Tuesday, July 22, 2014

School Year 2014-2015

Psychologically, it sounds like a lot more responsibility to have a 1st grader than a kindergartner. Seriously! How do I have a 6 year old?????? Yikes!

So this year we have Hans in 1st grade (he turned 6 in June), Gretchen is 3 1/2 and still firmly a preschooler (read: she gets to play and join in when she wants), and Martin is 1. Martin is the designated recess coordinator. He suggests, signals, and sometimes demands when we pause school for his benefit ;-). Haha. No, but seriously. . . he is a good reminder to take a break frequently :-). My kids like frequent breaks. I  like frequent breaks. We all do better.

We actually "officially" started our school year in late June. Because Daddy was teaching a summer class and because for various life reasons, we got very little school done in the spring. (No, folks, not for that reason. Stop starting rumors.) And Hans had been BEGGING me to start back up school. Plus this means if we need to take off time during the year (for sanity or life), we have that flexibility. Houston is kind of a rotten place to be outside in the summer, anyway. Can anyone say "extra outdoor time during more pleasant months"?

So what are we doing this year? Here's a run-down:

Language Arts:

Starting the day with some basic penmanship. Fine-motor skills have always been a challenge for Hans and he's fought other handwriting tooth-and-nail before, so we're keeping basic, no official curriculum for now. And life is easier. Right now our penmanship looks like a chosen letter/number for the day (working our way back through the alphabet), and Hans doing six repetitions of the capital AND lowercase of that letter on primary-ruled paper, then circling his "best" for each group. Gretchen traces three of the same letter (capital and lowercase), and then if she wants (she always does, so far) she can freehand some as well.

English grammar. Using Shurley English was practically in our prenuptial agreement, along with classically educating. I jest slightly. But we're excited to start Shurley English! We're a few weeks in and Hans is loving it. Gretchen is loving singing along to the jingles. I gotta say, the noun jingle is cute, but the next two really could have been better-written :-P. Maybe I'm just picky. But the kids totally soaked it up and can rattle off the definition of noun, verb, and the basic rules for a sentence. Lame jingles and all. Hans has been enthusiastic about English so far, which relieves me. We'll see how the year progresses, but I do think English will be the most "stretching" subject for him. Hans was super-proud of his first classified sentence:

Spelling. We're not QUITE ready to start this, I feel like. As I read through the spelling curriculum I purchased (Logos School's "Grammar of Spelling" - very basic, no frills, organized according to spelling rules, etc.), I really think working with Hans to get used to writing even more will really help spelling go more smoothly. He's ready mentally for the spelling, but not ready for the writing required. He has come a LONG way in the past month, writing more and more everyday, and complaining less and less. He's starting to realize that writing is a part of life :-). But I'll probably wait until later in the year, maybe late fall, maybe at the semester/Christmas break to introduce it, as the program is very heavily writing, and I do think writing is a good way to learn spelling, so I don't want to "skimp" on that aspect.

So moving on from language arts to. . .

Social Studies:

Geography. We're loving several resources. GeoPuzzles are a huge hit. I love that most of the pieces are the shape of countries!

As we're studying Egypt/Middle East in history, we're focusing on those areas of the world in geography, but not exclusively. We are also utilizing a globe, wall maps for the world and U.S., and we recently purchased an atlas. I basically just want to give them plenty of opportunity to explore geography. I found some $1 laminated placemats at Wal-mart that had world maps, and they've been using these as "charts" to sail the seas on their good ship Couch ;-).

Another resource we are loving is the geography trivium tables from Classical Conversations. We are not part of a CC community, but we still love and use some of their resources. This link has a short video explaining how to use them. There are 5ish new locations to learn every week, plus Hans sometimes likes to trace additional areas, like below:

We are also using the "continental blob" concept that Leigh Bortin talks about in her book "The Core," and using this free pack to aid in that. I also found this awesome site (free!), that allows me to customize state, country, and world maps to include (or exclude) features like longitude/latitude, cities, rivers, borders, names, etc. It is an awesome resource! I've printed up some of the maps from the site and placed in sheet protectors to trace with dry erase markers.

For history we're using Veritas, starting with Old Testament and Ancient Egypt. Someday I might do a whole post on history, explaining why we chose Veritas, etc., because I spent a few *months* researching different history curricula a few years ago, before landing on Veritas. It's not perfect (and there are other great options out there!), but it has a lot of great aspects to it. Here's a video that explains how the Veritas program works. We are only doing the history program, not the additional and separate Bible program, but a lot of the cards from this year are straight Bible events, like the Exodus, Solomon's reign, etc.

The kids have really enjoyed the history program so far. Each week has a different timeline card (there are 32 cards for the year), and we memorize that event in order with the previous events, and try to come up with hand motions to help us remember (and to make it fun!). As the weeks progress and we've memorized more events, I'll do stuff like shuffle the cards and ask them to put them in order. The CD-ROM teacher's CD has many options for each week for additional activities like worksheets, crafts, other activities, and a test (we're going low-key and not doing the tests, except informally and verbally). Also a timeline song with all 32 events, and a Ten Commandments song. The timeline card for each week has a picture on the front (often a famous work of art, but not always) that corresponds with the event, and a short synopsis on the back, plus a list of additional reading suggestions (from other history books) to do throughout the week. I've found that most of the additional reading resources can be found on Amazon for really good prices used (often $4 including shipping), which quite frankly is a lot more convenient than trying to find them at the library, as our library is not conveniently located, and we have only one vehicle.

For math, we're continuing to use Singapore. I like the focus on word problems. It's not perfect, and it's definitely not strong on drill, but it doesn't drive me as batty as many elementary math books out there ;-). It's a great spine for us, and we're doing lots of supplementation. We're using different ways to work on basic math facts. While Hans has done some basic multiplication (and a wee bit of division), we're not drilling those yet, but sticking with addition/subtraction for now. We've used ideas from this great site in the past, and now we're mainly using some simple math games my sister-in-law created. Most math games have way too much visual stimulation for Hans' attention issues, so these ones are perfect, especially the first one. One single problem on the board at a time. I tried to have him play a game from my childhood, Number Eaters, but it was WAY too much for him to take in visually at once, even with the "practice" option that was not timed and had no monsters. So we'll reserve that for a future point :-).

For science, we are loving our Apologia Botany book. We are over halfway through, as we started it in January (one of the few school things we did do through the spring! - albeit very sporadically). The elementary Apologia science books have a gentle exploratory approach with journaling - very Charlotte Mason-esque. Hans has loved it and learned so much. We'll probably start Zoology 1 around Christmastime. (They are not graded, so you can do them in whatever order you want, though they do have some rough suggestions.)

Below, we were doing a leaf classification activity. I like that the book is adaptable to focus more on the exploratory and tactile aspect, which is great for early ages, but also has great textual info that can be expanded to use for upper elementary. Hans loves to be read to, so we have soaked up most of the text, but it would be adaptable to pick and choose, for someone who needed more activity and less text. For some of the more "dense" pages like the leaf classification, we just turned it into a nature walk and classification activity, without focusing on trying to remember all the names, outside of casual reference to them. No testing!

For art, I always have the best of intentions, but I'm never sure how much it will happen ;-). hehe. I'm hoping to use Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes, and we've done the first 2 sessions, which went well. I've also purchased some mini art postcards that make exploring famous art fun for the kids. We'll see how the year unfolds :-). There are lots of history projects in Veritas' program that definitely count as arts/crafts also!

Finally, but not least. . . we found an AMAZING free resource for flash cards online, called Anki. You can either create your own decks or download ones people post online. The brilliance of Anki is that it allows you to choose how often you see the cards, based on how easy it was for you to remember each one. So if you are reviewing a card and had a hard time remembering, you can request to see it again during that session (randomly reintroduced). But if it was way easy, you can choose not to see it for several days.

It has greatly simplified reviewing/learning catechism and memory verses with the kids. We've been using it for several weeks now, and it has worked really well. Sometimes I'll have the kids jump on the mini trampoline while reciting answers, to get the wiggles out :-). They take turns answering. We've also been using it for Spanish (informally using Salsa again, with "Aunt Hannah videos"), basic botany definitions, and skip counting. I highly recommend you check out Anki! It also has capabilities to upload pictures or videos to flash cards.

So if you managed to make it to the end of this post, now you get to tell me what you're doing for school this year. Or if you or your kids aren't in school, tell me your favorite kind of chocolate. Go!