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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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.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

A Simple Approach to the Educational Feast

There are lots of ways to homeschool, just like there are lots of ways to serve sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving.  My goal in education is to spread a great feast, but I well know that there are lots of different ways to do that, and to do it well.  In this post I’ll mention some ways that I lay out Tapestry of Grace (our history, literature, art, geography, etc curriculum) to maximize the depth and richness of a particular historical era while also keeping things simple and manageable.  Coming on the heels of our turkey dinner, I feel compelled to serve the metaphors on my best china.  You’ve been warned.  🙂

I’ve gotten a few comments from people who have the Tapestry of Grace digital edition and aren’t sure what to do with it.  As we’re using the DE for our third year, I have a few observations and tips that have worked for us, so I’ll pass them along here.

1. Get the big picture.

Each year of Tapestry is set up in 36 week plans, broken up into four units.  You’ll want to keep in mind a couple of things:

  • Tapestry is structured so that you can keep all of your kids in the same historical time period at all different levels.  If your oldest kids are in early elementary school, you can TOTALLY condense weeks.
  • If there aren’t many resources for your child’s level for a given week, you can always supplement with others–there’s nothing magical about the book lists in Tapestry. Most of them are great, and many families feel like what’s there is more than enough, but if you like to read a lot, you can always find more.
  • You can schedule your week however you want to based on the week plan.  You can do each subject every day, or you can cram all of literature into two days to make time for other subjects or commitments.

The first thing to do is to click on your Tapestry year and select your unit, then read the Unit Overview. This gives you a high level idea of what you’re covering, so you can see how it all fits together.  Tapestry links subjects by time period, so when you have a general sense of what was going on and what the key themes are, you can better teach and integrate subjects as you go.

Within each unit are the week plans.  I usually prep several weeks at once in advance, and would suggest starting with a whole unit if you’re new to it.  When you open a week plan (click “Curriculum” under that week and then “week plan”), have a Word document open or notebook out.  Read the Threads section to get a sense of what you’re covering that week, and maybe note major historical figures or ideas for each week.

2. Check the reading lists.

Next, you’ll want to check the reading lists.  The week plan is grouped by learning level (Lower Grammar: K-mid elementary, Upper Grammar: mid to upper elementary or independent readers who read for facts and ideas, Dialectic: upper elementary to middle school, and Rhetoric: high school) and then by subject.  I use my library website to search for the books online, placing them on hold or requesting them, and then do a library search by topic.  So, for example, if we’re learning about the War of 1812, I also do a search for that topic in the library’s children’s collection.  I often turn up worthwhile books that way.

A note on the books: some Tapestry books are really great literature, and some are pretty generic non-fiction.  I tend to buy the books that are used in multiple weeks or multiple years, or the books that look like really great literature we’d want to revisit.  Before I purchase a book new, I look to see if it’s free on Kindle (many older or classic books are), and also check sites like Better World Books and eBay for used copies.  I also make a quick list to carry around with me to used book stores and garage sales throughout the year.  This is another good reason to read your unit overviews–you’ll know what topics you’re looking for!  I also highly recommend investing in The Story of the World books or audio–Tapestry notes which chapters coincide with that week’s plan, and even if you just listen or read SOTW as an overview, it’s a great spine.  Also, I highly recommend buying anything on the lists by the D’Aulaires or David Macaulay.

You’ll find that the week plan includes both required and recommended texts for all levels and all subjects.  I usually try to get all of them if possible.  That way, we can dig deeper if we want to, the kids have extra things to read, and if we don’t like a particular selection, we can try something else.  I read the Lower Grammar choices aloud, and use some of the Upper Grammar choices as read-alouds too, particularly the literature selections.  I also assign the UG choices to my older kids for independent work, or just leave them lying around since my kids read like sponges.  Or like sponges would read, if sponges were literate.  So maybe I should have said, “read like sponges soak up water.”  Now the metaphor is well and truly done.  Ahem.

3. Pick out activities.

After the Reading Assignments section you’ll come to Weekly Overview.  This is sort of a checklist for the ideas and events your child should learn when you cover this information.  Take notes.  You might want to just print the page to help you at first.  Now I just jot a few things down.  This page also includes vocabulary words to cover or look up, activity overviews, and geography notes.  You decide how much of this to cover and when.

If you purchased the Map Aids add on (which I recommend) you can also download the age-appropriate map and teacher map for the week.  I always look at these, and decide if and how to use them.  For younger kids, it can be helpful to have one big map of the area you’re covering for a few weeks (Egypt, say) and color or point to main items every day (the Nile, the Nile Delta, the Mediterranean Sea, etc).  Then have the maps close by during read alouds so you can make observations (like why people would want to live close to the Nile versus in the desert, where Egypt was relative to the Red Sea or to Greece, etc.)  For us, geography helps the kids to get a sense of where events happen, and of terrain relative to places they have already studied.  You can decide how much or how little to require the kids to learn or memorize, and it’s worth taking time to think through your philosophy of geography (philosophy everywhere!).  I’m not kidding.

One resource I value highly in Tapestry is the activity recommendations.  I never think to do things like this on my own.  But when I see the week plan recommend making a cookie dough map to help learn topography, I make a note and we try it.  Likewise for things like making related crafts.  My learning style is to read, but kids love to do hands on projects, and it does enhance their learning to try their hand at weaving, or build a scale model of a pyramid, or practice pointillism with q-tips, or whatever.  In my notes, I list a few activity options for each week, so I can plan in advance.  The Loom section of the DE lists additional activities, detailed instructions, links related artists, and so forth.  It’s worth checking The Loom when you’re planning, even if you don’t wind up using many or any of the additional links.

Tapestry includes worksheets for literature selections, which I almost always skip.  At this point, I know how to get the kids to narrate, how to figure out if they are making connections, and so forth.  But if you’re just starting out, you might want to look the worksheets over to make sure your kid knows what’s covered or understands the skill involved.

Tapestry offers lap books.  I hesitate to say this, because I have dear friends who use lapbooks and I don’t want to offend them, but I HATE, LOATHE, DESPISE, AND ABHOR lapbooks.  To me, they are meaningless busywork and Mama winds up doing all the heavy lifting.  I do not recommend purchasing Tapestry’s lapbook add-on.  However, that said, I do think notebooks are a great idea.  I take a couple of pieces of construction paper, fold them in half, and staple the edges.  Then the child labels the pages and writes or draws what he or she remembers or finds interesting.  For a few Year One examples, we made books of what is interesting about the Nile and one on how each plague corresponded to things about Egyptian culture.  Yes, that’s a lot like what a lapbook would be, but instead of providing a bunch of pre-made pieces to stick in a lapbook, the notebook allows the child to direct what subjects are mentioned or covered, and at what depth.

Other lapbook alternatives include finding interesting coloring pages online for really young kids (we found some cool ones of medieval subjects for Year Two), and typing out the child’s narration on a topic then letting him illustrate it.  In the past I’ve tried to do narrations at the end of units or terms, but I find it’s more helpful to do them week by week.  It’s simple: “Tell me what you know about Napoleon” or “What have you learned about ziggurats?” and then type what the child says.  It’s pretty stream-of-consciousness, but always interesting to find out what caught their interest or what conclusions they draw between subjects.  This is also a handy way of measuring progress without having to create tests.  You can easily tell after some narrations if the child has a good grasp on material or if they have missed the point entirely.

4. Read the Teacher’s Notes (maybe).

Each week plan also includes detailed teacher’s notes for the covered time periods and literature selections.  If you have older kids, you’d probably need this more–there are great helps for how to discuss ideas and books with dialectic and rhetoric levels.  For grammar kids, you might skim the teacher’s notes if you aren’t very familiar with the topics covered that week.  For example, I read the teacher’s notes on the Indus River Valley civilizations more closely than for the War of 1812.  You can try reading them for a few weeks and see if it helps you.

Another reference to consider is Susan Wise Bauer’s series on history for adults.  Reading those books (for example, The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome goes with Tapestry Year One) in advance of studying the covered time periods was really helpful for me–both as a refresher and also because most of us didn’t study history in a global and integrated context and these books help you link your existing knowledge.

5. Arrange your week.

I used to try to fit Tapestry reading selections into daily page allotments, which I mapped out on detailed spreadsheets.  Friends, that is over-planning.  It is too time-consuming, don’t do it to yourself.  Instead, before starting to actually teach a given week, check the notes you took while prepping.  Put together your stack of books.  Put a sticky note on the front of books that aren’t assigned in entirety (like “read chapters 4-9 for week 7”).  Note which days look most likely for projects, or if you need to do a little bit of work on a project each day.

Because we love to read (and I doubt you would have selected Tapestry if you didn’t like to read–though I suppose aspirational literature-based education could be a thing), we do The Reading every day.  And we refer to it with capitalization like that, because it’s Very Important.  🙂  During The Reading, we go through our Tapestry stack, reading a chapter or a few pages, or reading an entire book if it’s short and engaging.  In this manner, we easily get through the assigned and alternate selections, or whatever else I found through the library.  The Reading also includes our poetry, Aesop, Mother Goose, and science reading, plus biographies of the artist and composer we’re studying.  I say that to let you know that it’s not daunting to get through a Tapestry reading list in a week without resorting to page assignments.  You can exercise some freedom here, and read less if you have a headache or more if you really like something.  You can’t take longer than a week to read a really detailed book, or jump into the next week’s reading if the books were short and fast.  Which leads me to the next point…

6. Stay flexible.

When we used Year One, my oldest was in first grade.  We condensed a lot of weeks (doing reading for several weeks in one week of actual time) at the beginning, because there weren’t a lot of grammar resources for the ancient world prior to Greece (with the obvious exception of Egypt).  Note to would-be kids historical fiction writers–the ancient world is wide open for you!  But then we spent MONTHS on Greece and Rome.  We read way, way more than the Tapestry plans.  Don’t be afraid to stretch a week plan out or condense it as fits your stage of life, your energy level, or your resources.  When you’ve done your prep work, you can be flexible without worrying about getting behind.

7. Enjoy it!

This sounds like a lot.  I know.  I’m looking at my word count and it’s way over 2200 words for this post.  But in actual practice this is a really fast process.  I spend 15-30 minutes per week plan when I prep, including searching multiple avenues for books.  It took me longer when I first started using Tapestry, but you do get the hang of it. Tapestry is so flexible and open-ended, and such a great resource for integrating subjects and ideas–have fun with it!

If you’re just starting out with Tapestry, or are considering it but aren’t sure how it will work, I hope this helps.  Feel free to send me questions–I’m not an expert, but have picked up a few things along the way so far!

 

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.  I’m not sure of the status of the Tapestry of Grace affiliate program–I signed up for it long ago, but it’s not clear to me if TOG is still doing affiliate credit.  At any rate, if you do sign up for Tapestry based on my reviews, please feel free to list me as your referrer (chgillespie {{at} gmail [dot}] com).  Thanks!

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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Jack’s School Work, Fall 2014

This is Jack shortly after we picked up his new cello. The boy has been asking to take cello lessons since he was three, so we finally gave in.  He’s really psyched and we’re hopeful that his enthusiasm will translate into happy practicing!

Jack is in second grade this year and is very smart and capable, but we are having to do some heavy lifting on attitude and diligence.  From what I’ve read, this is a common issue with seven-year-old boys and I am researching like mad on the topic.  Book recommendations welcome!  In spite of that, it’s often really a joy to teach Jack, because his mind is so incredibly interesting.  He asks wildly insightful questions and sees connections in unusual ways that keep me entertained and on my toes.  In addition to the subjects we do together with the other kids, here is the run down on Jack’s individual work:

Math

Jack is kind of a ninja at math when he is in the mood, so he is having no trouble in Saxon 3. However, he does have trouble understanding why he should show his work when he can easily do it in  his head or out loud, so sometimes there is a battle over completing the three page lesson each day  (one page teaching, one page practice, one page of math facts). I remember Hannah having this problem too and she turned the corner eventually, so I’m hopeful Jack will too.

Latin

Since I’m tackling Latin as an individual subject this year, Jack is going it alone in Prima Latina and having no trouble at all.  We’re just doing one chapter per week and he’s heard all of the vocabulary in years past, so the only new thing is that he’s having to write answers down this year, but that’s no problem.  He’s getting 100% on end-of-week tests and likes to sing the prayers as songs (which they sort of are–one is essentially Holy, Holy, Holy in Latin, and another is the Gloria Patri, etc).

Cursive

Having asked to learn cursive last year, Jack is doing New American Cursive II this year.  Some of the gleam has worn off now that he knows how the letters go, but practice makes perfect.

Spelling

Unlike his older sister, Jack is an intuitive speller, so All About Spelling 3 is helping him understand the rules behind how we spell and it’s not hard for him.  The only stumbling block here is the dictation–to reinforce the spelling rules the book has the teacher read a sentence containing words from that rule and then the student writes it down.  The method is good, but Jack balks at having so much writing.  To finish the week he has to do three sentences per day, which isn’t really that much, but sometimes there is foot dragging.  When he is focused, though, spelling is a cinch.  I’m hoping the kinks work themselves out as we go along.  Meanwhile, I work on being calm and cheerful. 🙂

Language Arts

For grammar and writing we’re using First Language Lessons 3 and Writing With Ease 3.  Jack loves these and he really, really likes diagramming.  Boy after my own heart.

Reading

I still have Jack practice reading out loud most days.  He reads well, but it’s good to practice inflection and he has a tendency to skim over words when he’s not sure how they are pronounced.  He is reading The Fellowship of the Ring (having really enjoyed The Hobbit this summer when we read it aloud–he likes fantasy/adventure) and also some books about heroes of the Wild West and various other chapter books he picks up around the house or from the library stack.  He doesn’t read as much as Hannah does, but he enjoys reading and is keen to get in on book clubbing with me whenever we get to it.

How long does this take?

For Jack, this question is so variable!  He spends about 15-20 minutes on cursive and copywork at the table with the girls, then on a good day he can get his Office Time (one-on-one teaching time with me) done in about 30 minutes.  On a bad day his Office Time can take over an hour.  Then he spends maybe another half an hour on the assignments I give him in Office Time unless he gets distracted and starts playing Legos or building forts, in which case he might still be doing assignments in the afternoon when he would rather be outside playing.  Added together with the subjects we do together with the girls, which takes about one-and-a-half to two hours, I’d say Jack spends between three and five hours on school work per day, not including his personal reading time or our evening read-aloud time.

I don’t mean to overstate the difficulties of school here, Jack is really a very pleasant and happy boy generally speaking, and I do enjoy teaching him.  I think our struggles are mostly related to his developmental stage and I trust we will see improvement sooner or later!

 

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Hannah’s School Work, Fall 2014

Hannah is in third grade this year and seems to have really turned a corner with school work. She’s always been a good student, but this year she’s much more able to handle her workload without dilly-dallying or complaining about how much writing she has to do.  I have told her several times already what a complete joy it is to have Office Time with her–that’s our individual instruction time–this year.  In addition to the subjects we cover together with the other kids, this is what Hannah’s individual work looks like:

Math

After a brief review, we launched into Saxon 5/4. This is the first Saxon level that is a textbook rather than a consumable style, so I think a big step is that Hannah is writing out all of her problem sets in a notebook rather than just putting in the answers.  She’s learning lessons in neatness and checking her work, which is important for later math levels so good to learn it now!  I’m surprised to note that 5/4 spirals more slowly than the end of Saxon 3 did, but it’s an easy win for Hannah since we labored over intense long division this summer so going back to easier review is a relief for us both. I wasn’t sure about this progression–it seemed strange to put her directly in 5/4 as a third grader–but now I’m much more confident that it was the right decision.  There is an option to take a segue from Saxon 3 to a few intermediate levels, but I am glad we didn’t bother with that.

Latin

We’re doing a big review of Prima Latina, mostly for spelling purposes (if there was an award for spending the most possible time in one Latin book, our family would probably win it for our multi-year journey through this one!) and then we’ll move into Latina Christiana at long last.  I’m finding that it works much better for me to tackle Latin individually with each child rather than attempting it as a group subject.

Spelling

Spelling has long been a thorn in Hannah’s side, and I’ve tried so many programs with such limited success.  Usually, she’d get a perfect score on a weekly spelling test and then promptly spell the same words incorrectly in her other writing.  This year, I pulled her back into All About Spelling 2, in hopes of helping her to understand the rules behind spelling since that curriculum worked so well with Jack last year.  Then the heavens parted and an angelic chorus sang “AAAAAHHHHHleluia” because oh my word she is finally getting it!  For some reason this fall spelling is clicking for Hannah.  I think she’s just at an age where she ADORES things that are mysteries or puzzles and AAS is helping her see the rules and reasons behind spelling correctly.  She’s taking the lessons at a rate of 2-3 per week (rather than 1 per week as you’d do normally) so I think she will be on track by the end of this term.  What a relief for us both.

Handwriting

I have Hannah doing her copywork in cursive every day, and also using Copybook Cursive from Memoria Press for additional practice.  It’s sort of overkill, but we have the book on hand.

Language Arts

After much research, I got Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts set and started it with Hannah.  We ADORE this method.  The books integrate grammar, word roots, poetry analysis, and writing in an idea- and story-based way that really makes sense and emphasizes beauty and understanding at a deep level.  I got Level 1, which is used for gifted 3rd graders or 4th graders.  At first I wondered why, because I think at some level Hannah could have done this stuff in 1st grade, but I’m glad I waited because I think her 3rd grade love of figuring out how things work and seeing patterns is helping make this a breeze.  She’s finished Grammar Island and almost half of Building Language and Language of the Hemispheres already, and is doing a sentence analysis from Practice Island every day.  These books dovetail nicely with First Language Lessons, so she is finishing up some of the last diagramming lessons from FLL 3 and will move into FLL 4 as soon as we receive our copy.  I won’t lie–this is a lot of language arts.  But Hannah really enjoys it, so I don’t mind that she spends several hours a day on it.  In fact, on days when we’ve been rushed and I’ve tried to skip some of this, she begs to do it anyway.

Reading

Reading is Hannah’s favorite thing.  She reads voraciously and since I can’t keep up with her anymore, I try to read a few things she’s reading in the interest of discussion, but other than that I rely heavily on classic book lists I find in a variety of places.  Since she reads so much and way beyond her grade level I don’t bother counting reading as school work anymore–it’s just part of her life, which is how it should be!  However, I’m doing some research on how to shape literature discussions so that we can pick our mother-daughter book club back up in a way that helps her learn literary analysis and how to be a thoughtful and discerning reader.  Recently Hannah told me that she feels the need to read War and Peace.  I said yes, you really should read War and Peace, but perhaps not this year.  🙂

How long does this take?

Going over her math lesson and doing some mental math work together, Latin, spelling, and language arts in Office Time takes about an hour.  She does her copywork and handwriting at the table with everyone else generally for about 15-20 minutes, and the work I assign her in Office Time takes her about two to three hours if she’s diligent.  Then the reading we do for our together subjects takes about one and a half to two hours, not including bedtime reading.  All told I’d say Hannah spends five to six hours a day on school work.  Usually we start by 8:30 and she works until lunch, then finishes her work during afternoon rest time.  Sometimes she’s still doing work at 8:30 at night, but that’s her choice.  I have no idea how much additional time she spends reading, but it’s a lot.

As I mentioned, I am really delighting in teaching Hannah this year.  It will be interesting to see how the year turns out!

 

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Subjects We Do Together

Each of the children has individual teaching time with me (we call it Office Time because it takes place in my office) but we also do several subjects together.

Copywork

We usually begin the day with copywork. Each child copies the same passage (usually one of the review poems from our memory work binder, a stanza of the hymn we’re learning, or a piece of poetry we’re working on memorizing), but at his or her level.  Sarah prints, Jack prints but in smaller letters, and Hannah writes in cursive.  Copywork counts for Sarah’s handwriting as well, but Jack and Hannah each have additional cursive handwriting practice.

Bible

Each morning, we review five catechism questions and answers, and read one section from Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism–basically these work through the scripture proofs for each question with one question per week.  We also sing one hymn we’re learning and one for review.  Or maybe two.  Or maybe we sing every hymn we know.  It varies. At bedtime we have worship and read a chapter or section from the Bible (we’re in Acts at the moment), work on our Bible memory chapter (Philippians 2 now), sing a Psalm or hymn, since the Doxology and Gloria Patri, and talk about any topics that come up.

History

We’ve been working through Tapestry of Grace Year 3, reading all of the Lower Grammar and most of the Upper Grammar assignments (and supplemental assignments) out loud.  We like to read together, and I’ve been feeling confirmed lately in our choice to do this, thanks to reviewing some research on the benefits of hearing texts read aloud.  Anyway, what this looks like in practice is that often I read from several chapter books while the children are working on handwriting or doing an art project or eating breakfast or lunch, or we sit on the couch and read all bunched up together.  Usually both, at different times of day. We have several books and chapter books going at once, and it’s delightful when the kids make connections between subjects and topics this way!  We’re also going through the US Presidents song once or twice a week.

Literature

We’re reading the Tapestry of Grace Year 3 Lower Grammar and Upper Grammar literature selections together, plus our daily dose of Aesop, Mother Goose, poetry, at least a few picture books unrelated to school work, at least a few board books for Eliza, and we’re also studying Hamlet this term. The moment when my children intelligently discussed the question, “Should Hamlet have avenged his father?” was a high point in my life thus far.  Because really, what young kid has NOT wanted to get revenge at some point? This is an issue between siblings at times in our house, and so they are really tracking with Hamlet’s dilemmas and I am loving it.  More details on our Hamlet study to come!  We’re also working on some poetry memory and memorizing a few short pieces from Hamlet.  At bedtime we read aloud a few chapters from a book unrelated to our school reading.

Science

We’re doing Apologia Astronomy again this year because the topic is cool and I didn’t think the kids would remember it from a few years ago.  I was wrong.  But I think there is value to going over it again and they are really into the topic, especially Jack who would like his own telescope.  I like the book we’re using for its conversational tone.

Art

We’re reading about Benjamin West together, but I wasn’t successful in my attempt to get prints of his paintings so we haven’t done a proper artist study yet this fall.  I’m hopeful that the other artists I selected for study this year will be better for real picture study.  The kids have done a couple of art projects from Deep Space Sparkle (this one was a hit) and my mother-in-law plans to give them drawing lessons intermittently from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Music

Our composer this term is Beethoven.  We love him.  We’re listening to his works every day, and have greatly enjoyed The Story of Beethoven in Words and Music from the Music Masters series.  I really recommend Music Masters if you want to get the basic story of a composer’s life and influences plus an exposure to their major works.  Jack is beginning cello lessons this fall, and Hannah is back to piano lessons.

Spanish

I bought PowerGlide Spanish but to be perfectly honest we have had a hard time getting to it most days.  I like that the program is intuitive and story-based, but it’s just hard to find the time to fit it in.  I’m thinking this over.

Geography

We do the map work from Tapestry of Grace together and go over the Classical Conversations states and capitals song a couple of times a week, or at least as much of it as I can remember, which is only through Baton Rouge, LA.  I need to load the song back into my phone.  We’ve also reviewed the continents a couple of times.

Look for more on what each kid is doing for individual work in upcoming posts.

If you homeschool, what subjects do you work on together?

Calm Schooling

I marvel that I can say this, and we are only three weeks in so I well know that things may change, but this year homeschooling has really been a joy.  We made a few changes that I think are contributing mightily to this happy fact.

We are protecting our mornings.

In previous years we have done co-ops and activities at least one morning a week.  I have also previously been willing to let my outside work take morning time–pushing school to afternoons or evenings or weekends as needed.  That worked in some ways, but I’ve come to realize–at least for my children–that we need a reliable structure.  Every morning we do our school routine.  The kids know what’s coming next.  I am not stressed about compressing work into times that aren’t optimal for attention spans.  On two occasions this fall I’ve had either the babysitter or a friend over for a morning, and while that might be ok as an every now and then thing, it really is not ideal.  I’m feeling confirmed in my conviction that we need to protect our mornings.  

We are not on anyone else’s timetable.

This is also the first year we have not used a co-op or outside group for any academic subjects.  I stopped doing Classical Conversations because the group’s focus is not similar enough to my convictions about education and I resented the push to learn material that wasn’t tied to our main studies.  Last year we were in a co-op with other families using Tapestry of Grace, and while it was awesome in many respects, in the end I felt harried by needing to stick to the week by week schedule.  I realized that I value the ability to take two weeks to cover a time period we like, or the freedom to compress two weeks together when there isn’t a lot of material on a topic or we read ahead.  I am no longer stressed out by being on a long wait list for books, and I feel better about the flexibility to dig deeper into topics of particular interest to the kids.

We moved to a term calendar.

This summer was too long (even the kids agree!), at least in part because I was SO burnt out from schooling without breaks last year.  We never took a fall break or a spring break,or a long weekend and our Christmas break was less than two weeks long.  This was really just my lack of planning, and my own inability to spot the burnout looming.  This year, I’ve scheduled our year in terms.  For the most part, we’ll do school for six weeks and then take one week off (with a slight exception in the fall to allow a break week over Thanksgiving).  We will be having school into June, and then taking the month of July off for our summer break.  I’m interested to see how it works, but so far it’s helping me feel restful and energetic about the year.

We are prioritizing truth and beauty.

I feel pretty strongly about academic rigor and expecting a lot out of my children.  At points this has led to my priorities getting out of whack.  Certainly I am not scaling back academics, but rather this year I’m committed to viewing them through the lens of truth and beauty.  My goal for their education is that academics help the kids to interact with ideas and see the truth and beauty in every subject.  We’re making time for artist study and composer study and copying excellent poetry for handwriting.  We’re working on habits and reading together even more than usual (which is saying something since we use literature-based curriculum!).

But mostly I think the change is in my attitude.  I’ve always loved homeschooling but, as with many worthwhile things, I haven’t always found joy in it moment by moment.   This year I’m determined to focus on the joyful moments, and I find that it’s giving our entire school day a more calm, relaxed, joyful atmosphere.

How do you promote calm, joyful days at your house?

School’s Out!

We crossed our required 180 days of instruction threshold early last week, but it made sense to keep going a little longer in order to finish up some books and start our summer break with a fun trip.  We’ll be exploring the living history museums at Williamsburg and Jamestown next week, and also visiting some historic sites at Princeton.  Other than those field trips {note to criminals: we are not leaving the house unattended: Josh is staying home, and he is fierce, so burgle elsewhere!} I’m calling this school year well and thoroughly over at 190 days total!  Here is a round-up for each child:

Hannah, age 8 (2nd grade by age)

This year Hannah grew a lot in her ability to do independent work.  She learned about how to manage assignments throughout the week, which is a good skill for studying and general time management.  I saw a lot of growth in her ability to analyze and integrate facts and ideas.

  • Math: Hannah finished a Singapore math book and then we moved back to Saxon because it’s a better fit for our family right now.  She finished Saxon 3,which goes through multiplication and division.  She and I will do some review of long division concepts over the summer, because she needs some reinforcement there and I don’t want to have to start from scratch in the fall.
  • Language Arts: We got most of the way through First Language Lessons 3 (diagramming) and Writing With Ease 3, although I saved some of the supplements to tie in with projects next year.  She also did additional writing assignments that tied in to her history and literature studies, such as writing compare and contrast essays, plays, and poetry.
  • Spelling: We squeaked through the second grade level lists in Spelling Plus.  Barely.
  • Handwriting: Hannah’s cursive saw much improvement in New American Cursive II, and she also did copywork and sometimes spelling in cursive.
  • History/Literature/Geography:  In our Tapestry of Grace Year 2 studies, Hannah covered history, literature, geography, church history, and other related subjects at the upper grammar level, and also did most of the dialectic level readings.  She read an untold number of additional books on the side, because she loves to read.
  • Latin: We worked through part of Latin for Children Primer A, but then switched back to Prima Latina for review and to regain confidence.
  • Fine Arts: We enjoyed lots of art projects related to our history studies, and also studied several artists and composers throughout the year.  Our attempt at piano lessons taught by Mama was mixed.
  • Science:  Our co-op group did lots of great experiments from a children’s physics curriculum, and we also continued our study of birds from Apologia’s Flying Creatures text and activity book.

Jack, age 6 (first grade by age)

Jack started voluntarily reading longer chapter books on his own this year, and his writing really took off.  He loves to draw and build things, has great spatial awareness, and has done a lot of voluntary creative writing.

  • Math: Jack did a Singapore math book and then completed Saxon 2, which starts multiplication.
  • Language Arts: He finished most of First Language Lessons 2, which covers more complicated parts of speech, and Writing With Ease 2, in addition to writing letters and doing other writing assignments along the way.
  • Spelling:  Jack completed All About Spelling Level 2, which incorporates dictation and seemed a great fit for him.
  • Handwriting: I was surprised when Jack asked to learn cursive, but he did a good job of completing New American Cursive I, and has a legible cursive signature complete with John Hancock type flourish!
  • History/Literature/Geography: For the most part Jack’s assignments were from the Lower Grammar level of Tapestry of Grace Year 2, but by the end of the year he also did the Upper Grammar literature readings.
  • Fine Arts: We enjoyed lots of art projects related to our history studies, and also studied several artists and composers throughout the year.  Our attempt at piano lessons taught by Mama was mixed, but Jack can play simple songs.
  • Science: Our co-op group did lots of great experiments from a children’s physics curriculum, and we also continued our study of birds from Apologia’s Flying Creatures text and activity book.

Sarah, age 5 (pre-school 4/5 by age)

Sarah learned to read this year, at long last!  She had been asking for a long time, and one side-effect of waiting until she was 4 1/2 to start lessons was that it was a lot easier to teach her.  She also went crazy with math and basically always tries to do whatever the older kids are doing, so this wasn’t really a preschool year for her.  I have mixed feelings about that.

  • Math: I had not intended to give Sarah a math curriculum for PreK, but she asked for one so I got her Saxon K.  She finished that, so I got her Saxon 1. She completed the first half of Saxon 1, plus a chunk of lessons from the second half of Saxon 1.
  • Language Arts: I let Sarah sit in on First Language Lessons 1 (parts of speech) while I reviewed it with the big kids this fall.  Then I went through it with her again once the other kids moved on.  After she sailed through it the second time we went through it once more, because it seemed weird to move a preschooler into the second grade book.  But this is a girl who knows the basic parts of speech down COLD!
  • Reading: Sarah did the first 130 lessons from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading.  The book covers phonics concepts and builds reading fluency, but Sarah is in the phase where she can read complicated stories in the reading book but doubts her ability to read regular books.  I think summer reading will help.
  • Handwriting: I don’t know how Sarah learned to write but she did, so I just assigned her copywork every day, including her name, the date, and a sentence or poem or something related to what she was reading or learning in another subject.
  • History/Literature/Geography: Sarah enjoyed the Lower Grammar books from Tapestry of Grace Year 2, which I read aloud to all of the kids.  I also tried to make sure that I read her several literature-quality picture books each day, taken from the Sonlight selections we enjoyed so much with Hannah and Jack.
  • Fine Arts: We enjoyed lots of art projects related to our history studies, and also studied several artists and composers throughout the year.  Our attempt at piano lessons taught by Mama was mixed, but Sarah does know where Middle C is now, and can identify basic stuff like the staff, treble clef, etc.
  • Science: Our co-op group did lots of great experiments from a children’s physics curriculum, and we also continued our study of birds from Apologia’s Flying Creatures text and activity book.

In conclusion, I would say that overall this has been a really great year of school for us.  We have learned a lot, grown a lot, and had a great time together (for the most part).  I’m not going to lie to you, homeschooling is really hard work.  Parenting issues become classroom issues, my own faults are made glaringly obvious, and that can be draining and discouraging at times.  But what I’ve come to realize more over the course of this year is that I am really passionate about education–particularly about how to personalize education for my unique children–and the value I see and satisfaction I find from homeschooling far outweighs the challenges.

Happy Summer to All!

 

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Writing With Ease

It’s a new semester, which means I’m re-evaluating the way we do a couple of things. I find that the kids development and our family situation change a couple of times a year, and it works well to zoom out and see what could be added or made better.

One thing we’re adding in this semester is Susan Wise Bauer’s excellentThe Complete Writer: Writing with Ease.  We already use her mother’s (you may remember that Bauer and her mother co-wrote The Well Trained Mind) First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind as a beginning grammar, and we use The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading for phonics.  So one thing I really like about Writing With Ease is that it integrates nicely with the rest of our language arts.

Bauer is a professor at William & Mary, which is a rigorous school (my little brother went there!), but she notes that increasing numbers of her students are abysmal writers.  In looking into why, Bauer unpacks the component skills required for good writing, and considers the best way to build those pieces in a way that will not frustrate the child.  She notes that prematurely asking kids to combine handwriting, sentence structure, analysis, and composition organization is not a good idea, because except in the case of the (few) naturally gifted writers out there, this approach will only create kids who hate writing, or kids who think they know how to write but who are actually terrible at it or have no sense of style.

Rather, Bauer’s study led her to conclude that the classical and Charlotte Mason approaches of emphasizing narration, dictation, and copywork in the early elementary years, then moving into deep understanding of sentence composition and connecting style and thought in compositions in upper elementary and middle school, and finally working on building style in high school work best.

The first 25 or so pages of Writing with Ease give an excellent explanation of the approach and why it works.  I particularly appreciated Bauer’s descriptions of how boys differ from girls in writing, and how to help boys to love writing (many curricula are designed for girls, who gain fine motor skills at different times and in different ways than boys do).  Following that is an outline of how to use the book for preschoolers through grade 4, then outlines for a 36 week writing curriculum for each of those grades.  If you use First Language Lessons, you’ll notice that WWE dovetails perfectly with FLL years 1-4.

In implementing this book with my kids, I’m planning on using the grade assessments to figure out where to place them.  Jack and Sarah (ages 6 and 5) will probably pick up in the middle of year 1, since that’s what they are working on in FLL year 1.  I’m not sure what Hannah needs.  Bauer describes how to handle situations where kids can move fast through material without letting them miss something.

Writing with Ease was tremendously helpful to me by showing me how narration, dictation, and copywork can progress and precisely how those tools can teach writing and grammar.  I knew the theories before, but had not been exposed to particular practice.  Now I feel much better equipped to use those methods effectively.  I also think I understand the vision of how grammar and writing work together.  Since my ultimate goal is to turn out kids who are GOOD writers (not just kids who can string together sentences, but kids who write with style and excellence), and that’s the goal of Bauer’s sequence, I think these books are a good fit for us.

As a side note, Bauer followed Writing With Ease with a middle years book, Writing With Skill, and my guess is that a high school curriculum will follow.

 

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