Thursday, June 4, 2015

How Our Homeschool Has Evolved This Year

We did Sunshine's annual evaluation to show evidence of progress last week, so I thought I'd share how the school year went. Below is the summary I typed up for our friend who does the evaluations.

Courses Studied
Grammar                                 Math                                                    PE
Reading                                   History & Geography                         Latin
Writing                                    Science                                                Japanese
Handwriting                            Art                                                       Religion
Spelling                                   Music

A couple weeks into the school year we dropped First Language Lessons. It's a grammar workbook, but between Writing with Ease and Latin, there was a lot of overlap with grammar. It seemed like overkill and it was tedious, so out it went.

McGuffey’s Reader, Story of the World, Writing with Ease assignments, Life of Fred, pleasure reading.

We’re still working on finishing the 3rd grade Writing with Ease book, and I don't think we'll get all the way through it. Our school year doesn't end until the end of June, so we have a few more weeks, but neither of us is very motivated to finish it. It's gotten very repetitious and we both dread it, which is never a good sign. We'll be switching to a different curricula for 4th grade. She has also started writing stories with a friend.

Zaner-BloserHandwriting 3 workbook. Her handwriting, whether printing or cursive, is pretty messy though, so in 4th grade we'll start out by really focusing on improving her penmanship. I didn't focus on that nearly as much as I should have when she was learning to write, and now we're paying for it. Not a mistake I plan on making with the boys.

SpellingWorkout C. It’s not horrible, but we’re no longer loving it. I recently subscribed to, but haven't used it much yet. We’ll make more use of it next year.

Finished the Math Skills workbook I had purchased from Target last spring while continuing to read Life of Fred E-H. We were going to start Singapore math, but I started researching right-brained learners and went a different direction. I found a how-to-teach right-brained math workbook, but it was really geared for kindergartners, which I felt would be taking things a bit too far back for Sunshine (there are some other books designed to follow it that I need to give a try). I found a good discount on, and decided to give that a try. It's an online course with videos that explain the day's concept(s), followed by problems that the child works through to show mastery of the topic. A subscription allows the child access to all levels of math, so cost doesn't interfere with reviewing or working ahead. We began by doing the comprehensive tests, starting with kindergarten. This gave me an idea of what she had actually assimilated, and what she was missing. We didn't really need to go that far back, but it was encouraging for her to see how far she's come. Math is not her favorite subject and she struggles with it, so boosting her self-confidence is good. We'll continue using CTC Math and Life of Fred in 4th grade.

She is showing interest in creating her own video games, so she did a little coding. She needs to learn more before she can make her own video game, so we'll do more with that next year.

History and Geography
We still love Story of the World, but Sunshine was starting to dread the end of the section questions (really dread them- they were stressing her out), so we stopped doing those and at the end of each section she had to tell me two things she liked/thought were interesting and one thing she didn't like. We continued with the map work that was included, but didn't do the activities except at history club. We listened to and read book 3, but also listened to book 4 in the car.

Story of the World is definitely a series that I'll be using with the boys. There's no way you can get all the details into 4 books, but Susan Weiss Bauer does a great job of giving an overview of what happened, and doesn't just focus on Europe and America (like the history classes I remember taking in school). Listening to all 4 books this year (we managed to cycle through them all this year) really highlighted how much events in one part of the world can affect events somewhere else. There's just so much I never learned, despite taking all the required history classes in public school and several history classes in college. Sunshine learned the song "The Foggy Dew" in her Irish music class this year and we looked up the background of it to find out what it was talking about. Turns out it was about the Easter Uprising of 1916, when the Irish attacked the English in an effort to gain independence. After listening to book 4, it became very clear just why the Irish had such animosity towards the English. I knew about the potato famine, but I hadn't realized the extent of the devastation, nor the role of the English in ordering the Irish to keep shipping what food they did produce out of Ireland and to England. Not only did their potato crops fail, but they couldn't even keep the grain they produced. No wonder so many starved to death.

I haven’t liked the recommendations in the Well-Trained Mind- they haven’t worked well for us this year or last (the biology recommendations from the year before worked well, though). We did random experiments from a couple kits that I ordered. We watched videos on Free School youtube channel and DiscoveryEducation. Discovery Education is a subscription website that we recently subscribed to (discounted, of course) and haven’t done a lot with yet, but will in the coming year. She really likes learning about the stars and planets, so we’ve been focusing on that lately.

Various projects, some that I directed, some that she came up with herself. I intended to have her do more, but it didn’t quite happen. We also started using the blog All Things Bright and Beautiful, which has weekly art and music posts, but haven’t done a lot with it. Sunshine mostly experimented with paints and pastels, with a bit of multimedia thrown in.

Sunshine watched a clip on Van Gogh on FreeSchool and decided to paint her own version.
We discussed using his techniques (mainly the iconic swirls), but changing colors or objects being painted, after which she came up with this interpretation.

Continued weekly fiddle lessons, also started playing with the advanced group at the Irish Music School she attends. 

--- Dance- fall semester, but not spring- dance was Thursday evenings and with my Scout responsibilities the scheduling was too crazy for us.
--- Soccer- fall semester, not spring- we were all too burned out on it. It was so nice to take a break this spring.
--- Sunshine has also completed several 5k races this past school year. While she doesn't enjoy them, there are a couple races that we do as a family that she walks with Daddy while I run. One of these days she'll start enjoying running....

We started Latin this year, using Prima Latina. I liked Prima Latina, but it was a bit dry. There's no illustrations or anything to make things more interesting in the workbook, but the cd did help. When we finished Prima Latina, I bought Song School Latin, but we never quite got started on it. We'll use them in 4th grade. I've heard good things about them and am hopeful that Sunshine will retain the info better. Transparent Language (we have access through our local library) has a Latin course that we will also be trying out.

Rosetta Stone, but didn't use it a lot because of computer issues. We need to get Sunshine her own laptop so she's not using mine or one that’s in danger of dying any second. Our homeschool version of Rosetta Stone does allow it to be installed on multiple computers, but I don't want to waste an installation on the crappy laptop she's been using.

Listened to audiobooks of scriptures and church history, attended a twice-monthly class at church for girls her age.


Some final thoughts:

In February as I researched more about how to teach a right-brained child, I came across TJEd. I'd read about it before, but it never appealed to me. This time though, as I read more about it, I realized it would probably work well with Sunshine, so we’ll be incorporating more ideas from it next year. I have a lot of reading to do this summer though to make sure I know how to make it all work.

I still like the Well-Trained Mind, but some of the recommendations just aren't working for Sunshine, so we're adapting- hence the TJEd ideas that will be put in play next year. I plan on using the recommendations from the Well-Trained Mind with the boys when they start school, but will probably switch grammar curricula at the beginning of 3rd grade rather than waiting till 4th. We’ll see how they do with the rest of the recommendations.

As Sunshine gets older and we identify her strengths and weaknesses the curriculum we use is evolving. I don't see this as a bad thing. The Well-Trained Mind recommendations gave us a good start, and we will continue to use the recommendations that work for us. But part of why we homeschool is to be able to tailor the coursework to what Sunshine needs/is interested in/works for her. So there's no reason in sticking with a book we both hate just because it was recommended by someone. I've thought a lot about this the past couple months and find it very interesting to look back at the evolution of our school. When we started kindergarten it never occurred to me that within just a couple years we'd be making so many changes. Again, that's not a bad thing, just unanticipated. It has also helped me be aware of what to look for when the boys start school so we can make changes earlier rather than later. There's no point prolonging the agony when something isn't working, so I'll be much more open to finding alternatives when/as needed.

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