Third Grade: Week Five Wrap-Up

I can’t believe we’ve already completed five weeks of school! This school year is really flying by, (at least for now).

This week, I want to focus on the importance of hands-on activities.

I’ll be upfront, and say that this is the primary reason we switched away from Sonlight–hands-on activities are not an important part of their program, and they’re up-front about that (it is my understanding that they’ve changed that a bit this year, so it’s still worth looking into). I thought I was OK with it at first–I figured I could just add in my own activities. And then I discovered how much work finding and planning all the activities is. So, while I did have plenty of activities for special units, and special days, it really wasn’t a weekly thing for us. You just can’t do it all!

My Father’s World, on the other hand, offers plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning, not only in the history part of their programs, but Bible and science as well. I shared last week the teepees and wigwams Turkey and Bunny made while we were learning about Native Americans. Now, I realize that a lot of people think crafts like this are just busy work, and have no real value in education, but I completely disagree. For example, making the wigwams not only helped Turkey and Bunny visualize what an actual wigwam looks like, it also gave them an idea, on a much smaller scale, of just how difficult it would be to put together a real wigwam.

This week, when doing one of our read-alouds in American Pioneers and Patriots, we read about an oiled paper window in a house. This concept was, naturally, foreign to Turkey and Bunny…windows are glass and nothing else to them. So, we talked about why they would have had paper windows at all, (mainly, a lack of glass), and what the benefit of oiling the paper would be. After our discussion, we took two sheets of paper, and coated one of them in vegetable oil. We then held our two samples up to one of our glass windows, so that we might observe how they are different. It was easy to see that the oiled window let in much more light than the plain paper.

Then the real fun began. We took our regular paper, and put it under the kitchen faucet. It didn’t take long to see that paper and water don’t mix, and only the slightest touch created a huge rip in the “window.” We then repeated the experiment with the oiled paper, and even after it was left under the water for a good length of time, we really had to work to puncture the “window.” This led to a good discussion about the properties of oil and water, and how they interact, (or don’t), and really demonstrated to them why this was the chosen type of window for the Pilgrims. Simply reading about it would not have provided this kind of understanding for them.

The same is true with science. This is one area where Sonlight does offer plenty of hands-on activities and experiments, and even though we’re no longer using that curriculum, I still think that it does a great job of really getting students involved in science. (The DVDs are also a bonus, especially in cases where the experiment doesn’t quite work, usually due to teacher error!)

Beautiful Feet also does a good job in this department, both in the experiments they suggest, and in the books that are part of the curriculum, as there are many hands-on activities in the course of daily readings. For example, this week, as we’re wrapping up our study of Archimedes, we learned about centers of gravity/equilibrium. We then tried balancing different items on our fingertips, as suggested in Archimedes and the Door of Science, ranging from simple pencils and spoons to toys. Turkey and Bunny had a great time predicting where the item needed to be held to balance, (and Turkey, in his future engineer way, was usually right), and then carrying out the experiment.

As you can see, there are many different ways to incorporate hands-on activities, for a wide range of subjects. Sure, sometimes these activities are just for fun, but more often, they’re activities that *are* fun, but are really implemented for the benefits they provide in the learning process.

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!

The Focus of Education

In all of my curriculum research, I’ve come to a greater understanding of the way different curriculum providers choose to focus their curriculum, philosophically.

For example, there’s classical education done The Well Trained Mind way. More than anything else, the focus of studies for this philosophy is history. Yes, the classical method is important here, as far as the different stages of learning, and using appropriate activities and materials for each stage, but at the center you find the four-year history cycle, and emphasis on being familiar with the whys and wherefores of what has happened in the past.

Then there’s education, Sonlight-style. The focus of this program is great literature. It’s not really classical, although it does get into the four-year cycle eventually, in a Sonlight kind of way. But there are tons of great books in this program, both to be read aloud, and for the children to read to themselves. I don’t think any other program “requires” the reading of so much great literature by their students.

There are other philosophies that lean toward classical, but in different ways. My Father’s World, for example, is classical-ish, but focuses on the Bible. However, it also ties in elements of unit studies and Charlotte Mason philosophy. So, you get the best of many worlds, here–great Bible instruction within the four-year history cycle, and lots of fun hands on activities, nature walks, and a gentle introduction into Language Arts.

There are also companies who focus solely on the Charlotte Mason method, such as Winterpromise. Again, lots of nature studies, family discussion, and hands-on activities. Notebooking is also an important part of this program, but the four-year history cycle really is not. As a matter of fact, they go so far as to say that the four-year cycle may repeat too much, which is a very different philosophy.

Heart of Dakota is another Charlotte Mason style curriculum, but with a heavier emphasis on religious education. Like My Father’s World, it is intended to be used by students of different ages, at least for the history, science, and religion segments–math and language arts, of course, need to be supplemented according to each student’s ability, and there are extension packages available to make the program more challenging for older students.

The Latin Centered Curriculum is another classical method, and, much like The Well Trained Mind, it is a book of suggestions for materials, and not a curriculum company. As its title suggests, The Latin Centered Curriculum places the focus on the study of Latin, even eventually studying great works in their original language. In a way, this is almost a grammar and language arts focused program. I have found that nothing teaches my children English grammar better than learning Latin, and I’m assuming the same would hold true with a Latin-focused program.

Different countries, (or continents, as the case may be), around the world also have different educational focuses. In Europe, for example, it could be argued that the focus is on foreign languages. Students start learning a foreign language in grade school, and continue learning it throughout their schooling–there is no simply being done with it, as we usually see after two (or sometimes four) years of foreign language here in America. They also continue adding additional foreign languages every few years, so that a European student might be fluent in three or four languages by the time he or she is done with school.

In Asia, the primary course of study is definitely math (and, more recently, science). Math programs have sprung up in the U.S., attempting to mimic this style of learning. Mental math is very important in Asian math programs, more so than the spiral method which is so common here. And there’s no doubt, looking at the test scores, that it’s working–Asian students routinely score very highly in math and the sciences.

Of course, these are all generalizations, but it’s interesting to me to see what different people like to emphasize in education. Sometimes it’s cultural, sometimes it’s religious, sometimes it’s a philosophy. But everyone has a reason for teaching the way they do, and for centering their studies around whatever subject they choose.

As for us, I try to balance our subjects, but I definitely have my favorites, as well. I love learning through literature, particularly historical literature, so the four-year history cycle is very appealing to me. I also have a strong desire to study and learn as much Latin as possible, both for my children and myself. I guess you could call us eclectic. The most important thing, though, is finding what works for your children, and taking full advantage of all the opportunities for learning that you can!

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!

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!

Why We Homeschool

It may be easier to start with things that are *not* reasons for our decision to homeschool.

We do *not* homeschool primarily for religious reasons. I am very grateful that I can share Scripture readings with my children every morning, that we have catechisis right in school, that we can talk about God when we discuss science and history and art and any other subjects where He is brought up. But this was not the top reason we chose to homeschool.

We do *not* homeschool to shelter our children. Yes, I will decide when to introduce some concepts, and I may filter certain things for them, but we will (and have) discuss tough subjects. I feel that our children need to know about things they will encounter out in the real world (such as evolution), so that they know how to respond. But I will make sure that I share that information in age-appropritate (and individual child-appropriate) ways.

We do *not* homeschool because I can’t let go. I had to send Moose off to school when he was barely three, which was very hard for me, and goes against my personal belief that barring special circumstances (autism, in this case), children that young belong at home. I did it anyway. And if I *had* to send Turkey, Bunny and Ladybug to the public school, I would, just as I send them off to Sunday School, VBS, Fall Bible School, and for some of my children, mornings at MOPS, even when they were only a few weeks old.

We do *not* homeschool because the public schools are intrinsically terrible. Actually, we think we’re pretty fortunate to live in the disctrict we’re in, because Moose has received so much help. I have met caring teachers, great adminstrtors, and a good support staff at our school. Just because the public school is not the best choice for Turkey and Bunny doesn’t mean that I think it’s a cesspool unable to meet students’ needs.

We *do* homeschool for several reasons. First of all, we *do* homeschool to give our children an individualized education. Yes, we follow a standard curriculum. But when it comes to special themed units, field trips, and spontaneous moments of study, I can tailor our studies to Turkey and Bunny’s particular interests. We’ve learned about space and heroes of the Revolutionary War. We’ve traveled around the world at Christmas, learning about countries that are interesting to us, or that represent our family heritage. If we want to learn about something, we do it.

We *do* homeschool to challenge our children. By having school at home, I can once again tailor their education to where they are at, academically. They don’t have to stay behind on a subject because that’s where the rest of the class is at. I don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator. We’ve stepped up Language Arts in a big way for that exact reason. When I see that they’re bored because they already know something we’re studying, I can just move on, and we can learn something new.

We *do* homeschool because Bunny is gifted. I don’t say this to brag; it’s simply the truth. And she is a large part of the reason we chose to homeschool. I can’t imagine how bored she would be in a regular first grade class (the grade she *should* be in–at home she gets to be in second grade, which is appropriate for her ability level), and how little she would be learning at this point. And since most gifted programs have been axed in the school district, I think it’s even more important that she can learn in an environment where she can truly flourish.

We *do* homeschool because we want to provide our children with a classical education. I’m not saying I follow The Well Trained Mind to the letter, but that book *was* what pushed us over the edge for homeschooling (because that was something we were *never* going to do!). I do think it’s important for children to learn Latin at a young age (we get to start our Latin curriculum in a few short weeks!), and I think it’s also important to memorize at a young age, because children are such little sponges. As I don’t know of any public schools that offer classical education, and since the one Lutheran school around here that does is too far away, and way out of our price range, I’ll just have to provide that education at home.

We *do* homeschool because we want to provide a literature rich education. This is what I love most about Sonlight. Yes, it’s great to have the curriculum assembled for me, and I do love the instructor’s guide. But the most important thing about Sonlight, at least for our family, is that it provides such a rich foundation in literature. My children have read more books, both on their own, and as read-alouds in school, than I ever dreamed possible, and I know that aside from a few highly motivated individuals, their public school counterparts aren’t receiving the same introduction to literature and the pleasure of reading.

There are many reasons we homeschool, and many reasons that were not a factor in our decision. We may not look like the typical homeschooling family, but what *is* typical, anyway?

Hero Tales

Sonlight used to include a book in Core K called Hero Tales Volume One by Dave and Neta Jackson. Unfortunately, they swapped it out for something else before I had a chance to order, so I haven’t actually used the book in school. I *have* looked through it, though, and I think it’s a really cool idea (and from what I’ve seen, I would have preferred it way over its Sonlight replacement, I Heard Good News Today, by Cornelia Lehn, which we could just *not* get into). There are four volumes in the Hero Tales series, and each one has information on 15 heroes of the faith. There is a short biography on each, and then three short stories that recall accounts from specific life events. Volume One included stories about Martin Luther, D.L. Moody and John Wesley, among others.

This book got me thinking–wouldn’t it be great if there was a book that followed a similar format, but focused on Lutheran heroes of the faith? Sure we all know about Martin Luther, but what about the others? I know there must be someone out there qualified to write such a book (I also know that someone sure isn’t me!).

Every morning in school, we have calendar time, and we always check out our CPH church year calendar to see if there are any special commemorations that day. I can tell the children who the Biblical commemorations are for (if they don’t already know), and I can usually remember the major early church fathers, but I have to admit, I’m a little cloudy on some of the major players in Lutheran history. Johannes Bugenhagen? Fun to say, but I had to do some digging to find out who he actually was. And there are over 15 commemorations for key players in Lutheran history alone. That’s quite a lot of subject material.

Sure, I can (and often do) research the names on the calendar, but wouldn’t be great if there was a book out there, written on a middle to upper elementary school level, that could introduce our children to the men (and women–let’s not forget Katie Luther!) who shaped our church into what it is today? I could see it being useful in so many settings–Lutheran Day Schools, Confirmation classes, homeschools–so many opportunities for learning our history. I think it would be great to have a book that introduces children (and their families) to these people who may be unfamiliar, and shares how God used them to reform, share His Word, and shape, even if unknowingly, the denomination that we have today!

Second Grade

*Disclaimer: for those unfamiliar with Sonlight, Core number does not necessarily equal grade level. I’d hate for anyone to think that I’m throwing first grade material at my second grade students just because of the number on the Core!

We’ll be embarking on our journey into second grade in just a few short weeks, and I think I’ve finally got all of our curriculum for the year sorted out.

Following last year’s introduction to world cultures, we will now be learning about world history (and geography) from creation to the fall of the Roman Empire with Sonlight Core 1. I’m especially looking forward to learning about ancient Greece with Turkey and Bunny, and I’m also excited about many of the year’s read-alouds. Even though they don’t all directly relate to our history lessons, we’re going to be reading a lot of childhood classics, starting in week one with a nostalgic favorite of mine, Charlotte’s Web.

We’ll be using Sonlight for language arts, as well. We’re about one third of the way through language arts/readers 2, so part way through the year we’ll be finishing that and starting language arts/readers 2 intermediate.

We’ll also continue to use the A Reason For… series for both handwriting and spelling. I decided not to use the transition to cursive text until next year, so both handwriting and spelling will be text B this year.

Sonlight continues to be my choice for science, as well. Like the Core, we’ll be in science 1 this year, and there are so many topics that Turkey and Bunny are excited about learning! Turkey is very excited about the astronomy aspect, and Bunny can’t wait to learn all about animals.

One change this year is that we will *not* be using Sonlight’s Bible program. I decided to go with some CPH materials for both Bible and catechism for second grade, and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve been able to come up with. We’ll read through A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories, and use the accompanying Old and New Testament workbooks for Bible, and My First Catechism and the matching activity book for catechism. You just can’t start too early (and they’ve already memorized most of the Small Catechism, anyway!).

We’re continuing to use Horizons math–level two this year. I’m pretty nervous about teaching them all the things they need to learn in second grade math, but I was nervous last year, too, and that seemed to go well, so we’ll see…

I have this year’s Sonlight electives to use, although we’ve already listened to the Bernstein Favorites CD approximately one zillion times. We’ll keep listening to the Classical Kids Collection CDs, and we’re also going to learn about Bach this year.

I’m embarking on a new subject this year, for both the children and myself. We’ll be using Prima Latina to give us a basic introduction to Christian Latin. I’m both very excited about this, as Latin is a very important element of classical education, and terrified, as I’ve never studied Latin myself. I figure we can all learn together, and if all else fails, Daddy studied Latin in college, so he can help us!

I think that’s all. It’s going to be another busy year!

The Binder

Tonight I spent approximately 40 minutes assembling the binder for our upcoming second grade year. This book includes all of the schedules, study guides, teacher helps and student worksheets that we will need for history, geography and science. (Note that the binder doesn’t include the materials for our many other subjects, including language arts, Bible/catechism, Latin and electives.)

To say that this thing is massive is, well, a *massive* understatement. I thought last year’s binder was huge–I don’t even want to know what next year’s will look like!

Almost Done

Next week is our last week of first grade. I can’t believe it. We’ve completed almost two full years of homeschool. Given that I wasn’t sure we’d survive one year, I’m still kind of surprised at how (mostly) smoothly this has gone.

I have plans for a special summer school unit again this year, this time focusing on the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods, and all things American. I’ve planned a few fun crafts, including creating old-fashioned shop signs and making silhouettes. We’ll be reading a lot of fun books, including the American Girl Felicity series and a great series about early American history by Betsy Maestro. I’m especially excited that we’ll be watching the Liberty’s Kids series on DVD. I bought it last year at an amazing price, and have just been waiting for the right time to introduce it. The funny thing is, when I was planning summer school, it didn’t even occur to me to use the series until *after* I’d planned our other activities. I love when things unintentionally work out like that!

So, we’ll be finishing up that last of our first grade materials (which, at this point in the year, is primarily math, with some other stuff thrown in), have a small break before “summer school,” and then a bigger break after before we start on Sonlight’s Core 1.

I’m going to have two second graders soon…how is that possible?