Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Planning by the Week

I have tried all kinds of different things when it comes to weekly planning.  Each year, I make my own planning sheets, tailored to what we're doing that year.  I have tried programs like Olly, Google calendar, using my iCalendar, and more. I usually settle on a homemade planning sheet I print each week and hand write the assignments on.  But it was getting tedious for me this past year, AND, there was little record at the end of the year of what we'd actually done.  Keeping grades has not been a real priority for me yet, but in the coming years, it will be.  So that's been in the back of mind as well.

Sometime in the fall, I read about Lessontrek. I've always avoided those monthly subscription kind of planners where everything is online, but they were offering a four month free trial, so I figured, why not? I can get a good feel for it in four months, and for nothing!

I've gotta tell you, I love this planner.  It makes it so easy to create classes and regular assignments, to set a weekly routine that you just fill in the blanks, to move things around, and to keep grades, not to mention, having a page for each student and navigating back and forth super easily. I can also save a PDF of each week plan, as well as print it out, so I don't have to stay tied to my computer.  Entering things on the computer goes so much faster than handwriting out a schedule for me.  There's usually a sale going on for a year subscription, and I got mine for $30.  I figured I'd spend almost that on a planner anyway, so justified the expense. :)  It has become staple in my planning.  I also use a separate print out to help me organize Tapestry readings, but then enter it into Lessontrek to work from through the week.

I organize my Lessontrek into four blocks:

- Morning Time
- Daily Work
- Weekly Work
- Tapestry of Grace

Here's a screen shot or two of my planner:

All the color-coding and boxes to check just make the J-personality-type-heart SO happy! :)

We work through our day in that order.  We always begin with Morning Time.  For this past school year, we have had the following categories in Morning Time:

-Bible and Catechism Song
-Hymn: learning hymns together, as well as how to sing from a hymnal and harmonize
-Poetry: We pick an anthology, and each read one poem aloud a day.  Takes about 5 minutes, no planning.
-Read Aloud: Sometimes Tapestry literature, sometimes a book we're just enjoying together
-Memory Work: M: President Song from Veritas Press, T: Math Facts, W: States and Capitals Songs from Kathy Trowel, Th: Bible memory verses, F: Review all
-Harmony Fine Arts: Picture studies, artist biographies, listening to music, note booking, etc.

Working through this each day takes anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on how long we read aloud, and how cooperative the littles are. :)  I try to get the littles busy on drawing, cars, blocks, play-doh, something to keep them occupied, so we can read in peace.  But, most of the time, there are distraction and interruptions. We just plod on and get through it!

Daily Work is next.  The subjects I want us to come to daily are Latin, Math, and Writing, for right now.  So each day, we just spend 15-20 minutes on each of those subjects, and usually in an hour, we're done with them.

At this point, we're usually ready for a break, if not before this!  We take a snack break and have a few minutes of free play.  Then we get back to weekly work for 30-45 minutes before breaking for lunch.

Weekly Work this year has covered:
-Reasoning and Reading: 3 times a week (M-T-W)
-Science: 3-4 times a week (M-T-Th-F)
-Handwriting: 1 time a week (W)
-Spelling: 2 times a week (TH-F)

So we usually have two things we do in Weekly Work each day.  This can take us usually around 20-30 minutes, but sometimes longer if I have unfocused students.  Typically, I can get them going on something like Reasoning and Reading, or Handwriting, and then give them some time to complete it while I work with the littles on Math or Reading, Letters and handwriting practice.

Now it's lunch time!  If the kids have math that wasn't finished in the allotted time from Daily Work, or anything else not yet done, they have to work on this until lunch, or until they're finished.

After lunch, Meryn has been taking a nap, usually going down around 1:30.  While she sleeps, we dive into our fourth block, Tapestry of Grace.  As I shared in my review post, I have really backed off of some of the more time consuming productivity (which can become busy work) that goes with Tapestry.  I have put off lap books until later, if ever.  We don't do much note booking anymore if at all.  Mainly we just sit together and read the history books and talk about it.  This may be because we have been dealing with the modern era this year.  So our reading has been around things like World War I and II, the Cold War, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, the Iraq War and 9/11.  These are deep subjects, which don't necessarily lend themselves to fun art projects like building pyramids. :)  (Tapestry compensates for this by doing a world survey in Units 3 and 4 and bringing in art projects from different cultures, and having a year-long invention project, which looked neat, but we didn't do!) I'm glad this was our fourth year with Tapestry, because the kids are older and were able to handle some of the things we faced in history this year.  All that to say, we have done a lot of reading this year on the couch, all the geography, and most of the literature worksheets.  And I've felt like that is enough.  We have done a few projects , but maybe five or six all year long.  Still, it's been a good year with Tapestry.

Next year, I anticipate Morning Time looking very much the same, with some shifting in the Memory Work we cover.  I also expect our daily work to look very similar, though science may get moved to daily next year.  I do not plan to do both Science in the Ancient World AND The Insect Book study everyday.  Science in the Ancient World covers the beginning of scientific discovery through 1500 AD.  So I plan to use the lessons related to what we're studying in history.  So this book will take us almost through two years of history studies.  Tapestry Year 1 covers beginning to Roman Empire (roughly 100 AD I believe), and then Year 2 covers Roman Empire through Exploration (100 AD to 1799).  I plan to spread out the Science in the Ancient World lessons to when they're appropriate to our history studies.  And on the off days, work through the Insect Book.  We may even start the Insect Book this summer, because it looks like a lot of fun, and what better time to learn about insects than summer! :)

Our weekly work next year will shift considerably.  If science is removed, and Reasoning and Reading, we'll plug in the English Grammar Recitations and Geography there. Handwriting is super quick and easy for us, the kids do 2-4 pages a week, and it takes basically no planning on my part. I just have them open their book and pick up where they left off.  Spelling is also very laid back and easy.  It doesn't take much planning on my part, either.  We tend to cover the new topics in the lesson on one day, and then do review and sentence dictation on the second day.  It takes less than ten minutes both days.  But I admit that spelling has not been a struggle with my kids, it has come naturally to them, and been easy to pick up. I know it's not that way for all kids, and some require a lot of time with spelling.

I hope this is helpful to understand how in the world we get it all done.  Honestly, many times, we don't! :)  And other days, we finish it all so fast, I don't know what to do with the rest of the day!!  But for me and my house, I like to be busy and have a routine and a plan.  The less down time, the better.  We do really value outside time, and free play.  They get plenty of that! :)  I have found that for us, having a faster moving day where we have short lessons on a variety of things makes the day move faster, we cover more ground, and it hasn't resulted in a lower level of mastery for us.  For me, my big rocks are Bible and character training, Latin and Math, and writing, because it's teaching beginning thinking skills.  The rest are the small rocks that we fit in and around, and leave out if we have to. 

2015-16 Curriculum Picks for Preedy Academy!

I always look forward to this post, because I love planning!  I have been encouraged this year in finding that there are others out there too who really get into the planning and curriculum research, making lists and spreadsheets. I really love this part of homeschooling, and it's fun to share all the fruits of my labor and what eventually emerges as my plan for the coming year.

I'm not changing too much this time around.  Next year will be my sixth year schooling at home, and each year I think I'm hitting my stride and refining my visions and getting closer to making no changes. : )  I imagine I'll always be re-evaluating and finding what works for each child as they learn and grow, so even my broad strokes plan will probably never be in concrete until it's done!

I'm excited to share my plan for next year with you, and in the next two posts, I'll share how I plan for each day/week, and then, about my long-range planning.

So without further adieu, here is what is in store for us in the coming year! I will have THREE official students this coming year!

Luke and Kiryn (5th and 4th grade):
- Writing and Rhetoric: Book 2, Narrative and Book 3, Narrative II
-Latin for Children Primer A
-All About Spelling Level 5
-New American Cursive 2 & 3
-English Grammar Recitations

-Math-U-See Gamma & Delta
-Piano Lessons from Grammy!

-Bible: We'll be doing Community Bible Study this year, and so using their materials at home through the week.  We'll also continue with the Westminster Catechism Songs, and Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.
-Science: Science in the Ancient World, with Memoria Press Insect Nature Study
-Geography I
-Tapestry of Grace Year 1: Blend of Upper Grammar and Lower Grammar work, studying the Ancient World

Additional Enrichment:
-Ambleside Online Literature selections for Read-Alouds from Years 4 and 5
-Ambleside Online Free Reading selections for both kids. They are expected to always be reading a book for fun, but it has to be quality. :)
-Draw and Write through History: Creation through Jonah, and Greece and Rome
-Ken Ludwig's How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, along with some Ambleside Online Shakespeare titles

For my KG/1st Grader:
-All About Reading Level 1
-Math-U-See Alpha
-Handwriting Without Tears, second book
-Tapestry of Grace Year 1: basic Lower Grammar history books for fun, and The Big Story Game and Primer Activity Book

Now that I've got it all picked out, I've got the summer to pour over it and get it into a cohesive plan! :) I've already got a to-do list a mile long!  I'd love to hear what others are planning for next year! Blessings!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2014-2015 Curriculum Reviews!

Goodness.  This year just really got away from me! I always have the best intentions to keep my blog active and going. And every year, I start strong, finish invisibly! But, I hopefully will always get around to my curriculum reviews and choices for the coming year, because I know it is helpful for me, and hopefully, for some of you as well!

So, from my blog post last summer, these were my choices for this past school year:

In Language:
-McGuffey Readers
-Beginning Reasoning and Reading
-New American Cursive
-All About Spelling Levels 4 and 5
-Classical Writing Aesop A/B

In Logic:
-Math-U-See Gamma and Delta
-Song School Latin 2 (this is arguable both language and logic)
-Yamaha Piano lessons

In Content:
-Daily Bible readings with Westminster Catechism songs and Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Mead
-Tapestry of Grace Year 4 Upper Grammar!
-Harmony Fine Arts Year 4: Modern Times
-Apologia Chemistry and Physics
*NONE of these affiliate links (except the All About Spelling), I just do it cause I love ya! ;)

Okay, so.  Let's get started.

1. McGuffey Readers:  I have always really loved these books.  I've used them as reading practice, comprehension practice, outline practice, copyworb and more.  But we have not used them very regularly this year.  I have been growing a lot as a teacher, and while I think these do have their place, I am leaning more toward living books, real literature.  These are well written, but short snippets.  They do have their place for morality teaching, but we have slightly out grown them in terms of our language arts needs. I'll keep them around and encourage the kids to look at them, or pull them out to find an essay to outline.  But won't schedule it in next year on a weekly basis.

2.  Beginning Reasoning and Reading:  This books series great!  It is divided into four sections: Word Meaning, Sentence Meaning, Paragraph Meaning, and Reasoning Skills.  They teach kids how to understand the point of different sentences, main ideas of paragraphs, how to judge opinions, determine if a paragraph offers enough information, and more.  We completed the whole first book this year, not realizing ideally you would spread it out over two years.  So we won't use it next year, because the next book, Reasoning and Reading 1, is recommended for grades 5-6.  Luke is a young 5th grader, and Kiryn a very young 4th grade next year.  So we'll put this on hold, and pick it back up the following year.  I do plan to work through all three books, and will spread them out a little more next time! :)

3.  New American Cursive:  I'm still very satisfied with these books.  Luke finished the second book this year, Kiryn is halfway through it.  We do handwriting once a week, and its pretty self-directed for me, no planning, just open the book and complete the next page or two or three.  Simple, and easy.

4. Classical Writing Aesop: Okay.  I love the idea of this writing program.  Well, it's more than a writing program. It's a full language arts/literature/classic books program.  It was working really well for us, although a little boring and dry. I did have a problem with some of the ways the fables were re-worked, or the fable choices in some chapters.  Just not what I would have preferred for them to learn, given the treasure trove of Aesop's work.  Overall though, I appreciated the approach to writing the program offers, and thought Classical Writing was the most thorough program out there.  Halfway through the year though, as I was looking ahead at the scope and sequence for 5th, 6th, 7th and beyond, I realized that the intensity quickly ramps up.  In the upper years and in high school, there is a lot of literary analysis and reading required.  That is great. I love it. But I was looking at it realizing: I can do Classical Writing, or I can do Tapestry of Grace. I can't do both.  So of course, that was a pretty easy choice for me.  My goals for my kids revolve more around understanding the development of the world and God's story, and not as much around the development of literature itself and the ability to write. I don't necessarily need to turn out Pulitzer price winning writers from 12th grade. ;)  But I would like to give them the foundation to turn themselves into that, if that is something they love and are gifted at.  So I decided in the middle of this year that I couldn't complete the Classical Writing series, I would inevitably choose Tapestry over CW.  So since I knew I wasn't going to continue with it, and I had been eyeing for a year or more the new Writing & Rhetoric from Classical Academic Press, I did something I almost never do. I abandoned CW mid-year, and bought Writing & Rhetoric Fable.  I decided to start at the beginning of W&R, and I'm so glad I did.  We finished the first book this spring semester, and it was just delightful.  It was a breath of fresh air, let me tell you!  Delightful illustrations, well-written commentary, recaps of the skills taught in each lesson in the teacher's book.   We are in the last few lessons now, and the kids have studied 12 different fables, I think, and they're spending the next two weeks, crafting their own fable.  I love how it has worked up to a big project where they will use all the skills they've gained to create something of their own.  I loved the fable choices, the lessons they taught, everything.  Each week includes reading a fable, telling it back, talking about it, writing exercises, including copywork, dictation, sentence play, copiousness, and more.  It is systematic, but not boring or dry.  Excellent, and I am very excited to continue with it next year!

5. Math-U-See: Yay, y'all! This is the first year I have not looked around for a new math program!!  I am confidently sticking with Math-U-See next year.  Levi started Primer in January, and he's almost done with it! He loves Mr. Steve so much, he said the other day, "Mom, I want my hair like Mr. Steve's." If you haven't seen Mr. Steve, go to the MUS website, and you'll get a chuckle that Levi wants his hair. :) Yay for Math-U-See!

6. Song School Latin 2:  I am still just delighted with this program.  The kids both love learning Latin, because Song School Latin makes it fun.  We had the DVD this year, which was a huge benefit.  Even Levi and Meryn love watching the video!  We got into more grammar this year, and I am impressed at how well Luke and Kiryn are retaining it.  They have really mastered a lot of the vocabulary.  Last weekend, we were in town at a restaurant.  Kiryn came out of the bathroom and said, "Mom, I think some people here know Latin, because a sign in the bathroom said, "Llavo."  That means wash!"  They are finding Latin words and roots everywhere, and understanding how English words are derived. It's so much fun.

7.  Bible: We have enjoyed our laid back approach to Bible this year.  We've been reading through The Child's Storybook Bible, by Catherine Vos, a chapter a day, and then reading the devotion from Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, and learning the catechism song for the week.  Simple and easy, and enriching.

8.  Tapestry of Grace Year 4:  We are finished with our first four year cycle!  Upper Grammar has been much more challenging for us than Lower Grammar. I struggled in the second and third unit, feeling like I needed to be doing more and more of Tapestry, all the map work, lap books, vocabulary and more.  This spring, I've kind of gone down a rabbit hole though, of teaching from rest, thanks to Sarah Mackenzie at Amongst Lovely Things, and Christopher Perrin and his lectures on schole (Greek for leisure, the opposite of work).  I have learned so much, and have so much more to learn. I have a list of books on classical educational philosophy about a mile long I want to start reading over the summer.  But so far, it has left me very much chilled out and wanting to enjoy the next few years we have before we get into Dialectic level learning. I want to just relax and enjoy stories and nature, life, art, games, relationships with each other.  Uh oh, maybe I'm becoming more Charlotte Mason than Classical! :)  Nope.  But really, I have chilled a lot about Tapestry, and we are just enjoying the story of history, and projects that make it come alive, and giving our diligence and hard work to Latin and Math, mostly, right now.

9.  Harmony Fine Arts: I confess, I have not always seen the incredible value in art and its importance in the curriculum.  If there's something that gives, it's art in our house.  I'm ashamed to say it, but, there it is.  As I've been learning about the importance of contemplating truth, goodness, and beauty, I've realized, art is non-negotiable.  We have to get around to it regularly. I've also read a lot about Morning Time from Cindy Rollins, as a time set aside to begin each day with that truth, goodness, and beauty, admiring and contemplating it.  We have implemented a Morning Time for the past few months, and having a plan for art and music is crucial for me.  Harmony Fine Arts is a great plan. : )  It incorporates artist and composer biographies, podcasts to listen to, links to YouTube videos of music, coloring pages, art prints, drawing lessons and assignments and more.  We have really truly enjoyed our study of it this year! (Though we are far from completing the lessons, since we got behind.)

10.  Apologia Chemistry and Physics:  Over the past four years, we have covered science in a schedule recommended in The Well-Trained Mind: biology, earth science and astronomy, chemistry, then physics.  I've used a variety of programs, but mostly Elemental Science, which I really loved.  I had always planned to move to Apologia for upper level science, because I had always heard such wonderful things about it.  When I wasn't totally thrilled with the Elemental Science Chemistry, I decided to switch to Apologia Chemistry and Physics in the middle of last year.  We have plodded our way through the Apologia Chemistry and Physics book for the past three semesters.  Let me tell you, this book was not for us.  I have another Apologia book (Zoology 1), and I just can't get myself excited about it, either.

I think there are two reasons it just does NOT work for us.  First, I know it says it is written for K-6th grade.  But seriously, it's not.  :)  I'm thinking possibly 5th-8th grade.  Maybe 4th -7th if I'm being generous.  The readings are not very engaging, filled with factual data and information that was just sometimes not well explained, in my opinion.  Secondly, the lessons are super long, without much direction as to how to arrange them.  If I went by the suggested schedule, we'd spend two weeks on each lesson.  The first week on a lesson, we'd spend about 3 hours reading aloud from the textbook, and then doing a few pages in the notebook journal.  The second week, we'd have slightly less reading, but would have multiple experiments to try back to back.  There wasn't a good flow to the book, and the lessons just went on for too long for us.  I'm a planner, but even after a year and a half, I never could figure out a way to plan this book to make it flow well and be logical.  We will not be continuing with Apologia Science. I may consider it again when we get to 7th grade and we would be using the books written by Dr. Jay Wile.  But am abandoning the Fulbright books for good. : )

Thanks so much for being interested and making it through this!  Let me know your thoughts!  While these programs work or don't work for us, that does not at all mean they will work or not work for you and your family! So examine the curriculum carefully.  Download samples, compare it to others in the same category.  Write the company and ask questions.  But most importantly, determine your own goals for your kids, your school year, and yourself, and let all your choices be guided by those things! Blessings as you hunt for goodies for next year!