Friday, July 22, 2011

Curriculum for 2011-12

I love this time of year, don't you? Planning for the upcoming academic year is always so exciting! Especially when my kids are asking me "What do we get to learn about next, Mom?" It's wonderful to see their enthusiasm (and I'll probably need to remind myself of this moment around February of next year!)

Thanks to Michelle at Lagniappe Academy for the portable filebox idea!

Choosing curriculum can be fun, but it can also be overwhelming. There is so much out there, and what works great for one family isn't necessarily the best choice for another.

Over the years we've tried lots of materials and methods. Every year I feel a little more confident in choosing what will work for me and my kids. And every year I make at least one wrong turn! I guess it comes with the territory.

Science and History

We're making a change in our routine this year. Instead of devoting an afternoon to science and an afternoon to history each week, we're incorporating science and history into monthly unit studies. In the past we did NOEO Science and Dad taught history, using SOTW as an outline. But we tend to get really into whatever we're doing at the time, and going back and forth between science projects and in-depth history studies was too much for all of us.

I've noticed that lots of homeschooling families alternate between science and history. I'm hoping it will make it easier to really focus on whatever we're doing at the time. I'm sure it will make it easier for me to have the right materials on hand, as well!

Elephant books for our unit study

Our first two unit studies (Elephants and Be a Scientist!) are homemade. I put them together from lots of different sources, including books we already had, library books, art projects I found online and other web resources. If I ever get around to it, I'll organize them and post a link to share.

Our other unit studies for the year are based on Teacher Created Resources Immigration, History Pockets Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, Intellego Economics, Windows on the Wild Oceans of Life, GEMS Plate Tectonics, and The Mailbox's Human Body. I say "based on" because we never use a ready-made unit study without supplementing and customizing. Not sure if that means I'm creative, or just a control-freak!

My favorite science resources:
Anything by Janice Van Cleave
Anything by Ellen McHenry
DK Books
The Way Things Work and The Way We Work by David MacAuley

And history resources:
Horrible Histories by Terry Deary
History Pockets
You Wouldn't Want to Be Series
Spend a Day Series by Ellen Honan

Language Arts

My kids would do science and history all day, every day if I let them. But into every education a little grammar must fall...

After a lot of thought, I made the decision to use textbooks for grammar and language arts this year. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me, because I've tried so hard to avoid any and all textbooks since we started homeschooling. I still have unpleasant memories of the boring "read-the-textbook, do the questions" model from my own school days. Charlotte Mason didn't like them, and generally, neither do I!

In the past, we've used Susan Van Zile's Awesome Hands-on Activities for Teaching Grammar, 101 Ways to Love a Book from Teacher Created Resources, Fill-in Flip Books for Grammar, Vocabulary, and More by Michael Gravois, and Grammar Games and Activities that Boost Writing Skills by Immacula A. Rhodes.

I still think those are great resources and I'm sure we'll continue to use them! And we will definitely use the Four-Square system for all our writing projects (Judith S. Gould and Evan Jay Gould.) But...I need at least one core subject to be easy and already mapped out for me. Especially since 6th grade and 4th grade language arts are so different. I just can't create a custom curriculum for everything!

From Voyages in English 4

As far as textbooks go, Voyages in English by Loyola Press doesn't look too bad. The graphics are fun without being babyish or distracting. And most importantly, the explanations are really clear. The first few lessons are a total review of what we did last year, and the kids are going to complain about that, but I think a little review never hurt anyone.

Evan-Moor's Spell and Write pages

I'm also taking a slightly easier route for spelling this year. We've used AVKO Sequential Spelling before, and it's a great system. But, once again, I needed something that the kids could do independently. I looked at a lot of spelling workbooks in a teacher supply store and eventually chose Evan-Moor's Spell and Write. I liked these because they begin with an interesting reading passage that uses the words in context. Then you practice writing the words a variety of ways. Each chapter ends with a test. However, there are no review pages or tests, so I'll have to make those on my own.

I'm looking forward to adding more poetry to the mix this year. In fact, I think we'll start each day with poetry (we used to do math first every day, but I'm thinking the kids will like reading and discussing a poem before diving into our day.) There are so many good poetry resources out there. Teacher FileBox has reproducibles for grade levels up to 6th, but mostly, we'll just use the poetry books that we already have.

Dude fell in love with concrete poetry after reading technically, IT'S NOT MY FAULT by John Grandits, and he's been creating his own ever since. Both kids love Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky (amazing illustrations by Carin Berger.) In fact, pretty much anything by Jack Prelutsky is fun to read and easy to memorize, if you're into reciting poetry. And Shel Silverstein, of course! We have A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Falling Up. Oh, and an easy cure for a kid in a bad mood: make them read Runny Babbit aloud. Works every time!


Math faves (minus Primary Challenge Math--I miss you, Buddy!)

Math! My favorite! ( And I never thought I would say that!) Math is where we get really creative. I try to make it as hands-on as possible. We follow the scope and sequence from the Core Knowledge series. The kids move at their own pace, and I absolutely do not rush them through anything for the sake of "keeping up" with a predetermined schedule. When it comes to math skills, we're aiming for mastery and real understanding, not "covering" lots of material.

So, using the Core Knowledge series as my guide, I put together a very flexible plan with weekly and monthly goals for each kid. Then I found games and activities to match each concept. My favorite resources for this are:

Family Math by Jean Kerr Stenmark, Virginia Thompson, Ruth Cossey and Marilyn Hill
Math Wise by Jim Overholt and Laurie Kinchloe,
Independent Practice series from The Mailbox
Pretty much anything by Marilyn Burns!
Games: Mythmatical Battles, Roll-n-Multiply, Multiplication and Division Bingo, Monopoly, Logic Links, etc. A homeschooling buddy was selling outgrown sets of 'Smath and Exact Change, so we'll try those soon.

Our "official" math games (but don't most games teach math?)

Much to my frustration and sorrow, I lost my copy of Primary Challenge Math by Edward Zaccaro. If I find it, we'll use the challenges for collaborative problem-solving exercises. We'll put one of the challenges on the white board and brainstorm together. (Can you tell I've been reading Alfie Kohn this summer?) If I can't find it, I also have a good book called Math Stories for Problem Solving Success by Jim Overholt, Nancy Aberg, and Jim Lindsey.

As allergic as we are to worksheets, there does come a time when kids just need to practice a new concept or refresh an old one. That's where Evan-Moor's Teacher FileBox comes in. Math Mammoth also has good practice pages. And if we're moving along at a pretty good pace, I told the kids we could start reading Life of Fred by Stanley Schmidt on Fridays. I love how they are excited about doing something that is (secretly) good for them!


German resources

We'll continue our German studies using German in 10 Minutes a Day, by Kristine K. Kershul (thanks to Michelle at Urban Cottage Homeschool for the recommendation!) We also have a great DK visual dictionary and Let's Learn German by Marlene Goodman. The labels that I put on everything when our German friends were visiting are still up, and I'm planning to add some more. The kids are looking forward to writing letters to their German friends as well.

A page from German in 10 minutes a day

Art and other fun stuff...

My big purchases for the fall, besides Voyages in English, are a pocket chart and stand, and Atelier art curriculum. The pocket chart will hold our calendar, spelling words, and cursive letters of the week, but I'm really going to use it as a room divider. The kids do 90% of their work together, but when they are working independently they need their own space. And if I let them wander off, they take forever just to decide where they are going to work, and then I have to keep checking on them, and I'm going from room to room answering questions... I'd rather have them stay in our school area, but give them their own space by dividing the room. We'll see how it works!

I must be looking forward to school--I'm already making our August calendar!

I'm excited about using Atelier for art this year. When I asked the kids for their planning input, they both said they wanted to do more art at home instead of taking art classes at our rec center. Homeschool Buyers Co-op has Atelier on sale at the moment, so I jumped on it! I have no idea what to expect, but it's art! How can it not be fun?

I'm not sure where art will fit into our routine, but I'm thinking we may just take an art day every couple of weeks or so. I'm also writing field trips into our monthly plans this year: the "do them as we have time" plan didn't work too well.

Our cozy new reading area, with favorite blankets!

We're looking forward to another fun year of homeschooling! I can't wait to check out the other links and see what you're doing! Have a great year!

This post is linked to Heart of the Matter's Not Back to School Blog Hop! Join us at the hop!

Not Back to School Blog Hop

This post is linked to the 2011-2012 Curriculum Special Edition at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers! Check out the great links there!


Dawn said...

Wow! IT all looks great.

Sara said...

You look fabulously organized and ready to go!

Our Free Minds said...

I'm really impressed with your organization and enthusiasm! You're inspiring!

Sparklee said...

I'm starting this year more organized than ever before. BUT--for me, the hard part isn't making the plans, it's sticking to them!

The Adventurer said...

Loved looking at what you chose to use:) Some I haven't heard of yet:) I got more structured this year too and hoping I haven't gone to far over to the dark side of schooling at home:) I agree with you that the hardest part is sticking to the plans that is my down fall too:)

Sparklee said...

I know what you mean! It's hard to find the perfect balance between just enough structure to keep us on track and so much structure that we miss out on the flexibility and benefits of homeschooling. But, to save my sanity, I need a routine. And I need my kids to manage some of their own work/time this year. It's going to be a busy year, and we're looking forward to getting started! :)

Michelle said...

Your box is so much neater than mine right now! :) I'm hoping to find some structure/flexibility balance this year too. I'm pretty sure it will be better this year, even if it's not exactly what I have in mind.

We're doing workbooks for grammar this year, and I felt dirty buying them. hehe

Sparklee said...

You saved my life with your organization ideas--I had all this stuff in my head and didn't know how to make it happen! I feel so much better having it right at my fingertips. I used your yearly planning idea as well (dividing a piece of paper into boxes and writing goals in each month.)

Your workbook comment cracks me up! Why are we so tough on ourselves?

When my husband saw the pocket chart set up in our classroom, he said, "Wow, it looks like a school in here."

Oh, no, that is NOT what I was going for! But the truth is, sometimes we do things that are a teensy bit schoolish, and that's OK. We'll spend our mornings sitting on the floor delving into unit studies and doing lots of hands-on projects. We'll do hands-on math as well. So if spelling and language arts are a bit schooly, so what?

Suji said...

Love that reading corner. Those chairs are so pretty! You are so organized! Good luck for the coming year!

Sparklee said...

The chairs came from Target, and my kids like them a lot. But one of them is already starting to tear, which is why I put the blankets on them for the picture!

Michelle said...

Love this post - and, the fact that I was mentioned :) German in 10 Minutes a Day works great for us, but I'm considering adding a computer program or a weekly class (gasp!) to help us with pronunciation and our conversation abilities. I think it's wonderful you have German friends to practice with and write to!

Your planning and organization has gotten me excited to get going on our plans too! I'm with you though - I LOVE the planning part, but have a difficult time sticking with it all. This year, I hope to do a better job of that.

Thanks for the ideas and sharing your enthusiasm!

candyn said...

What an inspiring post! I usually love planning our new homeschool year, but I really got neck deep into summer this year and am still feeling a bit sun-dazzled. I was resisting starting this whole school business and the inevitable welcoming of fall and then winter, but your post brought back my excitement for what could be. Thanks for that!

I love the reading area and I might have to steal your idea of starting the day with poetry. Sounds lovely.

Phyllis said...

I have a blog award for you over at my blog...

Liese4 said...

You should go and post this to the NBTS blog hop, the 1st week is curriculum!

SmallWorld at Home said...

Love your take on curriculum--"allergic to worksheets" cracks me up. I also love that you are going to do poetry every day. You might enjoy my WordSmithery lessons on my blog. I'm going to check out the German in 10 minutes a Day books.

S said...

Loved your post and you are so organized! This is more first year homeschooling so I suffer from the "I don't even know how to start to get organized" syndrome. Hopefully I will be organized by next year! :-)

Hopping over from the HOTM not back to school blog hop!

Terri said...

You are incredibly organized! :) I thought I had all of my curriculum planned out (and I do for the most part), but I was not at all happy with my spelling choice. After seeing what you're using, I did some research and I think I'm going to go that route too. My kids are not into the spelling "programs" so much and really prefer a more cut and dry approach. They are naturally good spellers, so that does help a bit. Thanks so much for the ideas!

Deb said...

This looks great - I opened an Amazon window and added some of your poetry selections to my wishlist. "Technically, it's not my fault" looks like something my boy would enjoy, too!

Sparklee said...

Thanks for stopping by everyone! It's funny you should mention the blog hop, Liese--I had almost forgotten about it!

Can't wait to visit everyone else's links and see what you are all planning this year. I've been out all day and it was fun to come home and find all these nice comments. I'll be checking out your posts next!

Tracy said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting!

I see we use the same (insert language) in 10 minutes a day book. :) I know i'm going to be finding lables all over the house in the next couple of days.

I like your reading area! If I had enough room I would love to have an area like that.

Good Luck and enjoy your school year!!

Tracy @ A Natural Process

April said...

We like Family Math, too. Your reading area looks so inviting!

Chef Penny said...

Sounds like a great year planned. Nothing wrong with some preplanned curriculum sometimes. Hope you have a great year!

Joey said...

Thanks for stopping by. I see we have a lot of the same favorite books. :) I used some of the same curriculum you are this year with my older kids. can't wait to hear more about the science and history unit studies.

L2L said...

Guten Tag!!!! We are using the same book, plus others of course, for Japanese!!! I took German for 2 years in High School and L-O-V-E-D it!!!! Have a wonderful year and thanks for stopping by!!!