Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Our Second Year!
The books were useful, but nothing beats a year's worth of experience!
This is the first August in many years that I haven't gotten that sinking "August already?" feeling in my stomach. Sure, I'm a little bit anxious about what our second year of homeschooling will bring. (Are the kids getting everything they need? Are we doing too little? Are we doing too much? Should we be spending more/less time doing x, y or z?)
But this year's anxieties are mild compared to the back-to-school-blues that our family used to experience each fall. No more worrying about whether or not my kids get a good teacher! No more wondering how many rowdy or mean kids will be in their classes. No more piles of homework that monopolize our family time. No more school schedule imposed on our lives! And best of all, no more missing them all day, which is what I used to do when we outsourced their education.
Yay! I'm very excited to be participating this year!
So, bearing in mind that we are still fairly new at homeschooling, and that nothing ever goes quite the way I planned, I have put together a schedule and curriculum. Putting it on paper helped me bring our goals into focus, and it feels good to have a road map for the upcoming year. But, if I learned anything last year, it's that schedules may be printed on paper, but they are never carved in stone!
Our fall/winter schedule is planned around weekly swim, guitar, and piano lessons. (The spring schedule will probably include theater instead of swimming.) We have a terrific indoor pool in our town, which is a bonus since they can offer lessons in any weather, and Dude hates putting on sunscreen! Our local rec center offers evening art classes for children, but the kids were concerned about doing too many outside activities, and besides, we really enjoy doing art together as a family. So, we'll continue working our way through Meet the Masters. It works fairly well for us, but we do supplement it very heavily with books, projects, and field trips.
With P.E., music and art covered, I'm able to spend my time planning the "core" subjects. Math is by far the subject that I work hardest on, because I cobble together math lessons from so many sources. If there is one perfect math curriculum that works for my kids, I still haven't found it. This year won't be much different, except that we'll add Teaching Textbooks for independent work on Fridays. Our main curriculum will still be Math on the Level, and every day we'll play games like Roll-n-Multiply or do activities from Family Math, MathWise, or The Mailbox. Oh, and I decided to start a math-themed "word wall" on our first day of school. It's for me as much as for the kids: all those terms and properties get jumbled in my head!
Dude's favorite way to practice math
Both of my kids ask, "How much do I have to write?" when given any type of writing assignment. I think this is a habit left over from school, but I'm sorry to say that I didn't help much last year. I got so bogged down in grammar and punctuation that I lost sight of what all those mechanics are for: communicating your thoughts and ideas on paper! This year I plan to give them more opportunities for free writing. Journaling is a great way to do this, and we have some lovely journals that we hardly used last year because writing took a back seat to grammar. We'll be adding journal entries at least twice a week, once on Mondays so the kids can write about their weekends, and once on Wednedays during their free afternoons.
I recently found a book called The Four Square Writing Method by Judith and Evan Jay Gould. (You seasoned homeschoolers have probably known about it for years, but it was new to me!) It's a very visual way of organizing your thoughts before writing an essay. I think it will work well for both kids, but especially for Super. She is actually a very good writer, but she tends to get stressed out during the planning/prewriting stages. I really wish I had been taught this way! Honestly, how many of you made a traditional outline, Roman numerals and all, before you wrote your research papers? I usually wrote the paper and then made an outline, only because the teacher expected me to turn one in.
I also downloaded Teaching English Through Art by Sharon Jeffus from CurrClick. It has some really fun ideas that we'll incorporate into our writing lessons this year. Last year I used a manual called Mastering the Mechanics that really emphasized the importance of modeled and collaborative writing. We'll probably spend a few weeks writing together before the kids take off and do their own thing. Once the kids have had a chance to write freely, they can practice all that grammar and punctuation junk during the editing process. I did purchase Junior Analytical Grammar for them, and it does look like a good way to learn and practice grammar. I just don't want to focus so much on writing "correctly" that the kids don't get to be creative as well!
Accidental life science: our frogs had babies!
Teaching science was intimidating for me last year, since I have a very weak science background from my own public school days. I let the kids decide most of what we studied: Dude chose cells and chemistry, and Super chose astronomy and animal classification. (Way to keep it simple for me, kids!) We took a very eclectic approach, using lots of living books, some science kits, and NOEO Chemistry. We also made three lapbooks: wild birds, wolves, and cervidae (deer family.)
It's going to be hard to rein in my science-loving kids, but I'm hoping to narrow our scope a bit this year! We still have quite a bit of chemistry stuff left, so this fall we'll alternate between NOEO Chemistry and a biomes unit study. We're using an excellent book called Amazing Biome Projects You Can Build Yourself by Donna Latham and Farah Rizvi. We'll do some of the projects in the book, plus some of our own. Super really wants to build dioramas of each biome! We also have a couple of fun Snap Circuits kits to supplement our Evan-Moore Electricity: Current and Static unit. Dude has requested some physics: he wants to make some model simple machines. Oh, and we'll choose a few African animals and either write research reports or make lapbooks. Wait, didn't I just say we were going to narrow our scope? ;)
Lots and lots of living books
History was Dad's domain last year. He loved history in high school and college, still reads biographies and historical fiction, and is pretty much a walking encyclopedia of historical facts. It's wonderful to see him pass his enthusiasm on to the kids--history is by far their favorite subject, and they know more about ancient history than most adults (including me!) This year we'll continue studying ancient civilizations. (Notice I'm using we. That's because I'm getting an education in history along with the kids!) We really want to do all the Egypt projects that we didn't get to last year, so history will be very hands-on for the first few weeks. There are tons of Egypt resources out there; we got most of ours from the library.
Dad and I have found a system that works really well for history: we get the kids started on making something, read to them while they work, and stop every so often to have them narrate or discuss what we're reading. What do we read? Library books, DK books, Wikipedia and other websites, and excerpts from Story of the World and A Little History of the World. We also stop and add to our timelines every so often. This year we'll review ancient Egypt in more depth, then learn about ancient Africa outside of Egypt, move up to the Indus Valley, and then over to ancient Greece! Depending on how much depth the kids want to go into, we might be studying Imperial China by the end of the year, but there is no hurry. We all love history, and we love having the freedom to move at our own pace.
After looking over our subjects and goals for the year, I put together a couple of Excel spreadsheets: a weekly schedule, and a year-at-a-glance. Our weekly schedule will go something like this:
Mondays: Math, Language Arts, German (Rosetta Stone), History, Piano.
Tuesdays: Math, D.E.A.R. time, Science, Guitar.
Wednesdays: Math, Language Arts, Swimming.
Thursdays: Math, Language Arts, Science, Art.
Fridays: Independent Math Practice, Language Arts, History.
I never got around to making a year-at-a-glance chart last year. Even though I had general goals in mind, I often wished for something concrete to refer to as we moved through the school year. I'm very checklist-oriented, and even if we totally deviate from it, I enjoy starting with a detailed plan.
Unlike previous years, when starting school meant turning my kids' education over to strangers and hoping for the best, I'm really looking forward to another year of learning. Super and Dude are excited, too. Every day they come to me with another idea for the year: "Mom, can we do an acid rain experiment? Mom, can I write a story about aliens? Mom, can we study mammoths?" Answer: Yes! If that's what inspires you, then absolutely, yes!