First week of the new school year… sort of

I keep pushing back the beginning of our school year.  First I was hoping to do some work with the boys in July and August when it was hot so we could take off some time in September when it was cooler.  But no energy, brain fog, etc, and getting Gareth ready for college plus two long, cross-country trips (one to bring him to college) put an end to those plans.  Then I was going to start school for everyone on August 31.  But we got sick.  (Some kind of wicked cough/flu-ish thing).  So last week only Katydid completed anything like a real schedule; I tried to read to the boys a little more and we got some of our books nailed down, but that was about it.

This Tuesday is our new goal for the “official” start of school.

But I thought I would report on our Week Zero anyway.  For one thing, I haven’t posted anything in a long time.  (You may or may not have noticed.) I have a few drafts in progress, but I’ve run into problems with adding photos.  My “start-up disc is almost full” perpetually now so I have to delete pictures in order to download new ones.  I’ve tried moving my Aperture library to an external hard drive and then just automatically downloading all my new photos onto the external hard drive (which is theoretically possible), but none of the external hard drives seem to work with this Mac.  Is there anything I’m missing?  If you have any ideas, please let me know.

I have a few Instagram pictures for this post, but alas, not very many.

For a second thing, it isn’t as if the boys have been sitting around twiddling their thumbs either.  I was folding laundry over the weekend and got into a discussion with most of the boys about mag-lev trains.  (Because isn’t that what everyone talks about with their kids while they fold laundry?) Anyway, in the course of the conversation, it became clear that Dennis (age 9) had read most of our books about magnetism this summer and that he had a good idea of how mag-lev trains worked.  Chipmunk and Leo (age 8 and 5) happily demonstrated with their toy trains.  I got up afterwards and wrote it all down in a notebook as proof that somebody did something this summer other than watch a bunch of mindless TV.

And for a third thing, I thought you might like a peek at the plans I do have for the year, such as they are.

building a block world

One of the many block worlds the boys have been building lately, complete with its own economy and natural disasters (aka “Hurricane JM”).

Year 11

Since Katydid did the most academic work last week, I’ll start with her.  Last year, we relied heavily on Sally Thomas’ Western Civ 2: The Medieval World online lesson plans, after I made an Ambleside Online-type spreadsheet schedule for her Term 1 but had a hard time following up for Term 2.  Katydid liked all the links that Sally provided along with the readings (nicely divided by week, with writing assignments included), so we just shifted onto Sally’s schedule around the later Anglo-Saxons.  Although Sally also provides her lesson plans for 11th grade and Early Modern/American history — very helpfully, I might add — the 11th grade plans are in daily checklist format without the links and discussion which made earlier lesson plans so appealing to Katydid, so I told her that this year I would try to provide the same sort of links for history, literature, and religion on the high school blog that we created a few years ago and have used here and there when necessary throughout her high school years.  My intention was to put the lesson plans themselves online, a la Sally, but due to the circumstances of this summer, I only got as far as making a spreadsheet of Term 1 as overview.  So she’s working off that, and I’m putting related links online.

Katydid’s Year 11 is based on AO Year 9, with generous tweaks and substitutions by me.  Here’s a screenshot of part of her Term 1 schedule.  (We’ll be making changes over the course of the month as she determines what sort of workload she will have with her online classes: AP Environmental Science, German II, and Precalculus.  She’s also working her way through chemistry as a corequisite to APES, using the Spectrum Chemistry materials.)  Essay on Man, Gulliver’s Travels, the Alexander Pope poems, The Elements of Style, and Traditional Sentence Style are all AO titles, but the others are our choices. America As Seen by Its First Explorers: The Eyes of Discovery is a neat book about what North America was like when the explorers explored it. (What else would they do, right.  Anyway…)  I just took selections for the regions that we had the most experience with: Mississippi with De Soto (for whom the county we live in is named), upstate New York and French Canada, the Midwest (we used to live in Missouri), and the Mississippi River.  (AO’s geography selections in some of the upper years seem to me to be British Isles heavy.)  She wanted to read The Scarlet Letter, and the American Literature book from Seton contains primary source material collected from a Catholic point of view, which Katydid also wanted to include.  We’re only planning to use selections from the Colonial period up to about the Civil War this year.

Screen Shot Term 1 Year 11

The entire schedule is too much, though, and we’re going to have to adjust.  Last week Katydid’s German II and AP Environmental Science classes began, and they are both a lot of work.  (I don’t think she was expecting that from German, which she is again taking with Kolbe, because the workload for German I wasn’t that heavy).  She starts Precalculus this week.  Chemistry is what is throwing a wrench into the works, because she didn’t get nearly as much done over the summer as we had hoped.

Music for Everyone

new brass instruments

Katydid’s voice teacher of the past four years moved away this year, so I had to find another musical outlet for her.  What I found was a music program for everyone.  One (early) morning a week, we pack everybody in the van so the boys can participate in a beginning band program and Katydid can sing in a choir.  There’s a gap in between their classes, so during the gap we drive to a nearby greenway and take a short nature walk.  Then I drop Katydid off at her class, and I take the boys for a quick grocery trip.  It’s exhausting (primarily the grocery shopping), but we get a lot done.  For better or worse, I’m considering working in Chipmunk’s vision therapy on that day, too, since the eye doctor is not far away from music classes, but about a forty-five minute drive from our house.  Then I would just have one driving day all week.  (Something I have never managed before.)

Year 7

George and I sat down last week to choose his books for the term from a stack I had collected.  Originally he had wanted to do an American history and outside Europe year, but when I sat down and thought about it… and looked ahead at high school… and thought about how my older two had done things… and thought about Gareth’s freshman classes (at a Catholic liberal arts college)… I decided that it might be better just to pick up the other 2/3 of AO’s Year 6, which covers the ancients.  To be honest, I don’t think AO does a great job of the ancients or of the world outside Europe, but trying to do a more traditional Ancients/Medieval/Early Modern/Modern history rotation in high school has necessitated quite a bit of squishing for us, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing either.  So George is going to do a sort of Year 6.5 this year, at least until December or thereabouts, when he’ll hopefully pick up AO Year 7.

We’re doing our Year 6.5 a little differently than just using AO’s Year 6 ancient world recommendations, which focus entirely on the Greeks and Romans.  We swapped out Bullfinch’s Age of Fable for Padric Collum’s Great Myths of the World, and instead of Guerber’s Story of the Greeks and Story of the Romans, George wants to read from Susan Wise Bauer’s History of the Ancient World, which covers the entire ancient world including China, Africa, and the Americas.  He’s also going to read The Iliad, since he’s listened to many children’s versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey on audio, and I think he read Black Ships Before Troy last year.

I don’t have any neat and tidy spreadsheets to show for him, though; all I do for the boys is to sit down with a stack of post-its and a calculator, which I use to divide up the reading in the books we’ve chosen for the term.  I write down how many pages they should target per day on the post-it, and I stick the post-it in the front of the book.  For some books they read according to the schedule, and some books they end up reading faster.  I am fairly relaxed about this.

Year 3.5/Year 4 (Grade 4)

The twins are technically both in 4th grade this year, but they are vehemently opposed to reading the same books.  So I went through the booklists for AO’s Year 3, 3.5, and 4 and wrote down the titles I thought each of the twins would be interested in that they hadn’t already read.

homeschool planning journal

(More of my hi-tech homeschool planning.)

I also added titles from our shelves that I thought they would like.  Actually, we owned almost all the books listed, and I just picked up a few titles that looked particularly interesting or that filled gaps I thought needed filling.  (Not that I need excuses to buy books.)  Right now most of these books have been collected to the twins’ shelf in the kitchen, and Dennis and Huck have both put together a stack of books they want to read.  Huck’s stack actually includes a bunch of books that I didn’t write on this list that were just hanging around as free reading during the summer, but since he did it on his own before I could prompt him, I’m inclined to just let him work his way through the stack.

By the way, the twins will not read all these books this year; it’s just a list to choose from.

Year 2… or maybe 3?

Chipmunk’s birthday falls so near the cut-off date for grade placement in our school district that he could be in either 2nd grade or 3rd grade.  Because he’s a late reader, it’s easier to think of him as being in 2nd grade.  I liked the look of AO’s Year 2 for him this year, so most of the books I collected for him (for me to read aloud) come from AO Year 2.  Right now we’re reading from the book Built To Last (subtitle: Building America’s Amazing Bridges, Dams, Tunnels, and Skyscrapers.)  We’ve already renewed this book once, but that might just be because I can’t get my act together for regular bedtime reading.

Year 0 (Kindergarten)

Leo is five this year, and supposedly in kindergarten.  Please do not tell him this, though, because it is a matter of some contention.  Any learning this year that is my idea will have to be done by stealth.  To this end, I have loaded the iPad with Montessori and Starfall apps.  I’ve also been rethinking my approach to teaching reading, which will apply to Chipmunk as well.  Five of my kids are excellent readers, but I often think they learned to read in spite of me — or at the very least, not because of me.  I tend to always begin with the idea that I will be a much better homeschooler and stick to a consistent and well-developed phonics curriculum.  But after a while… we both get frustrated at the slow pace of the phonics curriculum and the lack of interesting reading material.  So at that point I throw out the phonics book and bring out the readers and we just read.  (Usually it’s at this point that we discover the underlying visual difficulties that are going to cost us thousands of dollars not covered by insurance to fix.)  The readers aren’t that interesting either, but we fight through them.  And then the kid spends his time looking at Stephen Biesty Cross-Section books or playing Spell Tower on the iPad and is suddenly able to read words like “castle” and “September”.

So this year, faced with my seventh kindergartner, and a not yet reading eight year old… I thought, if I sit down with everybody to do math for thirty minutes, and I sit down the little boys to do reading, too… I will spend three or four hours every day doing nothing but math and phonics.  Ok, so no, that is not happening.  For one thing, JM will only stand at the table and peel the labels off crayons for so long.  For another thing… I’ve been homeschooling for 14 or 15 years, and I have at least as much to go.  For me, there is no quicker road to burn-out than to focus solely on the basics day in and day out.

To make a long story short, I couldn’t bear to even think about trying to make this child sit down with a workbook every day.  So I decided that we would take a more informal approach that would maybe take into account sight words (which I find are not dealt with very well in most phonics-based curricula).  These blog posts about the Charlotte Mason approach to reading at The Joyful Shepherdess blog have been very helpful as I’ve thought about how I want to approach reading instruction this year.  It turns out that I had the wrong idea about Charlotte Mason’s approach to reading, mostly because I had always thought of it as more of a look-say approach.  As it turns out, I missed all the phonics that is supposed to be laid as a foundation.

I’ve also been rereading Teach a Child to Read With Children’s Books, which I do periodically.  I bought this book back when Gareth was a struggling reader (and the book was in print).  I’ve never seemed to be able to get it off the ground, but it’s good to have it in the back of my head.

So there’s a peek at our year as it stands right now.  I have a feeling we’re going to lean toward the more unschooly end of the spectrum this year, but some years are like that.


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