Fall 2017 Group Subjects

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In years past, we’ve done quite a bit of school with all three of the big kids together. When they were younger and not as independent, it made sense to do that. Now that they are all doing most of their work independently, we don’t have to have “The Reading” or “Table Time”–but we haven’t cut it entirely.

Since we do Convocation together first thing and I keep that streamlined, I moved most other together subjects to a loop system of sorts. On my clipboard I have other resources listed along with bubbles to fill in for how many times I want to cover that topic or book per week. Some things happen every day and some are just once a week. This seems to work well, because if we have days that get away from us or days when it takes longer to get through individual teaching/discussion times, it’s ok for these things to drop off the schedule. I can always make up the material later in the week, or in the following week. I feel a lot of freedom to do this, because of the volume of independent work also happening.

After teaching times are done, we regroup at the table or couch to do The Reading. It’s not hard to pull everyone in for this, because they all enjoy it. Here is what we cover:

Poetry – Both reading selections and reviewing poems previously memorized. I didn’t get around to identifying a new piece for this term, so we just cycle through what we’ve already learned. Each kid also has an assigned poet per term, but those are read independently.

Plutarch – We read sections from Plutarch’s Lives daily, slowly working through the book from start to finish. It’s probably going to take us years if not decades. That’s ok. The idea is to learn how to see civic behavior, leadership, and character in a more nuanced light. Perhaps because the kids have a strong background in these stories from previous years, we have not found this onerous and we aren’t using any study guides. I read a section that feels like a complete part of the narrative, then one child narrates.

Church History – Rather than the individual assignments from Trial & Triumph, I just read one-two chapters per week and we narrate. We’ve read this book before, but it bears repeating.

Indiana History – I have mixed feelings about state history. I guess it’s a good idea if you are born and raised and live in one place all of your life. I personally had state history while living in California. So if you want to know anything about the goldrush, conquistadors, Spanish missions, and the like, I’m…still probably not your person. I vaguely remember some of these things. And I haven’t lived in California since that brief 4th and 5th grade window. So, I’m not willing to devote very much time to state history. Still, we do live here, so I toss in a few readings from a history spine and some historical fiction set in our state. We also have a membership to the Indiana State Museum and its 12 satellite museums this year.

Extra Science

The big kids all have complete science coverage in their independent work, but we like science and happen to own several texts that we haven’t done yet, so we read from one or the other of those most days. The Way Things Work is pretty cool, but in future years I might assign that as an independent read when the AO selections feel too sparse. I’m becoming less and less enthused about Apologia books, so may wind up selling off our collection eventually. Meanwhile, we keep reading.

Shakespeare

We’re doing Richard III this term, going slowly. I meant to identify some monologues to memorize, but never got to it. Suggestions welcome. We’ll read the play, listen to it, and probably watch it. Hannah has some Richard III material for history this year, so it will be fun for her to have this background when she gets to Richard III as a historical figure.

Artist Study

We have one Durer print per week for picture study, and are reading a good biography. Some weeks we do an art activity that ties in, for example making “wood prints” by carving styrofoam and rolling paint on them to press on paper.

Composer Study

We started out with Telemann and Corelli, but didn’t find much to connect to in terms of reading. I prefer to have a biography going (like one of Opal Wheeler’s) at the same time. So we listen to various pieces throughout the week, but not in an organized fashion right now. The kids recently switched piano teachers, and the new lessons are much more geared to learning to play classic repertoire, so we do listen to pieces and composers the kids are learning.

Nature Study

Sadly, I am not getting this one done. We have sketchbooks and little watercolor sets and water brushes and very nice pencils, but have only done two sketches all term. I’m having a really hard time identifying a spot in the schedule for this. My friend Heather is teaching nature study classes this fall, and I so wish I had signed us up! Maybe next time!

Dictation

We do dictation on Fridays, based on the catechism answer we’ve been studying all week.

Habit Discussion

We started off strong with these, but now it’s more ad hoc. Having a list on the clipboard does remind me to look for ways to work these things into the day, though.

Penmanship

Daily cursive practice is new. We were getting sloppy. I’m using Cursive Logic, which is a great system if you have kids who already know how to write in cursive, but who aren’t forming letters precisely or need some extra help to strengthen their penmanship.

This looks like a lot, but since we loop most of it, it doesn’t take long. If we finish early, we have time to fit in some extra chapters from our family read-aloud. I do miss the days when we did most of our school work as read-alouds together, but it’s nice to still have a few things we read together.

If you have multiple children in your homeschool, what subjects do you combine, if any? Do you loop any subjects or do everything every day?

 

Disclosure: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.

Jack’s 5th Grade

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Jack does just about everything full-throttle, so educating him is a bit of a wild ride. He’s either fiercely interested–discussing things at a wildly high level and wrangling ideas like untamed wildebeests–or he’s fiercely bored and dragging his feet and his pencil and having to learn the hard way to love what must be done.

Welcome to fifth grade at our house this fall.

IMG_6989Jack is doing a modified version of Ambleside Online Year 5. My modifications were adding several additional science books and biographies, and picking up the pace on a couple of other readings. I wanted to give him a little more challenge while also giving him space to get better at following through on assignments.

Like Hannah and Sarah, Jack has a weekly clipboard that lists his daily work, work done together with everyone else, and co-op classes (on the right) and the categories from which he chooses one assignment per day (on the left).

We have a daily hour or so in which we discuss his readings, written work, Latin assignment, and math. He narrates (tells back, in detail and sequence) every reading except for free reads, and he does one written narration per day. Each week he has to put on revised piece of writing into his history notebook and his literature notebook, and he writes all of his science experiments and observations in a separate science notebook. Jack’s readings are below, with links for books I added or have already reviewed separately.

History & Geography (all narrated*)

  • This Country of Ours
  • The Story of Mankind
  • The Complete Book of Marvels (Halliburton)
  • Geography (Van Loon)
  • What the World Eats
  • Abraham Lincoln’s World
  • Story of the World, Volume 4

Historical Biography (all narrated*)

  • A Passion for the Impossible (Lilias Trotter)
  • Always Inventing (Alexander Graham Bell)
  • Carry a Big Stick (Teddy Roosevelt)
  • Michael Faraday: Father of Electronics
  • Something Out of Nothing (Marie Curie)
  • George Washington Carver

Literature & Historical Fiction (all narrated*)

IMG_6991Poetry

  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • John Greenleaf Whittier
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar

Science (all narrated* and all experiments written up)

Free Reading (not narrated, but required reading)

  • Black Horses for the King
  • Little Women
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Captains Courageous
  • Puck of Pook’s Hill
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The Prince and the Pauper
  • Treasure Island
  • Lad: A Dog
  • The Treasure Seekers
  • The Wouldbegoods
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • The Long Winter
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
  • Hans Brinker
  • Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (this is re-re-re-re-read, but really, it’s so good)
  • Rifles for Watie
  • Across Five Aprils
  • Rilla of Ingleside
  • Falcons of France
  • Goodbye Mr. Chips
  • The Story of My Life
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • The Rescuers
  • The Cricket in Times Square
  • Homer Price
  • The Great Brain
  • King Arthur (Lanier version)
  • Moccasin Trail
  • Sacajawea (Bruchac version)

Bible

  • 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles
  • Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Language

Math

  • Learn Math Fast
  • I’m still unsure where to place Jack this year, because he basically finished Saxon 7/6 and tested as ready forArt of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra, but he has a LOT of conceptual holes so I know AoPS would frustrate him. So, for now, we are focusing on Learn Math Fast through pre-algebra, in hopes that the conceptual review framework will help prepare him. And then maybe next semester–or even next year–we will dive in to AoPS.

Co-op (classes meet once a week)

  • Engineering
  • Handicrafts
  • Junior Achievement BizTown (economics)

Other (subjects we do together with the other kids, more in a separate post)

  • More science (The Way Things WorkApologia Chemistry and Physics)
  • Church history (Trial & Triumph)
  • Citizenship (Plutarch’s Lives)
  • Indiana state history (various historical fiction, biographies, history spine)
  • Literature (Shakespeare play per term–Richard III this fall, daily poetry, poetry memorization, family read-alouds)
  • Artist study (Durer, this term)
  • Composer study (we were doing Telemann and Corelli, but may switch to Kabalevsky)
  • Nature study (using John Muir Laws guide)
  • Piano lessons

And that’s fifth grade for Jack. Kind of intense some days, but often truly amazing. It’s the sort of person he is!

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Sarah’s Third Grade

DSC_0147The biggest shift for Sarah this year is in her doing almost all of her readings independently. Since she is the most independent of all of the kids (so far) that was not a huge leap for her, and she is handling third grade with aplomb.

I started with Ambleside Online Year 3, adding a couple of things and deleting others. Primarily, she’s covering the 1400s-1600s in history.

As with the other big kids, Sarah has a weekly checklist to remind her of her daily work (copywork, a written narration, math assignment, typing, French, piano, chores, etc) and she can choose one assignment per category from the list on the left-hand side of her checklist.

In our daily one-on-one time, we talk over her readings (Sarah gives detailed and interesting narrations, so even if I wasn’t pre-reading–which I am–I would know what was going on in all of her books to the letter!), do math lessons, and correct her written work.

IMG_6985Here are her books for the school year (books linked are things I added to AO or have already reviewed separately):

History & Geography (all narrated*)

  • This Country of Ours
  • A Child’s History of the World
  • Our Island Story
  • Explorations
  • New Nations
  • The Discovery of New Worlds
  • The Awakening of Europe

Historical Biography (all narrated*)

  • Michaelangelo
  • Marco Polo
  • Bard of Avon
  • Good Queen Bess
  • Landing of the Pilgrims
  • Squanto
  • Unknown to History: the Captivity of Mary of Scotland

Literature & Historical Fiction (all narrated*)

  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • Children of the New Forest
  • The Jungle Book (books 1 and 2)
  • American Tall Tales
  • Tales from Shakespeare
  • The Heroes
  • *I would like to find a good retelling of Spencer’s Faerie Queene, but Amazon does not currently oblige.*

IMG_6986Poetry

  • William Blake, selections
  • Sara Teasdale, selections
  • Hilda Conkling, selections
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, selections

Science (all narrated* and all experiments written up)

  • Pagoo (sea life)
  • Science Lab in a Supermarket
  • A Drop of Water
  • Secrets of the Woods

Free Reading (not narrated, but required reading)

Bible

  • Luke, John
  • Exodus, Leviticus
  • Psalms

Language

  • French – Duolingo
  • English – daily writing assignments and spelling, incidental grammar as it comes up, weekly dictation

IMG_6987Math

Co-op (classes meet once a week)

Other (subjects we do together with the other kids, more in a separate post)

  • More science (The Way Things WorkApologia Chemistry and Physics)
  • Church history (Trial & Triumph)
  • Citizenship (Plutarch’s Lives)
  • Indiana state history (various historical fiction, biographies, history spine)
  • Literature (Shakespeare play per term–Richard III this fall, daily poetry, poetry memorization, family read-alouds)
  • Artist study (Durer, this term)
  • Composer study (we were doing Telemann and Corelli, but may switch to Kabalevsky)
  • Nature study (using John Muir Laws guide)
  • Piano lessons

And that’s Sarah’s third grade so far!

Note: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, but links to other websites are not affiliated. For more details on the AO booklist, please check the AO website

 

In which we tackle middle school

DSC_0114Long ago, my aunt commented that I might want to use “homeschool” as a blog category rather than “preschool” because someday the children would get older. At the time, it felt like our older three kids were babies and toddlers and preschoolers for approximately 47 years. And then it seemed the younger two were only babies for around three seconds each.

Skewed time perception. It happens to the best of us (cue Simon & Garfunkel song).

Meanwhile, Hannah hit middle school like a Mack truck.

You’re thinking, “Like a Mack truck? Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?” I’m thinking, “Both.”

FullSizeRenderIn many ways, this year is a jump for Hannah, not so much because we switched curriculum (although we did) but because I moved her up into a pretty challenging level of readings. She’s ready for it, and thriving, and I’ve been really pleased overall. Every week she has a checklist so she can do most of her work independently. She chooses one assigned reading from each category on the left, and then is also responsible for what’s on the right (which is a combination of independent work, things she does with me, and things we do together with the other kids).

Every day Hannah and I have a designated hour or so when we discuss her readings, I correct her writing, and we do math and Latin. Here is what she’s up to for school. (Note: We are using Ambleside Online Year 7 with some modifications. I didn’t do Amazon links for the AO books unless I’ve already reviewed them separately.)

History & Geography (all narrated*)

  • The Birth of Britain, by Winston Churchill
  • Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on Alfred the Great
  • Battle of Hastings, by William of Malmesbury
  • The Magna Carta
  • New Nations
  • The Brendan Voyage
  • How the Heather Looks

Historical Biography (all narrated*)

  • The Life of King Alfred, by Bishop Asser
  • Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain
  • A Heroine of France

Art History (all narrated*)

  • The Story of Painting

Literature & Historical Fiction (all narrated*)

  • Ivanhoe
  • Beowulf
  • The History of English Literature
  • The Age of Chivalry
  • A Taste of Chaucer
  • In Freedom’s Cause
  • History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea
  • The Daughter of Time
  • The Once and Future King

Poetry

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson (selections)
  • John Keats (selections)
  • The Idylls of the King
  • The Grammar of Poetry

Government/Economics/Citizenship/Logic (all narrated*)

  • Whatever Happened to Penny Candy
  • Ourselves
  • How to Read a Book
  • The Fallacy Detective

Science (all narrated* and all experiments written up)

  • The Elements
  • The Mystery of the Periodic Table
  • The Sea Around Us
  • Eric Sloane’s Weather Book
  • First Studies of Plant Life
  • Adventures With a Microscope
  • Signs and Seasons
  • Great Astronomers
  • Lay of the Land

IMG_6973Free Reading (not narrated, but required reading)

Bible

Language

Math

Co-op (classes meet once a week)

  • Engineering
  • Literary analysis
  • Machine sewing

Other (subjects we do together with the other kids, more in a separate post)

  • More science (The Way Things Work, Apologia Chemistry and Physics)
  • Church history (Trial & Triumph)
  • Citizenship (Plutarch’s Lives)
  • Indiana state history (various historical fiction, biographies, history spine)
  • Literature (Shakespeare play per term–Richard III this fall, daily poetry, poetry memorization, family read-alouds)
  • Artist study (Durer, this term)
  • Composer study (we were doing Telemann and Corelli, but may switch to Kabalevsky)
  • Nature study (using John Muir Laws guide)
  • Piano lessons

Notes on how we do this:

  • If you wonder about the weekly checklist, I break Hannah’s readings up into categories, and she has to read one selection from each category each day–an amazing idea I took from Kathy Livingston. From those readings, she chooses one per day to write a written narration (composition) about, and has to be prepared to narrate (tell back in detail and sequence what happened in the reading and be prepared to discuss issues and themes) each of the others. Once a week, she has to put at least one second draft piece of writing into each of her serious keep-this-forever notebooks: history, literature, and science.
  • Not all books are assigned each term.
  • Yes, I’m pre-reading all of this. Mostly so I can be prepared for daily discussions, but also for my own edification and/or nostalgia!

And that’s Hannah’s sixth grade so far!

Note: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, but links to other websites are not affiliated. For more details on the AO booklist, please check the AO website

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.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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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Smarter Faster Better

smatter faster better-500x500Smarter Faster Better looks at productivity and how really effective people actually achieve more. The author looks beyond the busy churn to identify powerful habits for being effective, regardless of your sphere of life.

Duhigg makes an important distinction between looking productive and actually being productive.  He writes:

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self marketing.

And there’s so much of modern online life in a nutshell, hm?

So we have to be sure that we aren’t using our To Do list as “mood repair” but rather that we are doing the right things in the first place.

How do we do this? Duhigg identifies several important habits for being truly productive:

  • Paying attention. Duhigg suggests managing your focus and attention by narrating your life as you go. Can he have been reading Charlotte Mason, or is that just a coincidence? 🙂
  • Self-motivation. People who realize that they have agency and can make choices are more effective than people who let life happen to them.
  • Wisely allocating energy. Effectiveness isn’t about doing something with every second of every day. It’s about doing the right things at the right time with the right energy.
  • Performing scenario analysis. In my pre-kids job, I did a lot of this sort of exercise: given what we know, what might happen in the future? Considering a worst case, best case, and middle ground possibility helps people make better choices and be more mindful of subtle changes to the status quo. Rather than making the false binary choices that our brains naturally like (you can have this OR this), envisioning alternate outcomes allows you to see situations more clearly.

I thought this book was helpful and a good reminder, although it used examples and conclusions that I have–for the most part–read elsewhere. It’s good to read information from different angles. So I’d recommend Smarter Faster Better if you like the habits/goals/life purpose genre, although I wouldn’t say it was life-changing on its own.

If you read the book–or if you have thoughts on productivity outside Duhigg’s examples–I’d be interested to know which habits you think characterize truly effective people?

 

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Consider This

Consider ThisOne problem with modern life is the difficulty we have with defining our terms.  Some words become labels, and yet can mean vastly different things to different people.  When people hear you’re a Christian, maybe they think you handle snakes. Or that you are a die-hard Republican who hates women and likes to judge people for fun.  Or that you are a vaguely moral person who may be a hypocrite.  And that’s not what you mean at all.

The same thing happens in the homeschooling community, and it has an unfortunate side effect of tripping people up.  Labeling something as “classical” or “Charlotte Mason” can mean very different things.  In my experience this has often resulted in expensive curriculum and co-op mistakes that don’t fit with my educational philosophy.

That’s why I think it’s really important to read carefully and define your own philosophy and standards.  Then, when an opportunity comes along, you can evaluate it in light of what YOU mean by popular terms, rather than what anyone else says.

Karen Glass’s book Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition is helpful in this regard. The book challenges readers to explore the ways that the classical tradition has changed over time, and how in fact many currently espoused “classical” education techniques and programs are actually grounded in modern invention. But not to knock the classical idea, Glass also gently takes CM fans to task for divorcing Mason’s educational philosophy from the classical tradition in which it is rooted.  Ultimately, Glass upholds what Mason actually did, which was consider what was good and working out of the classical mold, and change what was not to fit the ideals–which ARE classical ideals–of pursuing truth, beauty, ideas and synthetic thinking.

A particular strength of the book is Glass’s articulation of the difference between synthetic thinking–“an approach to knowledge that places things together, comprehending the relationship of new knowledge to old knowledge, one discipline to another, and man to all things”–and the purely analytical approach which artificially separates facts from ideas, and disconnects subjects from the whole.  Modern education–including, unfortunately, many neoclassical approaches–vaunts analytical thinking at the expense of the integrated, holistic continuing story of synthetic thinking.  Glass points out that analytical thinking has its place, but that before we can take things apart, we need to understand how they fit together.

This had me shouting Amen at every turn, as it matches up with my own educational goals and with the reasons that I choose curriculum like Tapestry and use lots of Susan Wise Bauer’s materials–even though die-hard CM’ers often dismiss both resources as classical-not-Charlotte-Mason.  I think the focus on synthetic thought and THEN analysis lends itself well to CM ideals and methods, even in materials that aren’t explicitly CM.  And likewise I have found that many people who claim Charlotte Mason’s philosophy overlook the synthetic strengths of certain classical ideas.

Can’t we all just get along?!!

Of course not.  🙂  What works for me won’t work for everyone.  But if you are interested in educational philosophy, and especially if you’re homeschooling, I’d recommend reading books like Consider This to help clarify your thinking–whether you self-identify as classical, Charlotte Mason, or neither.  Of course, read them with a critical eye, and sort them out for yourself, but I think it’s good to keep thinking through and refining your positions as you go.

 

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2014’s Third Quarter in Books

This quarter I had an uptick in work, which resulted in a downtick in reading, to my chagrin.  However, I did still read 27 books in July, August, and September, and also read 20 long/chapter books (of around 100 pages or more, not picture books) aloud to or with the kids.  I broke the titles down into categories of Fiction, Life Management/Creative Work, Communication/Relationships, Parenting/Education, History, Memoir, and Faith.  The links below are to my longer reviews, starred titles were my absolute favorites.

Fiction

  • The Night Circus – An incredible fairy tale set in a Victorian circus that begs to be read on a rainy day, The Night Circus was excellent in audiobook version, and I might skim the print version too.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones – A Flavia DeLuce mystery.  Enough said.
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Another Flavia DeLuce mystery. Really, if you haven’t read these, do.  Impeccable plotting, fantastic characterization, funny and smart writing…the entire series is excellent.
  • Children of the Jacaranda Tree – The author used a dissonant writing and narrative style to convey the dissonance of Iranian post-Revolution culture, but those aspects of the book wound up detracting from the story significantly.  Mostly I felt the book suffered from lack of setting and descriptive voice.  Read A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea instead.

Life Management/Creative Work

  • What Should I Do With My Life? People who are perpetual reinventers and tryers-of-new-things will like this book.  People who never ask themselves the title’s question should skip it.
  • Manage Your Day to Day – If you’re a creative and/or flex-worker you should read this book.  I’ve especially benefitted from the advice on how to be the boss of your technology (sorry Facebook, it had to end sometime).
  • *Essentialism* – This exceptional book is not about maximizing your life in 15 minute increments, but more about how to untangle confusion, busy-ness, and triviality to get at what’s most important to you, and then how to protect your time and focus so you can really give your best efforts to those priorities.  The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
  • The Accidental Creative – Normal time management advice doesn’t always work for creative workers.  This book explains why and gives tips for how to work around that.  I felt affirmed in that I already do many of these things, but also got some new tips.
  • Die Empty – By the same author as The Accidental Creative, this book covers how to be more focused and gives some really helpful advice on curating your information flow.  Curating is a modern requirement I find very interesting, and this book helped me realize that I do have a choice about it.
Communication/Relationships
  • The Art of Small Talk – A light but helpful book about small talk and how to use it, I found this one particularly helpful for business contexts and have been using tips about meetings all summer.
  • Difficult Conversations – This very helpful book not only walks you through how to handle difficult conversations on big and important topics, but also helps you to reframe hard topics for yourself, even if you never have the touchy discussion with someone else.
  • *Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* – If you’re engaged or a newlywed, put this book back for a couple of years.  If you’ve been married for 5 years or more, read it.  The book is written by a researcher who studies marriages and relationships, and so the findings are based on real data, profoundly interesting, and very hopeful.  I have given this book a lot of thought after reading it, and highly recommend it.  (Note: it’s a secular book, not at all from a Christian perspective, and yet you’ll find that the conclusions are very much in line with Biblical direction on relationships and relating to other people. Fascinating.)

Parenting/Education

  • The Artful Parent – A helpful book that expands the definition of the artsy parent so you can feel better about not being someone who allows glitter in your environment, and which also contains interesting art projects to try and advice on good materials.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – This amazingly helpful primer on drawing will change how you look at things, even if you don’t take the time to try the exercises.  It also seems that the book would be profoundly helpful in teaching children to draw.
  • Real Learning – Without a doubt this book is the most helpful resource on artist study and composer study I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Charlotte Mason fan or homeschooler, this book will be helpful for you.

History

  • Fever – Although it’s a historical novel, this book illuminates an interesting historical figure and period of change in medical history.
  • The Great Influenza – Although it’s too long, this history of the flu of 1918 is fascinating really illuminated my understanding of geopolitical events surrounding World War I.
  • The Professor and the Madman – An oddly compelling history of the Oxford English Dictionary, with wild stories and the sort of excellent vocabulary asides you’d expect in a book about the OED.
  • Tallgrass – Another historical fiction book that wound up in the history section rather than fiction, Tallgrass have me unique insight into the Japanese interment camp facet of World War II, plus showed me how the experiences of the Dust Bowl and World War I, which I’ve also read about this year, influences people’s perceptions of the home front in World War II.  Not notable fiction, but notable history.
  • The Long Shadow – This wide-ranging book covers the lead up to World War I, an analysis of popular views on the war itself, and then a discussion of the lingering impact World War I had on political, cultural, and social developments up to the present.  Really fascinating and illuminating.
  • The Big Fat Surprise – Fat is not the enemy.  If you really need to be convinced that fat is not bad for you, especially if you need very detailed discussion about just about every study and research project related to nutritional topics, this book may be for you.  It’s interesting as a history of nutritional science (and I use that phrase optimistically).  Otherwise, read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat instead.
  • Eiffel’s Tower – This interesting history of the making of the Eiffel Tower, the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and the fascinating historical figures who converged there is well worth a read.
Memoir
  • Stitches – I don’t usually like graphic novels, but this one was very thought-provoking and the format fit the subject matter quite well.
  • *How the Heather Looks* – Probably my most favorite book of the year so far, this is a travel memoir of a young family who toured England looking for the sites in all of their favorite books.  I adore that concept and just loved the descriptions and the author’s evident love for literature.  An utter delight for this Anglophile and bibliophile!

Faith

  • His Word in my Heart – If you need some inspiration for memorizing longer passages of Scripture, or even entire books of the Bible, this book is for you.  I got a lot out of this short book, although ultimately I realized that my memorizing style is different than the author’s (don’t feel tied to the index card thing).
  • The Family Worship Book – Although I got some helpful ideas from this book, A Neglected Grace is a far, far better resource both in terms of casing a vision for family worship and in providing practical helps.
  • Sabbath as Resistance – Not a complete reference on Sabbath-keeping, but written around a helpful and thoughtful exposition of the Israelites in Egypt, this book has made me mindful of ways that I keep the Sabbath in outward form, but am inwardly still “making bricks” on Sunday.  I wouldn’t say this is the only book you need to read on the topic, but it is a good one.

Long/Chapter Books Read Aloud to the Children (or read to discuss with the children)

What were your favorite books this quarter?

Sarah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Sarah is in Kindergarten this year!  In some ways she seems past this stage, in that she’s quite articulate and good at many things, but in other ways she’s still pint-sized, as evidenced by the fact that she went to church in a size 3T dress this Sunday and I didn’t notice anything amiss.

In addition to the subjects we cover with the other kids, Sarah’s individual school work includes:

Math

Last year Sarah got through half of Saxon 1, so this year I am pulling back in pace a bit and just having her do one page of the second half of Saxon 1.  At this pace, she will still be part way through Saxon 2 by the end of Kindergarten so I don’t see any reason to rush around.  Doing one page a day still helps her practice writing her numbers and gives her time to get really good at addition and subtraction facts.

Reading

Sarah is still convinced she can’t read, which is perplexing since she’s 139 lessons in to the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, and is reading even complicated phonemes like -aigh.  But because she can’t pick up any old chapter book and read it, like Hannah and Jack can, she thinks she can’t read.  Curiously, she also thinks she can’t ride her bicycle, although she actually can and has repeatedly done so in front of numerous witnesses.  So at any rate, in addition to her reading lesson, she also reads me a short book like a Bob book reader or one of Eliza’s board books, or something like that, because maybe if she reads an actual book daily, eventually it will sink in that she is in fact reading.  In spite of her assertion that she can’t read, Sarah still reports that reading is her favorite subject, so I guess that’s good.

Spelling

Sarah couldn’t understand why she didn’t have a spelling book like the others, so I went ahead and started her in All About Spelling 1.  I was not too surprised that she immediately grasped the concept of building words by sound, but I was surprised that she enjoyed it so much that she begs to be allowed to do more spelling every day. I actually have to cut her off after she does a week’s worth in about 10 minutes.  So although we’ve only completed five weeks of school, she’s already well over 2/3 of the way through the book and showing no signs of slowing down.  I figure at some point we will get to something that takes more effort and then we’ll slow down to a normal pace, but at this point she’s enjoying it so what the heck.

Grammar

I said I wouldn’t do it but I’m going through First Language Lessons 1 with Sarah again.  I was going to skip it, but she wouldn’t have it and I thought maybe we’d rehash level 1 another time for review before going to level 2.  It can’t hurt, right?

Handwriting

I just have Sarah doing copywork for handwriting.  Since she copies the same length passage that her older siblings do, and her spelling also includes dictation, I feel like that is sufficient.

How long does this take?

Truly, Sarah is the most diligent worker in the house.  She never complains about her work, but just cheerfully does her assignments.  It takes her about 10 minutes to do her copywork, and then about 30-40 minutes for Office Time (her one-on-one teaching time).  Usually she gets all of her work done with me.  Then the subjects we do with the other kids take one-and-a-half to two hours, so total she’s probably doing about two-and-a-half to three hours of school a day, not counting extra reading time and bedtime read-alouds.  That seems reasonable for her age.  Other than school work she does a lot of dressing up and playing make-believe games with her ponies and castle and dolls, and singing at the top of her lungs.

It’s interesting to think about the differences between Sarah’s Kindergarten year and Hannah’s.  In many ways, I’m doing way more with Sarah than I knew I could even attempt with Hannah, but in other ways, I’m way more laid back.  You learn things along the way I suppose.

 

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