fine. The kids like it as a story.

Julius Caesar – Naturally, we chose JC as our Shakespeare play of the term. We read it out loud together taking parts, and also listened to a dramatized audio version. Although I wouldn’t say it was my favorite Shakespeare play, it was good.

Archimedes and the Door of Science – OK, Archimedes was technically a Greek. But I already did the Greek read-alouds post. So here you go, Archimedes, old boy, we’re sticking you with the Romans. At any rate, this was a great book–a nice mix of biography, history, and science. We really enjoyed it, and would recommend it as a read-aloud or read-alone.

In Search of a Homeland – If you’re looking for a solid retelling of the Aeneid, I recommend this one. It will make more sense if your kids are already familiar with the Odyssey, but is pretty crucial for understanding Roman history, in my opinion. Next time around I think we’re going to go with the real deal, but in the meantime, this retelling is great (side note: the kids also read The Aeneid for Boys and Girls and said it was ok, but they preferred In Search of a Homeland).

The Story of the Romans and Famous Men of Rome – Reading both of these got a little repetitive as we read about the same people back and forth–we should have chosen one and left it at that. However, having read two of these books about famous Romans, the kids and I are SO primed for Plutarch.

Plutarch’s Lives  – So after reading about famous Greeks and famous Romans, we dove right in to Plutarch and I was surprised and pleased to see that the kids were ready to interact with it. Why read Plutarch after we already read about many of these people in other books? That’s like saying “but we’ve read the Jesus Storybook Bible, so we don’t need to read the WHOLE Bible, right?” Plutarch was required reading for most of history, and is really a civics/government primer, as well as a general springboard for discussion about character, leadership, and being a good citizen. We started with Poplicola because that’s what everyone says to do, and because we were familiar with him. Then we just went to the front of the book and started with the first life, Theseus. We’ll go straight through from here on out and eventually we’ll have read the whole phone book. It’s going to be awesome.

SPQR – One last note: this one was not for kids, but I read it as background for myself. It was a slog, but I think that was because I read it on the Kindle app on my phone. That’s a handy thing, but not the best way for me to read/learn. A better reference for ancient times is Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World (link is to my original review, when I read it as background in 2012).

And here we are in summer “break” (or the break it would be, were swim team not in the picture!). I think the year went well overall. I saw a lot of improvement and maturing in abilities. I changed some things, and am contemplating ways to make our next school year run even more smoothly. This was the last year–for a while at least–that I plan for the three big kids to be in the same history/literature time frame. It’s funny. Initially we began combining for history and literature because I couldn’t imagine how I could keep up with three separate eras, or why the kids would want to be alone in one. Now, the opposite is true. I think the kids are in a spot where they need the individual ownership and space. We’ll still do lots of read-alouds together, because that’s just who we are, but we’ll do different independent reads. I’m excited to see how it works out.

Meanwhile, summer reading! What’s on deck at your house?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

On Languages

Languages. I love them. I want to speak many of them. And yet, it’s hard for me to set aside the necessary time and narrow down the focus to one language to really learn it well. So, I dabble. And I let the kids dabble. I used to feel bad about that, and still think about which modern language to really drill down on with them, but I’ve mostly decided that, for now anyway, fostering passing interests in various languages and cultures is part of broadening their viewpoints and giving them a taste of the world.

learn-any-languageThat said, I do love to read about languages and the pedagogy of learning and teaching them. If you’re also interested in those topics, you should definitely read Learn Any Language by Janina Klimas.

Unlike some other language books that I ultimately found difficult to implement, I really clicked with Klimas’ approach. She advocates a strategic framework that meshes well with how I think: figure out why you want to learn your target language and what you want to do with it, be realistic about how long it’s going to take you to achieve that level of fluency, and tackle the language in a low tech but high impact way.

Klimas makes strong points about why classroom language instruction often leaves students unable to communicate after several years of study, and offers an alternative path that involves creating your own sets of necessary words and phrases for different situations (you might need a set for talking to a babysitter more than a dialogue on picking up drycleaning, or vice versa), reading, and writing in the target language daily. I think her approach to writing is particularly sound, and I wish I had known these tips when I was floundering gracelessly in my college Russian classes.

Full of helpful, concrete examples and inspiration to learn languages for a variety of applications, Learn Any Language is a great resource that I highly recommend, and will certainly return to for myself and to help the kids.

language-hacking-italianThis fall, the kids and I previewed Benny Lewis’s Language Hacking course. Jack had gotten the bug to learn Italian (possibly fueled by his gustatory preferences, but hey, you have to start somewhere) so we gave it a go. We checked out some Italian picture books and made it through the beginning lessons of the course, but ultimately found it didn’t gel well with our style. That said, the program has some significant strengths that could make it excellent for others. If you’ve read Benny’s book Fluent In Three Months, you’ll remember that he’s big on speaking from day one. So his course emphasizes creating dialogues and mastering key phrases to practice in speaking. You use the phrases to record videos of yourself speaking and share with an online community. That’s far easier and cheaper than other online tutoring options, and could get you into a good groove quickly. Since we try to minimize screen time for the kids and don’t really do a lot of things on the computer for school, the program didn’t line up too well for us, but again, could be excellent for others.

These days, our language notes include Korean, French, Italian, German, and Dutch. We play Latin card games. Hannah and I are slowly working through Visual Latin together. And we dabble on.

Have you chosen one language to focus on for yourself or your family? How did you decide which one to learn?
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Disclosure: I received review copies of both products mentioned in this post in exchange for an honest review. This post also contains affiliate links.

A Little Extra Math For Fun

 

Math pedagogy can be overwhelming, whether or not you homeschool. Is this the right curriculum? Am I doing too much? Too little? Am I boring him or pushing him too hard? What if she misses something important? How can I help my child enjoy math even if I’m not “a math person” myself?

I think math is beautiful and fascinating and exciting, albeit somewhat mysterious once you get past calculus. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m conveying those feelings to my kids, or if I’m pushing them to dislike math by boring them or over-drilling. Recently, I read a couple of books that helped me to relax about math, try some new things, and aim in a slightly different direction for pre-algebra.

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In Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler examines research about how children learn math and what makes a successful mathematian to suggest the ways in which traditional education is failing students and how we can change outcomes as parents (or homeschoolers). Whether you have your child in a brick and mortar school or you homeschool, this book would give you a lot to think about.

Topics like how to create problem solvers (versus calculators or test takers), how to help children develop a growth mindset, and how to best challenge kids with math are well-presented and highly practical, while also backed up with good research.

I found Mathematical Mindsets incredibly helpful and would highly recommend it to all parents, whether or not they are teachers, and all teachers, whether or not they are parents.

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I also read the inspiring and encouraging collection of essays in Playing With Math. The book chronicles efforts by really invested teachers in a variety of school settings, homeschoolers dedicated to teaching math well, and leaders of math circles (groups that get together to do problem solving). I got so many helpful ideas, insights, and reassurances from this book. Most of the essays end with a math problem to solve individually or in a group. I really liked the inclusion of those problems, and was inspired to add math games/group problem solving/logic puzzles to our Table Time each day.

Most of all, I am glad to have read both of these books for their vision. I think my kids had gotten into the habit of thinking of math as just a problem set to get through, but what I really want is for them to catch the excitement of how neat math is, and to learn to be problem solvers. While I wouldn’t say I agree fully with everything in either book–it’s not practical to implement every idea in every setting–both were instrumental in shifting my focus and in making math more enthusiastic in our house.

If you’re interested in adding math games for a range of ages to your family time (whether in homeschool or just for after school fun), I’ve also been using some of the suggestions in the following books:

And, since I mentioned pre-algebra, I’m looking at switching over from Saxon to Art of Problem Solving when Hannah finishes Saxon 7/6. If any of you have thoughts on that, I’d love to hear what you think!

What are your favorite problem solving, math, or logic games?

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Hodge-podge: Books for Kids and Adults

This weekend, I surveyed the double layer of books on my To Read shelf and elected to thin the herd. It felt great to lift some of that pressure, self-inflicted though it is! Although I’m preferring the topical round-up style reviews lately, I thought I’d throw out a hodge-podge in case it helps anyone clear out an overfull shelf, or gives some ideas for kids books to add to your audio queue for upcoming over-the-river-and-through-the-woods jaunts.

First, a few kids books of note:

Alice In WonderlandAlice in WonderlandThis classic is probably worth owning in print if you don’t already, and it’s also quite inexpensive on Audible. We listened to the audio version through our library’s Overdrive app and enjoyed it. It’s a great mix of silly and bizarre and rhymy so it works for all ages. It’s also a lot shorter than I remember.

The Island of Dr. LibrisThe Island of Dr. LibrisI expected to like this book more than I did, given the premise of kids encountering book characters coming to life. But often I just wondered, why these books? Why these characters? Some seemed normal for kids, while others seemed needlessly linked to grown-up books, so it’s not like the kids who read Dr. Libris would then go out and read the adult books. It just could have been better. It was fine as an audio book for the car, but nothing extraordinary.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid LindgrenPippi Longstocking – Although it’s obviously a classic, do yourself a favor and get your kids the paper version rather than subjecting yourselves to the audio book. From a parent’s perspective, Pippi is just so annoying. I could not wait for the book to be over. It’s a little odd, since I remember liking the book as a kid, and my own kids have read and liked the book. I guess it’s just one of those things, like how adults read Little House in the Big Woods and can’t get over how much work Ma had to do, when kids are only thinking about wanting a pig bladder balloon. Anyway.

Stone-Fox-John-GardinerStone FoxThis short book packs in a great story of adventure and sacrifice, with some good topics for conversation. It also has a shocking ending (at least it was shocking to us) so be forewarned. It was a great audio book to listen to, but would be a good one to own as well.

 

mrs_piggle_wiggles-farmMrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm – You really can’t go wrong with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. We’ve enjoyed all of the series (at least the ones we’ve found so far) both in audio and paper versions. This volume is no exception to the pattern: kids with bad habits or character issues are taken to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who gives them some natural consequences or otherwise helps them to figure out how to change their habit. I like the emphasis on the child having to do the work to change, but the adult being there to help.

Now, on to the books for grown-ups:

nature-anatomy-coverNature Anatomy – We used this book as a read-aloud for nature study, but I thought it could just as easily be something an adult would want to pick up to peruse. The author did a lovely job of hand-drawing bits of nature from rocks to birds, animals to plants, and then hand-lettered in interesting facts and scientific names, with some typeset information and grouping by category. This is what a nature notebook could look like if you were an artist and naturalist for real. We found it inspiring and quite informative.

strong-and-weak-andy-crouchStrong and Weak – I wanted to like this book more since I did really enjoy the author’s previous book, Culture Making, and named it as one of my favorites from 2009. But this one just didn’t really stand out for me. It was fine, but I didn’t come away from it feeling particularly challenged or inspired or with new ideas about flourishing. I think your response might depend on how much culture-shaping type literature you’ve read.

becoming-brilliantBecoming Brilliant – Having received an advance copy of this book, I was somewhat sad to find that I’m really not the target audience and I honestly didn’t enjoy the book. For one thing, I felt that the authors’ views on issues like giftedness, the point of education, and educational methods ran counter to what I have read, researched, and experienced, both as a student and as a teacher. For another, the information is presented in fairly dry book report fashion rather than as dynamic new ideas, and I’ve read most of the information in other sources before. Not all of the ideas were really all that supported by research (for example, the actual outcomes from learning via screens). The good ideas also tend to be geared toward classroom teachers, rather than towards parents or homeschoolers–involved parents and homeschoolers are almost certainly already doing the things the authors describe to ensure their kids develop well. In thinking about who should read this book, I decided that it would be good for policymakers in government who have no background in educational issues, but who find themselves needing to get up to speed fast. If that’s not you, skip this one.

games-for-writingGames for Writing – I have a child who is a reluctant writer. It’s not that said child CAN’T write, because said child enjoys attempting intricate calligraphy and keeping notebooks full of random facts about various topics. However, said child LOATHES writing assignments. I have tried Oh So Many Things. What is working for now is reminding myself to take a deep breath because this is only elementary school and there are plenty of years in which to tackle the sort of writing required in college. Meanwhile, I’ve been using many of the writing prompt ideas from Brave Writer, and also several I found in this little book.Games for Writing is geared toward early elementary, but I’ve been beefing it up a little bit so that I can use it with all of my big kids (2nd, 4th, and 5th grades) together. In general, I still think the copywork to written narration to analytical essay path is correct, but sometimes it does help to get there via a meandering path rather than a straight blaze. If you’re in the same boat, maybe this will help.

What’s been in your hodge-podge lately? Have you cleared anything of note (good or bad!) from your To Read shelf lately?

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Two awesome read-alouds (plus ancient Greece)

hittite-warriorThis fall we stumbled upon a terrific author whose books made terrific read-alouds and were then subject to much sibling negotiation as everyone wanted to re-read (and re-re-re-read) them on their own as well. Joanne Williamson did a tremendous job combining excellent storytelling and character development with detailed and fascinating historical research in her books Hittite Warrior and God King.

god-kingWe read the books as part of our history/literature studies, but they are such great adventures that anyone would enjoy them as stand-alone books. Hittite Warrior takes place during the time of Judges and ties in to the collapse of the Hittite culture, rise of the Philistines, and loosely touches ancient Greece. God King is a fascinating account of Egypt during the time of King Hezekiah in Judah and the rise of Assyria. Both books are well worth owning, although difficult to find. Check your library, and if you ever see Joanne Williamson’s other books, snap them up!

I tend to follow a literature-based lead for school books, and so I’m looking for good writing, excellent illustrations, and a storytelling (versus textbook or encyclopedia) feel. We do get reference books on the side, but not for our main focus. Here are a few other books we liked in theras-and-his-townour ancient Greece reading.

Theras and His Town – This novel is a bit light, but we enjoyed the story and the contrast between Athenian and Spartan cultures. It’s a good read-alone for elementary kids, and worked out pretty well as a read-aloud too.

daulaires-greek-mythsD’Aulaire’s Greek Myths – I like this version much better than other options for myth retellings. It’s also the book used in the National Mythology Exam, if you’re into those sort of tests (I’m not sure if we’ll do that or not–it’s the same group that runs the National Latin Exam). Anyway, the D’Aulaire’s always do a good job with stories and illustrations.

one-eyed-giantThe One-Eyed Giant (and the rest of the series) – Kids who like Mary Pope Osborne’s style will enjoy this series. We listened to the first one on audio and then the kids read the rest on their own time. Note that this series is available in two different formats–one that seems to be geared for libraries and another that comes in only two volumes and is for…regular people? Just letting you know in case you pick them up at a used bookstore and don’t want redundancy on your shelves!

golden-fleece-columThe Golden Fleece and the Heroes Before Achilles – You’ll start to feel the repetition if you do a lot of these readings, but Padraic Colum does a pretty good job of preserving Homeric phrases kids should know, like the rosy-fingered dawn, grey-eyed Athena, wine-dark sea, and so forth. Colum wrote other books on Greek mythology and the epics, so you may want to look for those as well.

famous-men-of-greeceFamous Men of Greece – Honestly, this one is a little dry, but the sections are a good length for a daily narration habit, and it does have good illustrations. I’d skip it if you only have younger kids, and might suggest assigning it for older elementary kids who are working on narrating their independent reading assignments.

wanderings-odysseusThe Wanderings of Odysseus and Black Ships Before Troy – These excellent retellings of the Odyssey and Iliad, respectively, are well worth owning. Pro tip: be sure you’re getting the larger format book with the illustrations. I accidentally wound up with paperbacks that omitted the pictures and the kids were none too pleased. We’ve read several of Rosemary Sutcliff’s works and have black-ships-before-troyloved all of them, so that’s another author to add to your look-for list.

The kids read a ton of other books from this subject area, but I didn’t keep up with all of them. It’s been fun to circle back to the ancient world with older kids and see how much they remember from four years ago!

A Quick Note About Book Shopping: In previous years, Amazon has put out several high value book coupons between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I hear of any, I’ll link them on Facebook and in the weekly Bookmarks email. If you come across any great book shopping codes this season, please let me know!

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To challenge your views on high school and college…

This week we transitioned Margaret to the crib in her own room. No more sleeping in the closet! I felt it would be too soon. “She’s almost a year old,” my husband gently reminded me. She still wears size 3-6 month pajamas! She’s too tiny to sleep alone! And yet, she took to the crib like it was no big thing.

Here’s what I know the fifth time around that I didn’t when my older kids were babies: this window is very, very short. As my oldest is in 5th grade and we’re starting to think through high school options, I’m negotiating the gulf between wanting to hold on to baby days and knowing that the days of their independence are fast approaching.

the-new-global-studentIn some ways, our culture encourages children to grow up too fast. “Sure, you can have your own smartphone!” “Why not dress like an adult going clubbing even though you’re only nine!” “Aren’t you too old to be playing with dolls?” And yet, in other ways, the culture infantalizes kids. Helicoptering while kids play, parents complaining on Facebook about doing their kid’s school projects for them, covering for kids’ mistakes.

Maya Frost calls foul on this tendency, and presents a counter-cultural view on high school and college-aged kids in her intriguing book The New Global Student.

Frost challenges myths about what teenagers are capable of, what really gets kids into college, and what the point of education is anyway. I found myself simultaneously saying, “Preach it, sister!” and “Whoa, I never thought of that.” In other words, it’s the best sort of book–thoughtful, insightful, and convicting.

While I don’t think that all of Frost’s ideas are applicable to our family, many of them bear serious consideration and I find myself thinking through options in a different light thanks to reading The New Global Student. Whether you homeschool or send your kids to public or private school, this book will give you a lot to think about as you head into teenage years and I highly recommend it for all parents.

Even though we’re several years away from high school, reading The New Global Student gave me new tools to lean in to childhood days while also preparing for what lies ahead. From crib to college is simultaneously a long time and a short time–what a privilege to do life in interesting ways!

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Margaret in her 3-6 month pajamas, pensively considering her collegiate options (no doubt)

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On starting school, NOT planning, and knowing yourself

starting-school-not-planningWe started school again on August 1, having enjoyed the month of July for vacation. It was a shorter break than many choose, but for us it was just right–a couple of weeks at the lake with my parents, a couple of weeks at home.

A few people panicked on my behalf because how could I have time to plan a whole school year on only one month of summer break!?!?! Well, it’s simple really. We added a couple of new procedures and a few new subjects. I made clipboard checklists for the kids to encourage them to be more independent. I thought about goals and came up with some solutions to persistent problems. Other than that, I didn’t actually do any school planning.

There are three reasons this works for us.

1) I do not make detailed lesson plans. Or any lesson plans, really.

Yes, I said it. I see people online posting these incredible plans that list page assignments for every single day of the year in every single subject for every single child. Clearly some people love that sort of thing, and if it works for you, go for it! But please know–especially if you are just starting out and feeling overwhelmed–that it is not necessary.

That’s not to say that I go into each day loosey-goosey. We have a set number of subjects and a threshold for completion–we pack a lot of learning into each day. The difference is that my plan looks like “Sarah is using Saxon 5/4 for math”and we do math every day, rather than “Sarah will complete Saxon 5/4 Lesson 16 on August 19.”

After several years of being at this, I’ve realized that my teaching goal is mastery. Every day we move the ball down the field in each given area. Sometimes a kid is on fire and does three math lessons in a day. Sometimes something isn’t clicking and we spend five days doing one lesson. It doesn’t matter. It all comes out even in the end. The goal is for the child to learn math, not to complete a textbook in a given amount of time.

My decision has two facets:

  • I don’t want to hold my kids back. If she is ready to move on, we move on. Does the kid have that concept down? Great, I say, let’s not beat it into the ground. Who says you have to spend a year in a text book just because that’s how they would do it in a classroom? I don’t want to kill the child’s love and wonder for something just because my checklist says get through each and every lesson as written–or just because I made an elaborate plan that requires me to only do one lesson per day.
  • On the other hand, I don’t want to breeze over something that requires more time. In a classroom of 20 kids, you have to do that sometimes. In a classroom of a homeschool family, you don’t. If someone doesn’t get something, we camp out. I don’t get stressed because no one is telling me we had to make it to page 87 today. It’s more important that the child really understand the concept than that we track to a plan.

I do think you have to be careful not to fall behind too badly if your goal is to put a child into a traditional school at some point, or to graduate by a certain point, or to follow a certain academic path. So far, for us, following the goal of mastery has played out mostly in the sense of jumping ahead (for example, Sarah is a 2nd grader in a 5th grade math book) but I think even in areas where a child is behind, it makes more sense to work to mastery than to push ahead for the sake of a schedule.

There are probably notable exceptions and I may change my mind in the future, but that’s how it seems to me from here.

 

2) We do the same things every day.

The second reason minimal planning works for us is that I spent time up front thinking through what we do every day. I carefully considered how much each child should do independently. I changed our daily flow of events to see if that helped smooth some rough spots. But when it comes to actual teaching, we do different lessons and amounts of each subject, but we do accomplish those subjects daily (or several times a week, depending on the item). So each child has a checklist of independent work that I just print out weekly with no changes. He or she knows to do the next thing, or whatever specific instruction I gave during individual teaching time. The only thing I change on my record-keeping checklist are specific book titles by category for read-alouds, vocabulary words, and art projects.

For some people, doing different things every day really helps. For my kids, it’s easier to make the school day a given. I don’t want to fight battles over whether or not it’s the day for math or cursive or whatever. Is it a school day? Then you are doing math, writing, cursive, etc. This makes things easier for me, but it also makes the kids feel better because expectations are clear.

3) We stick with what is working.

Yes, I know there are simply gobs of different ways to teach math. I’m sure lots of them are more colorful, more fun, more modern, and more hip than Saxon. But after trying lots of different things, hopping around from book to book hoping to find the magic and mysterious One Perfect Fit, I decided that my goal is to teach math. And Saxon does just fine. I don’t use the books exactly as written, so I can tailor the lessons to each child, but for the most part we just truck through each level.

The point is, I find that most of the time I can make what I have work for what I need. Because I’m not casting about for the latest and greatest grammar, writing, spelling, math, and so on anymore, I don’t have to spend time learning new systems. Other than new subjects I add for my oldest student, I’m not having to reinvent the wheel.

So, for me, school planning is really about evaluating systems and considering goals.

I think through pain points in our school days and try to come up with solutions. I consider where each child needs improvement or more challenge, and whether he or she is developmentally ready for more. I make general checklists and the details fall where they may.

That said, I’m an ENTJ (side note for MBTI nerds: I once thought I was an ENTP in spite of always testing ENTJ, but then I realized that I’m actually not spontaneous, I just have an extremely low tolerance for inefficiency so I change things up as I go–now I’m wondering if I’m really an E or if I’ve become an I in my 30s? Is that possible?) so big picture planning appeals to me. Maybe the detail planners are different personality types? As with many things in life, it’s important to know yourself. 

If you like personality typing, you might enjoy the homeschool personality post at Simply Convivial. I found it helpful, and even freeing, to realize that I do things a certain way because it works for me.

Maybe you plan (or not) in a totally different way, and that’s great! As always, this is just the way we do things around here. I think it’s nice to get a window on how other people do life.

How are you tackling the new school year?

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Wrapping up the school year

Another one for the books! If you only count Kindergarten forward, this was our fifth year of homeschooling, but if you go by the fact that I’ve been keeping records since Hannah’s pre-K-3 year (I know, I know) this is was our seventh year of homeschooling. In many ways, things that were once difficult are easier, but in other ways, the things that are difficult have gotten more so. I do find that having taken time to articulate WHY I am doing certain things, I have found many areas that work well and require very little planning now.

What worked this year:

  • Convocation – Starting the day with prayer, singing, Bible study, and memory work sets a good tone, and makes sure we get to these things.
  • Checklist – Mine, that is. I’m highly motivated by this to actually get things done, and it also gives me visual permission to stop when we’re done.

What didn’t work this year:

  • Table Time – The consistent accomplishment thereof, anyway. We enjoy Table Time, but it’s hard to make it happen, especially on days when we have a hard stop time and need to get core subjects done.
  • Artist and composer study – We were really good at this for the first three months of the year, but once I went to the hospital it sort of fell by the wayside. Still, we did get some good study in for those three months, and listened to classical music and did some art after that.

At any rate, here is the breakdown by subject and student. I like to read this sort of post because it helps me get ideas, but please DO NOT READ ON if you are going to be tempted to do the whole comparison thing. This is what works for our family, with five kids including a baby and a mom who works part-time. Other families school much longer, or much less, or in vastly different ways, and that is fine. Again, this is what school looks like for us, at least for now.

Subjects we do together:

  • History – We covered the 20th century (Tapestry Year 4) by Easter, then started Ancient Times (Tapestry Year 1) again. We put the bookmarks in part way through the Trojan War and we’ll pick back up again in August. It’s SO fun to hit the ancient world again for the second time. It’s amazing how much Hannah and Jack remember. We will move through at our own pace–and will probably linger with the Greeks and Romans because they are awesome. I like not having to keep up with–or wait for–other people as we work through integrated subjects chronologically. We take a literature-based, living books, ideas and integration approach.
  • Literature – Our literature integrates with history, so has also been 20th century and then back to ancient times. The 20th century was a little rough, as I was trying to stay true to the issues and use living books, but also remain age-appropriate. There is so much excellent literature for children about the Greeks and Romans, so Year 1 is easier to navigate.
  • Science – To tie in to the lab class Jack was taking at co-op, we did Apologia Swimming Creatures this year, and learned many fascinating things about sea life. We then took on Nature Anatomy for more of a natural world angle), and recently started Apologia Chemistry and Physics (covering current interests for Hannah and Jack) after we finished Swimming Creatures. We read some good biographies about scientists, and also picked up Childcraft Mathemagic, which turned out to be a very fun read-aloud with math games (not technically science, but sort of related).
  • Geography – We study maps as they integrate with our history and literature study. We reviewed states and capitals, although I’m not a stickler for that given that I didn’t ever memorize them in school myself. I know, that’s not a good excuse. 🙂
  • Poetry/Memorization – We memorized lots of good poems together this year, with the latest–and by far the most dramatic–being The Destruction of Sennacherib. We render that one with tremendous emotion. 🙂  We also learned several chapters of Scripture and kept reviewing previous ones as part of our convocation time. We learned some new hymns to add to our rotation, and added catechism memory tied to our morning Biblestudy. 
  • Art – I mentioned dropping the ball on artist and composer study in second semester. The kids do a lot of art stuff on their own, which is great, and I’m past the point of feeling guilty for not being a craft mom. Still, we can strive to improve!
  • Vocabulary/Dictionary – Two or three times a week during table time (or, more realistically, during lunch) each kid looks up a word in the dictionary. Often they already know what it means because we discuss definitions when we come across an unfamiliar word in our reading, but it builds good skills to look things up.
  • Latin – I should do a post sometime on our Latin journey. Suffice it to say, we are now doing I Speak Latin together during table time, and enjoying it. It’s fun, and I intend for the kids to do Latin independently starting at age 10 (see Hannah’s section below) so fun is good for our group!

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Hannah – 4th Grade

Hannah has made great strides in handling her work independently. This semester she seemed to make a huge jump up across the board, such that I’m now sort of thinking of her as being in her middle schooling years (if you break the pre-college education into three parts, which is arbitrary).

  • Math – Having completed Saxon Math 6/5, Hannah is about a quarter of the way through Saxon Math 7/6. She is really being challenged by this book, which is great! I’m being very careful about checking all of her problem sets and having her re-do things she missed, so as not to skip important concepts.
  • Language Arts – Hannah finished First Language Lessons 4, which pretty much wraps up grammar and diagramming, at least for now. This quarter she started Writing With Skill, which builds on FLL and Writing With Ease. It seems like a great bridge between written narration and advanced composition. Although she continues to struggle with spelling (the woes of not being a natural speller!), Hannah did finish All About Spelling 4 and is in All About Spelling 5, with significant improvement over last year. She does copywork in cursive, and I sort of think she spells better in cursive since she has to think about it more as she’s forming the words.
  • Latin – In addition to the Latin we do together, Hannah started Visual Latin 1 and is doing great with the program. I investigated this at length, and am pleased with the overall scope of Dwayne Thomas’s approach. Visual Latin is structured as a high school Latin course, and can be graded and recorded thusly, but they also say you can start it as a 10 year old if you grade it a bit differently, and we have found that to be true. It’s sort of amazing to me that concepts that are stretched out over YEARS in various early start Latin programs are covered in a few short lessons in Visual Latin–and covered well, and actually retained. Lesson learned for Mama! It’s also a big relief to have most of the in-depth teaching for her level out of my court.
  • Typing – To facilitate faster writing and revision, Hannah started learning typing with some free online programs. We started with the BBC’s Dance Mat Typing, then moved on to Typing.com. Both work fine and get the job done.
  • Independent study – I’m assigning Hannah readings in history and literature each week, with the thinking and accountability questions/topics from Tapestry’s Dialectic (middle school) level. So far this is working fairly well, although I’m still trying to get a feel for how best to structure our discussions on what she has read. I’ve assigned her writing projects based on the independent reading but I’m still thinking that through.
  • Other – Hannah continues to take piano lessons, and she took Spanish, Indiana State History, and BizTown (economics/civics) at our co-op this year. We also tried out swim team this spring with great success, and intend to take that back up in the fall. Hannah reads like a maniac, taught herself to make soap, and enjoys making up imaginary worlds and inventing games to play with her friends and siblings.

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Jack – 3rd Grade

Jack is one of those people who, when he takes an interest, goes after it with full gusto. Whether it’s birds, physics, World War II, exactly how original sin works, or what-have-you, Jack is one to dig deep. But when he does not feel personal interest…he goes after it with…umm…double-plus-UN-gusto. This presents a challenge. I spend a lot of time trying to balance encouraging his interests with equipping him to do hard things even when he doesn’t want to apply himself. We want him to be a good steward of his potential, but don’t want to break him of his temperament, which is, after all, how God constructed his personality. Parenting only gets less and less simple, doesn’t it? But the rewards are many and so we press on!

  • Math – Jack finished Saxon Math 5/4 and proceeded to Saxon Math 6/5, which is not challenging him.  However, at this level I’m reluctant to skip things in case he misses something critical, so I let him do only every other problem and keep reminding him that once he puts in his time he can get to really cool things in math and physics and inventions. Although he’s able to do math easily, he still hates to write things down, so math is often a struggle.
  • Language Arts – About how Jack hates writing things down…we come to language arts. He finished First Language Lessons 3 and likes how grammar works but loathes putting actual whole words into the diagram he’s drawn. He is a decent speller and is neck and neck with Hannah in All About Spelling 5, but, again, abhors writing things down. So we figured out a lot of ways to do things out loud, which is time-intensive for his individual teaching time, but it gets the job done. I’ve read that a lot of boys resist writing even up to age 12. That is simultaneously encouraging and terrifying! 🙂 For some reason, cursive is easier for him than printing, which I think is because cursive feels more like drawing to him. And because he only has to do small chunks of copywork in cursive.
  • Other – My husband is teaching Jack guitar sporadically, and Jack likes messing around with the guitar he got for his birthday. He took Spanish, a science lab class, and PE at our co-op this year. Swim team was a hit, so he will do that again this fall. Other than that he likes reading, keeping notebooks of random things he learns (the one time he doesn’t mind writing things down), constructing models and inventions and giant pieces of art, building with Legos, and running around yelling and jumping off of things.

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Sarah – 1st Grade

Sarah is such a dedicated student, and is the sort of person who gets up early to get her independent work done without being reminded. I’m not sure how long this phase will last, but it has been lovely!

  • Math – On the last day of school, Sarah took the final test for Saxon 3 and completed the book. She catches on to new concepts quickly and didn’t have any trouble with this level.
  • Language Arts – Sarah finished First Language Lessons 2, and it was fine for basic grammar. I put her in Writing With Ease 2 this semester because I noticed she was not being as careful with narrations, and WWE does a great job of training the student to listen attentively and both narrate and summarize. Having worked through several books of cursive, I finally just started giving Sarah cursive copywork like I give the older kids. Being more of a natural speller, she’s about halfway through All About Spelling 4. I still had Sarah read out loud to me every day–just a chapter from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book–because reading out loud is a different skill than reading to yourself.
  • Other – Sarah takes piano lessons, and took art, Spanish, and PE in co-op this year. She also liked swim team, so will continue that this fall. She’s looking forward to playing soccer this fall in our church soccer program (one day per week–perfect). She likes to read, make pretty things from art supplies, play dress-up and dolls, and play with the baby. She also has a great Broadway singing voice, which she never consents to perform for anyone outside the family.

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Eliza – Pre-pre-pre-K and School Mascot

I did much better this year at getting preschool time in with Eliza. This is really simple–just reading from a children’s Bible, an Aesop fable, some Mother Goose, five or so picture books, and practicing saying ABCs and counting to 20. She sits in on everything else with us, so she also gets memory work and singing and read-alouds, either while sitting on my lap or doing lacing cards or playing with Legos or something. If anything, I’d like to read more to her, but for now having a dedicated 20-30 minutes just for her seems like a win.

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Margaret – Official Baby and Vice Mascot

Everyone reads to Margaret. She listens in on lessons while I hold her, or while sitting around on her toy mat. Sometimes, she naps. Other times, she yells. In short, she is a baby and we have acclimated to doing school with her in the mix.

AND NOW, LET THE WILD RUMPUS START! SUMMER VACATION IS ON FOR JULY!

 
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Read-aloud Hodge Podge – Feb 2016 edition

And now a hodge podge of longer read-alouds and chapter books I read to discuss with the kids. I’m trying to break these up into topical posts when I can, but these defied my organization for the past couple of months. However, not all odds-and-ends are rewarmed leftovers–these are a proper literary smorgasbord. Let us know if you enjoy them!

moorchildEloise McGraw’s The Moorchild is a fairy story (in the old fashioned sense of the word, not the Disney sort) that weaves in themes modern kids can relate to, such as being different, being made fun of, and not fitting in. This is a great book for discussion. It can be tough to figure out how to talk through scenarios with sensitive kids without them feeling defensive, and I often find that books help. This one gives lots of ways to talk about different strategies, what works and what doesn’t, and helps reassure kids that they are not the only person who has ever felt left out or different. Plus, it’s a great story!

 

Book-BigWoodsOf course everyone has read Little House in the Big Woods, but Sarah, our first grader, just finished reading it for her out loud reading practice with me (I have the kids read aloud to me for a while after they are independent readers so that I can catch any errors in pronunciation and to help them read with good expression).  It was so fun to have little discussions with her along the way, and to see how her ability to read smoothly and expressively improved over the course of the book.  The Laura Ingalls series was one of my favorites growing up, and it’s a delight to share them with my own kids!

 

homeless birdHomeless Bird is a fascinating story about a 13 year old widowed girl in India who finds a way to happiness in spite of many hardships and extremely limiting social conventions. I thought the author did a good job of presenting the reality of a different culture calmly, but without glossing over what makes it terrible for young girls in the protagonist’s position.  The author also handled the ending well–without too much Western sensibility but also without fatalism or outright rejection of the culture.  Note that there are a couple of oblique references to dangerous situations you might want to be prepared to discuss with younger readers, although those might go over their heads.

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My Side of the Mountain is one of my all-time favorite children’s books. I have no idea how many times I read it when I was a kid, and it was really fun to be able to read it with the children. We chose this as an evening family read-aloud. Even though the older two kids had both read it on their own, it was still great to experience it together. The story–about a self-sufficient boy who leaves his home in New York City to live off the land in the Catskills–will appeal to any kid who loves adventure. It’s amazing that this sort of thing even seemed possible in the 1950s, when the book was written.  But I like the way the book shows how children can make good decisions and be responsible, and if you ever have to flee to the hills you’ll definitely want this book along as a reference for what to eat! Highly recommended for boys and girls of all ages!

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All-of-a-Kind Family is a FANTASTIC read-aloud about a big family from turn-of-the-century New York. Even Jack, who normally looks askance at books about gobs of girls, enjoyed the adventures of this family (and he was pleased at the surprise in the last chapter). The book doesn’t underplay the fact that poor immigrant families faced hardships, but focuses more on the family’s hard work, loyalty, and determination to maintain old traditions with new ways of life. Because the family is Jewish, we learned a lot about Jewish holidays and the kids really, really want to build a succah in the backyard.  Maybe when it gets warmer.  We are excited that this is only the first in a series of books, and we plan to read them all.

What was on your read-aloud list this month?

 

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