Our Homeschool: What We’re Using This Year

Josh & Andy watching Jack work on his Spanish lessons.

Josh & Andy watching Jack work on his Spanish lessons.

I saw another mom write a post about what curriculum she was using this year for each of her kids. Her post was a sponsored post so she was getting a little something from at least some of the companies she mentioned. I thought it be fun to write a similar post, both for the sake of my weak memory and just in case you’re curious what we do during our class time. No sponsorship or endorsements here – just the products I chose to use after lots of research and weighing what I know about how my children learn best and how I teach best. I’d love to say I’ll write a post about why I chose each of these products, but we all know how well I follow through on promises like that. So, for now, here are the products and curriculum we are currently using:

ANDY (3rd grade):

Teacher Lead Courses:

Spelling: All About Spelling

Latin: Prima Latina: Intro to Christian Latin

Memory Work: CCM – a classical memory work program that covers 8 subject areas: Religion, Latin, History, Science, Math, Timeline, Geography, and Great Words.

Andy holding Soph while he puts his vocab words in ABC order. He likes to hold her to break up the monotony of tedious activities.

Andy holding Soph while he puts his vocab words in ABC order. He likes to hold her to break up the monotony of tedious activities.

Workbooks:

English: English 3, Seton Press

Vocabulary: Vocabulary 3, Seton Press

Reading Comprehension: Reading 3, Seton Press

Reading: Faith and Freedom Readers and anything that piques his interest. We read a lot during the day. We also have family story time before bed, during which Josh reads from a chapter book to the family. Currently, we’re reading the Narnia series. We’re almost finished – we’re about halfway through the Voyage of the Dawn Treader – so it’s about time to start thinking about what we will read next.

Maps, Charts, Graphs Level C

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 3

Manners & Health

Computer lessons/programs:

Spanish: Rosetta Stone, Homeschool Edition

Math: Teaching Textbooks

Catechism: Faith and Life, Online Edition


Jack (2nd grade):

Teacher Lead Courses:

Spelling: All About Spelling

Latin: Prima Latina: Intro to Christian Latin

Memory Work: CCM – a classical memory work program that covers 8 subject areas: Religion, Latin, History, Science, Math, Timeline, Geography, and Great Words.

Jack showing off a picture he drew.

Jack showing off a picture he drew.

Sacrament Preparation: First Communion Catechism, New Catholic Picture Bible

Building Good Character: God Made Me to be Part of a Family

Workbooks: 

Math: Math 2, Seton Press

English: English 2, Seton Press

Reading: Faith and Freedom Readers and anything that piques his interest. We read a lot during the day. We also have family story time before bed, during which Josh reads from a chapter book to the family. Currently, we’re reading the Narnia series. We’re almost finished – we’re about halfway through the Voyage of the Dawn Treader – so it’s about time to start thinking about what we will read next.

Maps, Charts, Graphs Level B

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting: Level 3

Catechism: Religion 2, Seton Press

Computer lessons/programs:

Spanish: Rosetta Stone, Homeschool Edition


2014-05-06 09.28.17

Ben playing with the magnet set.

Ben: (pre-k)

Miscellaneous letter and number coloring sheets printed from the internet.

Any story he wants to hear.

ABCmouse.com

Preschool Prep DVDs

The Real Mother Goose

God’s Rules for Me

Lots of puzzles, manipulatives, and other educational toys of the “Melissa & Doug” variety.


We’re also participating in two co-ops this year. The primary co-op uses the CCM material. Each week at co-op, the kids get a good introduction to the memory work for all 8 subjects, then we practice the memory work at home all week. They’ll also take an extra science class and an art class there.

Our second co-op is much more casual. Our primary purpose is allowing our kiddos to form faith-based friendships from a young age. The kiddos learn about virtues, memorize prayers, and have a lesson pertinent to where we are in the liturgical year. Then, they have lunch and play. I don’t know if the founder would appreciate this simplistic description, but it’s kind of like youth group for elementary kids.


So there you have it – a glimpse at our formal lessons for the year. It’s not uncommon that we’ll put everything on hold and wander off on some tangent, sometimes for a morning or sometimes for several weeks, but that’s the beauty of schooling year round. We have ample time to tackle all of the formal lessons listed above, but without feeling so much pressure that we can’t follow a whim to dig into a subject that we weren’t planning on covering. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, I LOVE homeschooling!

 

Year-Round Schooling & Individualized Learning

Jack gluing leavesThe more I think about why we school year-round, the more I realize just how much it benefits us. After writing my last post, it occurred to me that schooling year-round is the reason I have been able to educate my children at their own pace, which was once of my initial priorities when we decided to homeschool.

Having the whole year at my disposal makes it much easier for me to teach at each child’s pace for each individual subject. If we schooled on a more traditional calendar, I would really struggle with this. I know my personality; I would be pressuring myself to complete all of our books by whatever date we had designated as the end of the year. This would likely result in me rushing through material and getting frustrated when we had to slow down to facilitate understanding. I would be a slave to the lesson plans to ensure we finished everything on time. As it stands now, we work through each book until we’re done without arbitrary deadlines dictating our pace. Some books we finish much quicker than anticipated, others take longer.

Let me give you an example of how this has played out for us. With Andy, who is currently a second grader, we started homeschooling kindergarten in September 2011. He had completed kindergarten by March 2012. We took several weeks off and jumped right into first grade in April. (This is how we initially fell into the pattern of schooling year-round. I had to decide what to do with the extra time we had inadvertently incurred, so I decided to make the most of it.) With his first grade books, I gave him complete freedom to move at his own pace. He completed some material in only a couple months, most took the “standard” amount of time (about 36 weeks), but a couple books took several months longer. Because he completes different subjects at different times, at one point this year he was simultaneously working on 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade material, depending on the subject.

Andy with abacus This works out really well for us because it eliminates so much frustration. He’s not stuck doing work that is too easy for him for a designated number of days, nor am I getting frustrated trying to force him to master a concept in an assigned amount of days. More often than not, we find ourselves to be ahead of where he would be if I were to enroll him in school. Right now, he’s working on second and third grade material, but by mid-summer it will all be third grade. By utilizing the whole year, he can move more slowly on some subjects yet still come out either ahead of or on track with a more traditional schedule.

Just to be clear, I don’t allow him to move forward in one subject while ignoring another more difficult subject. He has to complete all assigned work for the day before he can do extra work in any other book. He usually gets ahead because he loves the subjects that are considered extra at this age. For example, science and geography are two of his current favorites, but they’re only designed to teach 2-3 times each week. He often choses to work on these every day. Sometimes he’ll choose to work on one of the subjects he really enjoys during our afternoon quiet time. With all of these extra lessons, he completes the content of the curriculum much more quickly than it is intended to be completed. Once he completes a book, he gets to choose how to move forward: progress to the next grade level in that subject, go back and explore something in more depth, or take a small break from that subject to lighten his overall course load. If we were trying to make our learning fit into a more traditional 36 week timeframe, we would miss out on this freedom.

I can’t tell you how elated was when I realized that Andy was working on material spanning three different grades. It’s really important to me to educate my kids at their own pace, and this was a giant affirmation that I was doing something right. I really believe that the individualized education I am providing is only possible because we school year-round. If I were schooling on a more traditional calendar, I know I would also trap myself into material that corresponded to the grade level we were “supposed” to be working on. Year-round schooling allows us to progress at a natural pace for each topic, for each child. I really, really love that!

 

Getting Hands-On

One of our (both mine and the kids’) main goals for this school year was to get more “hands-on.” Several years ago, when I first began envisioning our homeschool, it was incredibly hands on. Unfortunately, reality hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, this is one of the elements that weighed heavily on my decision to stop working outside the home. It seemed absurd that I was making the effort to homeschool, but my efforts were limited by what I was able to cram into a given day. My employment was governing my home life, and I simply couldn’t make peace with that. But I digress…

Where was I? Oh, yes, hands-on.

Step one was getting a few curriculum pieces that would make this transition easier. Since we were accustomed to primarily bookwork, I figured I needed a little inspiration to turn the tide. Catholic Heritage Curricula is where we found many of the books we were most excited about. I think they do a great job of bringing lessons to life through hands-on activities. As such, I get to integrate more of the hands-on learning I was longing for, but I don’t have to worry about getting too creative, since the lessons come with suggested activities and supply lists. We just did the cutest little “experiment” in Jack’s science class. He’s learning about seeds (Every seed is a baby plant!) so we soaked some beans and split them open. Lo and behold – there were little plant sprouts on the inside! So much fun!

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Step two, as suggested by Jack, was to add an art class. I am not artsy. I am not crafty. The thought of this made me cringe. Yet, he was insistent that he needed to take art. I looked through endless art books, hoping to find something I could work with. A lot of art books that I saw were geared more toward art appreciation – looking at and studying great works. While this certainly has merit, I knew what he meant. He wanted arts and crafts. He wanted to cut and glue and play with paint and glitter. Finally, I went back to one of the first books I looked at (and initially disregarded due to the certainty of very large messes) and bit the bullet. We became the proud owners of Art 1 for Young Catholics. This book offers several projects each month based on the liturgical year, and it is truly a gem! Even Andy, who initially declared that he would NOT be participating in art under any circumstances, loves the projects and activities. Today’s project was in honor of Mary’s assumption into Heaven and it came out oh-so-cute.

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I never have any trouble getting my kids to tune in when we’re doing catechetical lessons. Their sweet little hearts are truly eager to learn more and more about their faith. But when the kiddos discover that today’s lesson came with more than just stories and discussion, they were elated! We all had so much fun that I don’t even mind that my kitchen floor is covered in glitter.

To help make sense of our art project: Today is the feast of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you don’t know what that means, but would like to, visit here to learn about the feast in 12 little Q & As

assumption-of-mary

It’s Killin’ Me

Just one little funny before I hit the sack…

Tonight, Andy informed my mother that Kindergarten was “easy peasy” but “first grade is killin’ [him].” That boy cracks me up! I love the things that come out of his little mouth.

Bless his little heart. The only thing that’s “killin’ him” is phonics. And he does quite well with it. It’s just that he has to put some effort into it this year and that’s a new concept for him. He wants to breeze right through, but we’re having to spend some time on each lesson. Poor baby. I sure hope he survives. Little does he know we’re just starting out on this great big adventure called education.

Oh, my mom also reported that Andy said I’m the “Queen of Phonics.” Who knew that reading above a first grade level could earn me such a title? :) What a gift my sweet boys are!

Listening for God’s Voice

This brief little conversation over dinner absolutely melted my heart. I am so thrilled to know that my sweet little ones are already seeking God’s plan for their lives.

Me: Hey, Jack, Andy thinks Ben would like to be a priest. Do you think Ben will be a priest?

Jack: Umm..no…probably not.

Me: Would you like to be a priest?

Jack: Well…I don’t know what God wants me to be because I can’t exactly hear his voice. It’s too quite. I think because Heaven is so far away…you know God is so way up high…I can’t exactly hear Him when I’m outside playing or in the house.

Me: That is wonderful that you’re listening for God’s voice. If you keep listening, you will hear what He wants you to be.

Andy: And, “alsoly”, Jack, Fr. Hart said that if you go in your room in the quiet without the tv or radio on, you will be able to hear God’s voice.

Me: That is exactly right! Fr. Hart did say that. (High five Andy)

Just a note: It’s was months ago when (now) Msgr. Hart gave that homily on vocations and being open to God’s plan for your life. I didn’t even realize that Andy was listening, let alone that Msgr’s words were still with him! It’s amazing what little ones pick up on!

Thank you, God, that my children are open to and seeking your will for their lives. Please grant that their hearts remain open as they grow, and that their wills will be perfectly conformed to yours. In Jesus name, Amen.   

New Year. New Plan.

Andy with his aunts at his graduation party.

I am so proud to report that both of my little men finished their studies for what was supposed to be the 2011-2012 school year at the beginning of March. They absolutely love learning and they both soared right through their studies in just six months. (We didn’t begin school for the year until September.) While I don’t foresee this being a problem forever, (in middle and high school they can just take extra electives they are interested in, should they finish their studies early) I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation for pre-k and kindergarten. There’s not really all that much supplemental work that one can add, at least not one as creatively-challenged as me. So, we decided to have a big kindergarten graduation party for Andy and take the month of March off, in part to allow time to order new curriculum and in part because my schedule in March was so jammed packed that I could hardly breathe, let alone educate my sweet children. With that being the plan, we were slated to begin classes Monday, April 2.

All of the books arrived in plenty of time and the boys were thrilled to get working. They loved their books even more in person than they did one the internet. (I let the boys give input and suggestions regarding which books we use.) We cleaned out the school closet and got it all organized with our new materials. Everything was ready for Monday.

While it occurred to me as I was looking over suggested lesson plans, it became glaringly obvious Monday morning, that first grade is going to be much harder than kindergarten. Every day Andy is supposed to cover English, Math, Phonics, Reading, Religion, Spelling, and either History or Science (They alternate weeks, as they’re not considered core subjects for first grade.) We also got a Latin program, but I think we’re going to have to get into the swing of the year before we tackle that task. Each class is supposed to last less half an hour. (For those of you doing the math, yes that’s correct. Only 3.5 hours of actual work are required for first grade. What our sweet traditionally school children are doing for the remaining 4.5 hours is not related to actual learning, but rather classroom management, moving between locations, lunch time, busy work, etc. While I’m obviously biased, I’m very happy that I don’t have to miss out on 4.5 hours of my kids’ lives every day for that nonsense. But I digress…)

Andy "encouraging" Jack as they worked on various lessons last winter.

Anyway, Monday was a disaster. Well, not a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable. We got the work done, and in less than 3 hours, but it was chaotic and bumpy and mostly unenjoyable. Granted, it was the first day. There are always bumps the first day. But our big bump was that I was trying too hard to follow the directions in the suggested lesson plans. (I learned this lesson last year, but apparently I needed a refresher.) While the suggested lesson plans are a great resource, they don’t know my kids or our family, and one of the reasons we homeschool is to tailor their education to their needs, interests, and learning-styles.

Since I’m obviously a slow learner when it comes to lesson-planning, we decided to take one more week off. It’s Holy Week. We should be out of school anyway. At least that’s what I told myself. Truthfully, Holy Week didn’t have a lot to do with it, as I only planned to take Good Friday off completely. The remainder of our Holy Week activities weren’t going to be affected by school, so I saw no reason to cancel. But, as an act of mercy to my relentless morning sickness, and as an opportunity to get my ducks in a neater row, we’re taking Holy Week off.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do to resolve the probelm, but it finally dawned on me. (Thank you, Lord, for always lighting my path.) Pushing through seven (less than) 30 minute classes every day is just stupid. Even for Andy’s (and my) super short attention span, it was just too much. It was too quick, too choppy, and didn’t flow well at all. So (drum roll please…) we’re going to give block scheduling a try. When I was in 9th and 10th grade I went to a school that did block scheduling. It works a lot like college classes. The students take 8 classes over the course of the year, but only 4 at a time. They complete 4 classes first semester and the second set of 4 after Christmas. I think that setup is going to work much better for us. But I’m torn, because I think, for younger children especially, reading, math, and religion need to be taught year round. So, I guess that leaves me with a combination of block scheduling and traditional scheduling. We will work on some classes all year long, while others we will focus on intensely in order to complete them quickly before moving on to something new. I’m really excited about this prospect, and certainly looking forward to Monday to see how the school day flows!

Andy & Jack Signing at Lunch

The big boys have been really interested in signing ever since they saw the Duggar kids signing with Josie. The boys and I are learning some signs so we can teach Ben. It’s been a fun project. The boys really seem to enjoy that we’re all learning something new together. We were practicing over lunch today and recorded it to show my mom (Nonnie) who has taken several ASL classes recently. (Too bad I didn’t realize I needed to turn my phone sideways to video properly! Oops)