Posts in Category: Homeschooling

teaching math via G+ hangout!

teaching math via G+ hangout!

Back to blog, back to school

I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post. Well, actually I can. It was kind of a crazy summer. We spent 10 weeks away from home. Most of that was in Michigan, but for a week and a half we were in Colorado. All summer I thought about writing a post, but I could never quite get my thoughts focused enough. Suffice it to say, the last few months have been really good and really busy.

We continued schooling through the summer, albeit at a more relaxed pace. We’d taken quite a bit of time off over the winter and spring so felt like we really needed to keep going. We finished up last year’s language arts and math programs about mid-July, but kept plugging away at our Core until after we got home in late August. We took a couple of weeks off as we chose and ordered our next curriculum and finally got everything started back up over the last two weeks. Tim has now done two weeks of math with the girls using the same program as last year (Christian Light Publications, grades 3 and 5) and it’s been going really well. We decided to go back to Sonlight for science and language arts, and continue with Sonlight’s Core. Our first week went amazingly well. If our whole school year can continue anything like this, it’s going to be fantastic!

First day of school


I was really unsure about using Sonlight’s LA. Since we’ve been homeschooling I’ve gone from Sonlight to Well-Trained Mind to Christian Light, and now back to SL. We quit using SL LA in the first place because it was too much writing for my kids when they weren’t ready for it, and I felt it was lacking in grammar. WTM doesn’t require any composition for the first couple of years, focusing instead on grammar, copywork, dictation, and narration. That was great for a year, but when we started our second year with it we all realized that we were getting tired of listening to my voice (since it’s all scripted and presented orally). So partway through last year I switched to CLP. That was also great for a while, as we all loved how independently the girls could work. But while the spiral method is working great for math, it got pretty boring for LA. And the materials were showing their age (last edited in 1997)–did my girls really need to learn how to write their name and the date on a library book card to check it out? Or how to use a phone book? I think not. I had supplemented CLP with a Zaner-Bloser writing curriculum that had worked pretty well, so I knew the girls had gotten to the point where they could handle writing. Thus the switch back to Sonlight.

The complicating factor is that at the Core we’re on now (Core D, formerly Core 3) the LA and readers coordinate with the Core. So the question was, could I use the same LA program and level with all three girls? Sonlight’s website and catalog say that their D materials are suitable for most kids between 8 and 11 years old or so. After looking at the sample schedules I decided to give it a go, adapting things as I go along to make it a little harder for Bethany and a little easier for Ellie and Micah. So far it’s worked perfectly. The first week’s assignments have been easy to adapt–for example, on a writing assignment having Bethany do 8-10 sentences and Ellie and Micah do 4-6. Bethany’s already done the Sequential Spelling level that SL recommends with this core, so I put CLP’s 5th grade spelling lists into SpellingCity (I already had the CLP grade 5 teacher’s book with the lists) and had her work on that while I did spelling with Ellie and Micah.

I’ve had to schedule our mornings kind of carefully, not so much in how long to spend on each thing but in who is doing what. Ellie and Micah are doing the Regular readers that go with Core D, while Bethany’s doing the Advanced readers. That means that every day Ellie and Micah will need to read the same pages of the same book. Sometimes all three of them will be reading the same book (the Advanced readers including all the Regular ones plus extras). They’re also all doing Rosetta Stone Spanish on the computer. So I’ve figured out a schedule where, for example, Bethany is doing Rosetta Stone while Micah is reading and I’m working with Ellie on handwriting. When everyone’s finished, they switch. This week it worked beautifully. The house is so quiet while they’re each focused on their own work! I’ve even been able to do things like pop in a load of laundry while they work. It’s been amazing.

Tim loved the science he used with the girls last year (Real Science 4 Kids), but he’d reached a point where things had gotten too complicated for Ellie and Micah. Sonlight’s Science D uses RS4K but not exclusively. So far that’s also worked well. Core D has also started very positively. This is the first Core where the girls have had any written work to do, and they’ve been handling it well. We do some of it together, and they do some independently.

So, in a more concise form, here’s exactly what we’re using:
Math: Christian Light Publications, grades 3 and 5
Science: Sonlight Science D (Biology, Taxonomy, and Human Anatomy)
Language Arts: Sonlight LA D
Spelling: Sequential Spelling 1 / CLP grade 5 spelling words done in SpellingCity
Core: Sonlight Core D with Regular and Advanced Readers
Spanish: Rosetta Stone, each working at her own pace

The one thing we haven’t figured out yet is bible. For right now, Tim’s reading Hero Tales Vol. IV to the girls a few times a week.

We’re still actively involved in our homeschool co-op, HIGH Day. We’re three weeks into our 11-week fall semester and loving it. The girls get to do fun classes like art (“Meet the Masters“), P.E., Odyssey of the Mind (creative problem solving), and hands-on science.

So that’s life on the homefront for right now. I’ll try to get Tim to write a post about what he’s been working on in the studio sometime soon.

Changing things up

“Mom, do we have to do school today?”

For the last couple of weeks, this has been the girls’ morning greeting for me. When I answer in the affirmative, the response is a chorus of, “Awwwww!”

Awesome. Just what a homeschooling mom loves to hear. What’s worse is that I’ve been feeling almost the same way.


Obviously a change is needed.


So I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what seems to be working and what doesn’t. What I like, and what frustrates me. What the girls seem to like, and what makes their eyes glaze over. I also asked them for their opinions: what do they wish we could do more of, what do they hate, what don’t we do that they would like to. What I came up with:

  • We can only go for so many weeks in a row before we all start hating school and life.
  • We all like our new Language Arts workbooks.
  • We all like our read-aloud book time (where I read to them).
  • They’d like more hands-on activities.
  • I’d like to take more time with history.

As I was pondering all this, a link to this blog post hit my inbox. If you don’t want to take the time to read it, the basic gist is that the writer takes a homeschooling “sabbatical” every eighth week. It made a whole lot of sense to me. I’ve realized that two months is about the max I can go before I feel burned out on school and hopelessly overwhelmed in every other area of life. It’s been about that long since our Christmas break.

Tim and I talked, and come to find out he’s feeling the same way. A seven weeks on/one week off schedule sounds really good. During the one week off we’d still do a little bit of work: a day or two of math lessons, about the same in our Language Arts workbooks, maybe continuing work if we’ve got a special project going on. But mostly it’ll be a week of slowing down, catching up on other things, relaxing, and having fun. I’ll also use that week to plan out the next seven, which leads me to our next change: slowing down our Core.

For our Core, we use curriculum from Sonlight. Core includes bible, memory work, geography, history, social studies and literature. This is our favorite part of school. Sonlight’s Instructor’s Guide lays out a 36-week schedule so you can complete a Core in a traditional school year. But to do that, the pace moves pretty quickly. Sonlight doesn’t include any hands-on activities in their guides, leaving that up to each family to do as fits their schedule and interests.

We’re doing their Core 2 this year. Up to this point, I’ve pretty much followed the schedule they give to the letter. That’s going to stop. I’m going to slow down to about half-time and add in more activities, projects, videos and field trips. As it happens, we’re right around the year 1400 in our history studies. There was a lot going on in the world at that time, which gives us lots of potential things to do. So far, I’ve planned out about four of the next seven weeks. Our studies for those weeks will cover explorers, Aztecs, Incas, Conquistadors, a quick look at east Africa, and the beginning of the Renaissance. Some of the possible projects I have planned include making pictures with spices, making a lapbook about the Aztecs (using a History Pockets book I already have), a field trip to St. Augustine, and some art projects related to Giotto, Botticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Raphael. The following three weeks will cover the Reformation and the Elizabethan age. I haven’t started working on the extra activities for those weeks yet.

If that seems like a lot to cram into seven weeks, consider that it’s actually only four weeks’ worth of material according to the instructor’s guide! Also, this Core is considered an introduction to world history:  I’m not expecting them to get a really in-depth understanding of the topics, just a good overview that will hopefully stick with them.

A smaller change is going to be giving the girls a little more autonomy and independence in their work, especially Bethany. For example, I’ll give her a list of assignments at the beginning of each week and let her decide which ones to do when. There will be certain things she’ll need to do every day, others that will only be once or twice a week. But she can choose which days and in which order to do those things, and just show them to me when she’s finished.

I’m already excited about all these changes, and I think the girls are too. I know they’re excited about taking this week off! The only schoolwork on the schedule is a couple of Language Arts lessons and working on book reports.

Back in session

We’re working our way back in to school a little at a time. Last week we started with Spanish and art. Yesterday was what we called the official first day of school. Tim began math and science yesterday, and today they did their first experiment: learning about the scientific method. I did language arts with everyone yesterday, and Core and art today. I think Tim’s planning to follow his regular schedule now, but I’m going to keep alternating–LA one day, Core the next–for the next week or so, until I get the bugs worked out.

Yesterday’s LA took quite a bit longer than I had expected. I hope that I can get that tightened up a bit as time goes on. I’m still figuring out our new spelling program (All About Spelling), so that’s a bit time-consuming. The girls are doing great with Spanish so far. Of course, we’ve only covered one lesson but they’re enjoying it and asking for more. Art has been fun, too. Last week they did a group project with horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. Today they made designs with bent and curved lines. I think we have one more lesson on line before we move on to shape.

School plans

I have just about everything ready for the start of our upcoming school year. Of course everything is open to change, but here’s what I’ve got planned. Bethany will be in 4th grade, Ellie and Micah in 2nd.

Tim teaches science, math and piano. He’s going to be using Real Science 4 Kids Pre-level 1 biology with all three of them, and CLE math. I think he’s still figuring out what levels he’ll use for math.

I think we’ll probably start in another week or two. I haven’t decided yet if we’ll just jump right in with everything or start slowly. I’m leaning toward jumping right in. We’re doing quite a lot more than we have in the past, so I expect our school days to be an hour or two longer than before. The girls aren’t thrilled with this, but they are looking forward to starting Spanish and art which are both new for us.