|An un-staged mid-day moment. Melted my heart.|
Homeschooling Plan of Attack for 2012-2013
Each year our homeschooling morphs into something a little bit different and a little bit unique. Knowing this, I always try to remain undogmatic in my philosophies, knowing that circumstances and individual needs are in constant flux. What is right one year may not be right the next. This year Ellery (9) and Callista (7) are at home full time for their academics. Emmett (4) is attending preschool 2 days a week and Berkeley (2) moves from wildly roaming around dancing and singing, snuggling and reading, to her favorite activity of looking at family picture slideshows on the computer.
The elementary school didn't seem to fit our family's needs this year. The girls' admitted they wanted more neighborhood social experiences. They have strong social interactions in church and gymnastics but wanted to get to know a few more girls in the surrounding blocks. Soccer was their choice of a solution.
With everyone at home so much, I knew I needed to find some things a bit more scripted with less preparation required on my part. I decided to switch several of our programs and also try some online courses.
Charter School Enrollment
Ellery and Callista are both enrolled in a charter school. I am at liberty to choose their curriculum but I have to submit yearly plans, goals, and submit assignments and learning logs every two weeks. It is a bit of a hassle but I receive $1450 of educational reimbursement funds which offset a great deal of the expenses associated with homeschooling. The children will also be responsible for taking the state tests at the end of the year, which makes us beholden to the state curricula to some extent. In theory their scores don't matter but I want them to have a successful experience taking standardized tests. The charter school provides a website link called "Study Island" for state test prep in Math and English. It is fairly engaging for the girls. They spend an hour or two a week on this site, to make sure they are familiar with any important catch words or obscure concepts I may not teach them.
Math this year we are tackling online. I have mixed feelings about it so far. Callista is using a program called Odyssey. She has already completed the 2nd grade and is working on 3rd grade. Ellery is using a program called ALEKS. She has almost completed the 4th grade portion, but I don't feel she is at mastery level. Both programs, I feel are weak in assuring mastery. Callista's program teaches concepts quite well. Ellery's has no teaching per se, usually I end up having to teach her each new concepts.
I like that to some extent they can work independently and we have a very tangible record of their progress in the form of periodic assessments. I feel they will have no problem taking the state tests, as this curricula is tied to the state and common core.
I miss teaching them math, but I found it quite difficult to teach all subjects. I'm not sure if I will choose math as their online course next year or not. Maybe I will rotate.
I have been dedicated to the Writing Road to Reading/Spaulding Method and Spell to Write and Read for a couple of years. However I feel most days it became too time intensive. I decided to brake English up into several smaller divisions.
Instead of trying to use our spelling words for grammar study I am using the Well Trained Mind series of First Language Lessons. Callista is using Level 2 and Ellery is in Level 4. These books are demanding but engaging as well. I have learned a significant amount as we move through them including diagraming sentences and direct objects, predicate nominatives etc. The programs include excellent poetry selections for memorization. Callista's are a bit below her level, because she is so familiar with poetry and memory work. I just give her extra poetry and she often learns Ellery's as well.
The Level 4 is intense but superbly chosen. It may prove difficult if your children are not accustomed to poetry.
The programs are divided into 100 lessons. We do around 4 a week. Sometimes less for Ellery because the lessons are longer. They are completely scripted so they require no forethought. I actually love this. I don't always follow the script, but many times I do.
I used Writing with Ease, also part of the Well Trained Mind program, last year, but I did not order the workbooks. This year I ordered the workbooks. It was an excellent choice. I don't have to search through books looking for sentences containing adverbs etc. All the literature selections are provided. The programs have 4 day weeks, each with a specific theme or book. There is copywork, narration and dictation. Callista is using Level 2 and Ellery Level 3. The Level 4 was too difficult. The first dictation is an entire paragraph. (It is read to the student 3x. The student repeats the selection back and then writes it down from memory.)
I trust the Bauers programs. Their literature selections are phenomenal. The intellectual rigor is demanding. This approach to writing, grammar, history is unmatched in my opinion.
What I miss most about the Spell to Write and Read program was how it grouped spelling words in such a manner to evoke the most creative writing. I also love the beautiful sentences it provided for introducing the spelling words. However, mastery was not stressed.
The spelling program I chose this year is Spelling Power. It is an excellent time efficient, mastery driven program. There are several levels of review built into the program. The idea is to introduce new words for only around 5 minutes a day. The children are tested on words they miss each day and continue to be tested on them until they spell them correctly the first time. Then review lists are often given which include the most frequently misspelled words.
My complaint with the program is the word grouping are very uninspiring. I may move to try to combine the two programs. I'm not sure how it would work out.
The very first year I homeschooled Ellery for a partial day in first grade I used the Sonlight curriculum. I loved the heavy focus on literature, but felt it was thin on the mechanics. This year I decided to order nearly all of the Independent Reading selections for 2nd-4th grade and the Read Alouds corresponding to Early American History, which we are studying this year. All of them have been fantastic. However, I find Callista is still in a bit of limbo between introductory chapter books and "real" chapter books. She isn't quite fluent enough yet to just love and become absorbed in a longer book.
Reading aloud is my favorite part of homeschooling. If ever the tension level gets too high, my best solution is to pull out a book, snuggle on the couch and start reading.
We love the Story of the World. It is always my girls favorite part of the day. We are currently in Volume 3. The children remain engaged and love the maps and coloring pages. I rarely have time for all of the activities but whenever we can we squeeze them in.
This year we are finishing up our Noeo physics study units as well as our Science in a Nutshell kits. I wish I had more time for Science. I love it so much, but usually we only tackle it once a week. We also will be doing the Science Fair this year. Of course my favorite!
Bertha our Spanish tutor comes 6 hours a week. Four hours are instructional. Bertha is a fabulous teacher. She love children and teaching. She includes Mexican History, Math, Fashion, Dancing, Singing, Science, Grammar, Art etc. in her lessons. The girls do not speak well, but their comprehension is increasing rapidly. I feel it is a very worthwhile addition to their education.
Emmett and Berkeley get in on the action as well. Emmett plays with Bertha's two grandsons (Spanish speakers) which come along. The one hour break gives me a nice moment of respite to work on dinner, pay bills, run an errand, or take a shower. On Wednesday's Bertha stays with the 2 little ones while I go to piano lessons with Ellery and Callista.
Ellery is attending a drawing class and Callista a pottery class at the local Arts center one hour a week. With only one other student each in their classes, they are like private lessons. We have had the same teacher for 3 years. The girls love her, receive technical training from a true artist, and produce high quality pieces.
Both girls are enrolled in sewing this year at the "Cute as a Button" sewing school. Our neighbor also joined their class. The student teacher ratio is 4:1 so they turn out excellent work. Ellery keeps her sewing machine set up in her room and is constantly making all sorts of creations from flower embellishments, headbands, and pillows, to skirts.
Gymnastics continues to be the main sport for Ellery, Callista, and Emmett. Ellery attends 11 hours a week, Callista 9 hours and Emmett 3 hours. This is a huge time and financial commitment. However, no matter how many times we re-evaluate we always decide this is the right decision for our children. The Myriad benefits include:
* fabulous friendships with their teammates
* strong healthy bodies
* tough competitive environment
* building grace and confidence, especially under pressure
* overcoming and facing tough scary things
The 3 children also enjoyed soccer for the first time this fall. Ellery and Callista had a great time and caught on quickly. We could barely get Emmett to run :)
Music is last on my list but is one of the cornerstones of our homeschooling. We practice everyday, and at an intense level. It is the most trying of our pursuits on my patience and the girls attitudes. Practicing is just plain hard. However, because we have uniquely devoted so much time and attention, the girls progress has been astounding. I don't say this to brag or gloat or glorify. It has simply been the result of a long concerted, dedicated effort. It is something within the grasp of anyone, if they make the decision. Our homeschooling puts us in a unique situation to devote the necessary time. We practice during the school day, beginning at 7:15.
The reason I've invested so much in music, is I feel the lifelong joy this will bring to my children and those around them is unmatched by anything else, save reading. If anything teaches perseverance it is mastering a musical instrument. I've found I can learn many things as an adult but the time intensity of this pursuit puts it out of my reach. And so the oft repeated words, I swore over and over again to my mother I would never say, come out, "I wish I never quit piano lessons."
The expectation of practice is well established. Emmett keeps asking when he gets to start. For my personal sanity, not until the summer after kindergarten. That time line has worked quite well for both of the girls.
Ellery continues to study the flute. She enjoys having a second instrument. She practices independently and so is not progressing as quickly. Callista is begging to begin the cello. However, it is expensive to buy the instrument and pay for lessons, so we are holding off until the summer, most likely.
The charter school actually offers semi-private instrument lessons at a local music store, which are paid through state funding. It is something I am looking into as a possibility for their second instruments next year.
So there it is. It looks a bit overwhelming and seems that way when I write it all down. Somehow, day in and day out it all works and we stay relatively sane. It is surely not something that works for everyone, and I don't claim it is the best way, only the choice we've made for our family right now.