Third Grade: Week Eight Wrap-Up

Something that’s very important to constantly pay attention to and evaluate when homeschooling is whether or not your curriculum is still working for you. It can be easy to pick something and think you’re stuck with it long-term, but this isn’t the case. I am not by any means encouraging curriculum-hopping, because I think consistency is important, and if you hop around too much, you may manage to miss important lessons and skills. But you shouldn’t be a slave to your curriculum, either–it’s supposed to work for you, not the other way around.

I’ve had to switch a few things up in the three-plus years I’ve been homeschooling. The first switch came at the end of our first year–Kindergarten–when I realized that our Language Arts program was moving too slowly for Turkey and Bunny, and they needed a more advanced program. I learned a similar lesson with a spelling curriculum we were using last year. I also changed our core curriculum after last year, because we needed something more hands-on than Sonlight offered us.

Now that we’re almost a quarter of the way through third grade, I’ve realized that I need to make a change again. We’ve been using, and liking, Horizons math. I’ve realized lately, though, that the level we’re using isn’t providing enough of a challenge for Turkey and Bunny. Yes, new concepts are being introduced, but they’re mastering them almost immediately. And while Turkey likes math so much that he doesn’t mind doing the same thing over and over, Bunny is bored to tears. She will take forever to complete a lesson, not because she hasn’t learned the material, but because she is so bored with doing the same things.

So, I sat down and evaluated the scope and sequence of Horizons fourth grade math. Frankly, I don’t know why I’ve been so reluctant to do it before. Homeschooling allows a wonderful flexibility in choosing appropriate, challenging materials that children need. Yes, there are things that we haven’t learned yet that they’ll need to know. But, there’s also plenty of opportunity for review at the fourth grade level. So, I made the decision to teach a few more key concepts from the third grade book, and then move ahead to the fourth grade books. At the worst, we discover it’s too advanced, and move back to third grade, and keep the other materials for next year. But, I’m hopeful that this will provide the additional challenge they need–the last thing I want is to give them the impression that school is boring, when one of the big benefits of homeschooling is supposed to be fostering a love of learning!

Third Grade: Week Four Wrap-Up

I’m a day late in posting this, because I wanted to include today’s field trip, which was the conclusion to this week’s history lessons.

We’ve spent this week, (and part of last), learning about Native Americans with Adventures in My Father’s World. It’s been a very fun and informative week, and included some great read-alouds, interesting book basket choices, fun crafts, and the aforementioned field trip. I’m really loving My Father’s World, because not only are there great books as part of the curriculum, they’ve also planned out the crafts for me, which I’m not too good at on my own. It’s easy to just add in field trips where applicable, and really run with the program!

First, our read-aloud books. One of them was new to us–Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims. I think I read this book as a child–it has certainly been around forever! I had a difficult time with the beginning of the book, because it seemed to contradict everything I’ve learned about Squanto. As it turns out, it appears, at least according to this biography, that Squanto traveled to Europe once before he was kidnapped, and that’s the part of the story that confused me. We did get into his kidnapping late this week though, so I felt a little better about the quality of the book we’re reading.

Our second read-aloud was not new to us–North American Indians. I’ve used this book the last two years, for Thanksgiving School. It’s a great overview in the differences between the different groups of Indians in this country, divided by geography. It can’t go too in-depth with any one group, but it really gives a feel for the way different tribes lived, from the homes they lived in to the food they ate.

Our book basket books were also old Thanksgiving School selections, but it was the first time Turkey and Bunny read them on their own, so they were able to glean different information from them this time around. The overwhelming favorite was Native Homes, which shows, as the title suggests, the different dwellings of different Indian tribes. They really enjoyed comparing different homes, (a lot of them are very similar to wigwams), and each had a favorite home style.

They also read If You Lived With the Iroquois. I’m a big fan of this series–we have several titles. It’s written in a Q&A format, and answers all of the down-to-earth questions children have about what it would be like to be a member of this particular nation. It covers everything from how they would bathe, to religious beliefs, to medicine, to holidays and festivals. As an adult, I always learn something from these titles!

The final book basket choice for the week was Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving. Turkey and Bunny actually read this last week, too, as that’s when we started our Squanto read-aloud, but I wanted to make sure they were really familiar with the story. This book gives a good, short summary of the native’s life, with an admittedly strongly Christian slant.

Turkey and Bunny had two crafts this week as well. First, they made construction paper wigwams. This is actually more difficult than it sounds, because of the amount of glue involved. I really think they gained an appreciation for how difficult actually putting together a real wigwam would have been!

They also made a paper teepee. We’ve done this project before, but this time, they really enjoyed decorating their miniature homes. They had a much better understanding of how Indians actually would have decorated their teepees, and included things like pictures of buffalo and other animals.

Finally, we had a field trip to Cahokia Mounds, the largest old Indian settlement north of Mexico. We walked through the Interpretive Center, which has a great display that depicts every aspect of the Mississippian Indians lived, from food preparation to children playing, and everything else you can think of. They were also having a special event, with demonstrations of many different activities, including Atlatl throwing, story telling, and hoop dancing. It was a great day to visit–we all learned a lot!

Pictures don’t really give an adequate idea of just how tall Monk’s Mound is, so you’ll have to take my word for it–it’s enormous! Being afraid of heights, it was a bit of a challenge for me to climb it, especially once I realized just how high up I was! But the view is amazing–you can see the St. Louis skyline, and all of the surrounding area.

Third Grade: Week One Wrap-Up

I’m hoping to write more consistently about our homeschool experiences this year, by way of a weekly wrap-up. Instead of giving a summary of everything we’ve done in a given week, though, I’m going to share curriculum I particularly like using, or a good story from the week, or a field trip we’ve had…that sort of thing.

Now that we’ve finished our first week of third grade, I have a better feel for some of the new materials we’re using this year. So far, I’m very impressed with the curriculum I purchased from Beautiful Feet Books.

I really love the History of Science. The whole approach to this program is great. Turkey and Bunny are reading, (and from a pretty wide selection of books, too!), and discussing, drawing, mapping, doing copywork, and creating a timeline. It’s such a great variety of activities that it doesn’t feel boring like some other programs tend to. Turkey and Bunny, (and, I confess, their teacher), have really enjoyed learning about Archimedes and his world this week–we’re looking forward to learn more about ancient Greek scientists next week!

The History of the Horse is very similar in layout. Readings from a wide variety of sources, drawing, (we have a whole book dedicated to learning how to draw horses), copywork, etc. I know it’s kind of a strange topic to study in school, but I thought it would be a fun elective. It’s an interesting combination of history, zoology, and literature. Even Ladybug, who is way too young for the notebooking activities, is enjoying following along in the books, (especially the Handbook of Horses, which has lots of great photos), because she loves horses.

I really wish I could try out some of Beautiful Feet’s general history programs. From what I understand, however, they teach a Providential view of American history, and I won’t be teaching that in our school. I am hoping to use their History of Classical Music program in a few years, though, which I’ve heard is just as good, if not better, than the two we’re using this year!

So Many Books, So Little Time

In revising my long-terms goals for homeschooling, I’ve come to a terrible conclusion: there’s just not enough time to teach all of the things I want the children to learn!

Take science, for example. For the last few years, we’ve done Sonlight science, and I’ve been pretty happy with it. It’s time for a change, though, so for our upcoming third grade year, we’ll be doing Beautiful Feet’s History of Science program. But I also want to use some of My Father’s World’s science in the future (not third grade, thankfully–it’s a repeat of what we did this year, so we’re able to fit in the BF program), and I want to use at least some of the Apologia science that isn’t already scheduled in MFW. But, there are more years worth of science programs that I want to use than I have years left of elementary school to get through. Scary.

Foreign language is another example. Will we have time to study all of the languages I’d like to fit in? Besides Memoria Press’s Latin, I’d like us to get at least a basic grasp of French and German (probably with Rosetta Stone). And then I think maybe we should study Spanish, too. And the children have some ideas of languages they might like to add, including Greek and Italian (I have no idea why). Obviously, we can’t do it all. But how do I maximize our time so that we can learn as much as possible?

Thankfully, the history cycle is pretty straightforward. Every four years, we study the same thing, so I don’t have to worry about us missing any major points in history. I can’t guarantee that we’ll get through all of the extra books I’m hoping to read, however!

Math and language arts are really the only two subjects I don’t have to worry about, because it’s not like you can even try to do two programs at once, and once you find something that works, it doesn’t make any sense to jump around. So that’s a relief right there.

The rest of it, though…well, I’m starting to feel more like a “real” teacher struggling with this dilemma, anyway!

Planning Ahead

So, here it is, mid-May, and I’m planning for next school year.

What am I planning, you may ask?

Well, it’s not our third grade curriculum. No, I started thinking about that right after Christmas, and I’ve had my plan pretty solidified for a few months now.

What I’m planning now is our Christmas school for the year.

It’s really not that outlandish, honest. We’ll be starting Christmas school in under seven months, and I need to start brainstorming so it doesn’t take me by surprise. I need a theme, (which I’ve come up with–Christmas in America, through the centuries), and then I need resources, (which I’ve got a start on–using the American Girl series to show what Christmas was like at different points in American history). After that, I have to figure out crafts and field trips, what hymns/carols we might study, any movies/documentaries we’ll want to watch–it’s quite an undertaking.

Now, usually I’d start by thinking about Thanksgiving school at this time of year, and move on to Christmas in June or July. But since we’re using Adventures in My Father’s World for third grade, I don’t really have to worry about Thanksgiving school, as there is a whole week focusing on Thanksgiving built right into the schedule. This frees up my time, so I might as well dive right into Christmas plans.

Maybe it will help offset these unseasonably warm, upper 80 degree days we’ve been having already!

You Can’t Do it All

I really have to wonder about the way some people choose curriculum

As I began searching for information on different companies and their curriculum options for the coming year, I came across a new forum that I hadn’t browsed before–there simply hadn’t been a need. And I found it very helpful, and full of lots of information, not just about specific curriculum, but homeschooling stuff in general.

But I have noticed many people there using two or three different curriculum together at the same time. Now, I can see adding some stuff to what you’re doing…I’ve done that pretty much since we started homeschooling, with things like themed units, and adding on subjects such as Latin. But I think when you’re taking three different curriculum (for example, Sonlight, Story of the World, and Tapestry of Grace), that all have the same purpose in teaching (history through literature), then you have a problem.

I can understand (but not afford) blending two different curriculum with two different approaches. Say, something like Winterpromise, which is very hands-on crafty, and something more substantial, like Sonlight or Tapestry of Grace. And I can see needing separate curriculum for different children, based on their learning styles. But the example mentioned above, (which is an actual attempt by at least one person in assembling curriculum), attempting to use three full curriculum (including all of the activities for Story of the World–not just the books themselves alone), suggests a complete lack of confidence in any one of them.

If you find it necessary to use that many different companies to teach what you think needs to be taught, doesn’t that suggest that none of them is truly right for your family? Yes, there are a lot of amazing options available, and I can see the temptation to use them all. But that’s just not feasible, unless you was a burnt-out teacher and students. That’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen to try something new in our next school year–I was adding and tweaking so much to our Sonlight curriculum (which I do still love), that I realized that perhaps it isn’t the best match for us, at least not right now.

I also really have to wonder how people find time to do that many different curriculum. Sonlight on its own is enough to kill your voice, and I’ve seen the Tapestry of Grace book lists. I suppose you could just add on the reading selections for Story of the World, but if you’re really using it as the curriculum it’s published as, there are additional readings, and activities, and I think even quizzes and tests.

That’s just a lot of work. I don’t know, maybe that’s why I’ve stuck with “open and go” curriculum thus far. I don’t want to have to figure out what to replace, and what to add, and what activities to do from each company. Sure, some tweaking is fine, but if you’re going to that much trouble picking and choosing, why not just come up with your own curriculum? It would probably be the same amount of work, less money, and then you’d know that really had what you wanted, and what worked best for your family!

While I’m At It

As long as I’ve been pondering curriculum, I’ve been looking at another set of lessons, (this time unit studies), from another new company, one that I’ve heard of but never actually looked at before–Beautiful Feet (BF).

In the interest of full disclosure, because of their particular viewpoints in regards to history, (especially American history), I wouldn’t use them for our history core for a full year. They appear to teach history from a Providential viewpoint (which is something I had never even heard of before this month), and I definitely don’t want to teach that.

That being said, when researching classical music studies, their name kept coming up, and so I checked out their “History of Music” pack. It looks awesome! We’ll be getting almost all of the CDs it uses from MFW over the course of a few years, anyway, and I already have one of the books, so it won’t even be that big of an investment to pick up the study guide and additional books. My children have a natural love of classical music (which I definitely did *not* have at their age), and an ear for composers, and I really want to encourage that. This program looks like it will be great for us in a few years, to really delve into classical music, composers, and musical instruments.

While browsing the BF website, I also found a unit study on the “History of the Horse.” I know it sounds really random, and it definitely wasn’t something I was looking for, but I also think this would be another really cool elective. There are many classic books included in the pack that I’ve either read or heard of (most of them written by Marguerite Henry, of course!), and a few of them are books I was hoping to read with the children soon. There is also a great deal of science in this program (learning the biology of the horse, for example), as well as art, (learning to draw horses).  If we use it as an electives program on Fridays, it will last us a good three years, which is a great return on a rather small investment.

Both of these programs are heavy on notebooking, which I think will be great practice for Turkey and Bunny, and also makes for a nice portfolio at the end of the year, or years, as the case may be. I was hoping to find something more structured than even MFW for classical music, and BF definitely fits the bill, and has gotten great reviews on top of it. I never would have gone looking for a study on horses, but I do love finding unique things to study, and Bunny is always asking to learn about animals, anyway (too bad there’s no bunny unit!), so I think this will be a great addition to our school!

My Father’s World

So, I’ve been pondering the possibility of changing curriculum for third grade, from Sonlight to My Father’s World (MFW). I think my decision is pretty much made, and in making it, I’ve discovered specific reasons I’m leaning toward MFW.

  • MFW is Charlotte Mason meets unit studies meets classical education. Now, the Charlotte Mason philosophy itself is not that important to me, but the unit studies and classical style are. I’ve discovered through the special units I’ve put together on my own, that the unit studies are our favorite part of the school year. The children and I both enjoy that approach so much, and it didn’t occur to me until recently that I could look for something that would let us have that kind of experience all year-long. I’m also happy that it will be closer to traditional classical education (although still not all the way there), because that was one of the reasons we wanted to start homeschooling in the first place.
  • MFW has a lot of hands-on activities. This is kind of related to the post above, because one of the things that makes the unit studies I’ve put together so great is that I’ve found lots of hands-on activities and craft projects to go with whatever we’re studying. I will confess, however, that it’s a struggle for me to put that together on my own, so I don’t think I could add hands-on to a different curriculum successfully long-term. MFW has taken care of all that for me, and I’m really excited about being able to add that to our regular school routine.
  • I love that MFW implements a book basket. We certainly have no shortage of books to read around here, between the books I would have bought anyway, and our curriculum, but with MFW, there’s a list for each level of the curriculum of books that go along with what is being learned. Now, these aren’t mandatory reading, but suggestions for independent reading time. This will give us a lot more ideas of books we can get from the library, give the children some choices in which ones they choose to read, and free up my time a little more (and save my voice some!).
  • I’m also impressed with MFW language arts. Now, it’s not their own program–they’ve simply compiled resources that they recommend. But they’re resources I probably wouldn’t have looked at on my own, which is a shame, because having looked at them, I think they’re just what I’m looking for. This is the one area where I feel we’re struggling–not the spelling or vocabulary so much, but grammar itself, and I think the spine used by MFW will really be helpful to Turkey and Bunny in building their skills in that area.
  • MFW is also designed for ease of use with multiple grade levels. This has been on my mind lately, as Ladybug will be joining us in the schoolroom either this fall or next. I’ve been worrying over how I could teach two grade levels, and frankly, couldn’t really see how it would work. But MFW is designed to be used by a span of grade levels (eventually), which will really work for our family. The previously mentioned book basket will also help with that, as I will have time to focus on Ladybug while the other two work on some extra independent reading.
  • I also feel like MFW is more individualized. Again, this really goes back to the book basket. From what I understand, the teacher’s manual has a list of somewhere around 300 books for every year. Of course we won’t read them all, but I like that I’ll be in control of what to choose, and that from what I choose, Turkey and Bunny will have some choice of which of those books they each want to read. I know, I could do something similar with our current curriculum, but I’m something of a box-checker, so if I don’t do everything the way it’s laid I out, I start to feel guilty.
  • I also like the MFW Bible curriculum better. There are still things I’ll have to tweak to fit our Lutheran perspective, but not nearly as much–I was planning on just coming up with *all* our Bible lessons from here on out. It’s nice to have one less thing on my plate, though.
  • I’m also very impressed with the electives MFW offers. Next year, we’ll have a whole art curriculum. Not just art appreciation (which they also cover), but actual practice at drawing and painting. Like the rest of the curriculum, the electives just seem so much more hands-on (for example, in a lower grade, a color book of the different musical instruments to accompany learning what they each sound like), and I think that the children, as well as myself, will benefit from that approach.
  • The timing for a change is good for us right now, too. If we like MFW, we’ll be on the perfect schedule to go through their whole cycle by eighth grade (and we’ll go through the standard four-year history cycle completely). If it doesn’t work for us, we can go back to Sonlight with little problem–we’ll probably have to skip Core 5 in the future, but we’ll still finish the history cycle there, too. Either way, this is a great time for us to take a chance on something new, before we’re really immersed in the upper elementary level and the four-year history cycle.

That all being said, of course there are some things I’m going to have to change a bit to make MFW work for our family. I’ve come to realize, however that that’s going to be true of any curriculum I use. And now that I’ve been homeschooling a while (has it really been three years?!?), I’m much more confident in my ability to tweak as necessary, and to make the decision to change what we’re doing to fit our needs better!

Taking a Break?

I’m considering stepping away from Sonlight next year.

I know, I know…I’ve had nothing but good things to say about Sonlight. And that really hasn’t changed. But we’ve been doing this for three years, now, and I’m feeling like we need something different. Maybe for just one year, to try it out, see how we like it, and how we feel about being away from Sonlight. I’m not looking at long-term changes at this point. But I’m really afraid we’re going to burn out if we keep up with Sonlight, and I’d also like to look at some different options for L.A.

Right now, I’m thinking we might try out My Father’s World. It has some things in common with Sonlight, so it won’t feel totally strange, but it has a more classical bent, which is what I’m really looking for. I also like that it has more hands-on activities–I have a hard enough time coming up with those for our special units; trying to do it for our regular school year would be a nightmare for me!

There aren’t as many books scheduled, which isn’t great, but from what I understand there is a list of supplementary books included, so we can add as much literature as we want. Plus, I do have Sonlight’s book list, and the history we’ll be studying will cover roughly the same years, so those books would still apply. My Father’s World is also considerably cheaper than Sonlight, which is especially helpful because I don’t know if I want this to be a permanent change. I think I’d have a hard time “upgrading” to something more expensive, but going down in price is easier to handle, plus will leave me with some of the budget for buying those previously mentioned extra books.

I haven’t made any decisions for sure–I’m still at the research stage right now. But I’m kind of excited with the idea of trying something new. It’s just a reminder that every school year is a chance for a fresh start!

Homeschool Review: “A Reason For…”

We’re on our second year of A Reason for Handwriting ( we started with Book K last year, and have moved on to the now-alphabetically-sequenced Book A), and our first year of A Reason for Spelling (also Book A). Even though it’s early in the school year, I have a pretty good feeling for both programs.

I was very impressed with the way Handwriting introduced proper letter formation in Book K, using a tree-house as a guide. My children thought it was a fun way to learn, and even though Bunny still has some work to do on writing well (which is all about her rushing, and not about her understanding of what she’s *supposed* to be doing!), Turkey has excellent printing already, and they both know how letters are supposed to be written.

We’re still working on reviewing what we learned last year now that we’ve started Book A, but looking ahead, I love that we’ll be using Scripture to practice handwriting (even if the translation used isn’t my first, or even second, choice!), and I also love the fancy border sheets, which reinforce the idea that handwriting is a public way of communication, and should look nice.

So far in Spelling, we’ve worked on phonics review, and it’s been very much like the Explode the Code series. The activities have been fun, and the bonus activities suggested in the teacher’s guide are geared toward every kind of learner, even kinesthetic. What I like most, though, is the way the lessons line up with the lessons in the Handwriting book. Of course, this only works if you’re using the same level of handwriting and spelling at the same time (which we are), but I think it’s a great way to reinforce the Bible passages used, and to bring in needed repetition in spelling and writing well. And why wouldn’t you link the two? It seems like a very natural way to learn, which is one of the things I love about our main curriculum, Sonlight.

I’m definitely looking forward to learning cursive and spelling harder words in the years to come with the A Reason For… books!