Monday, May 2, 2016

Curriculum Reviews: 2015-16

It's that time of year again! We have just four short weeks of school left and all thoughts are turned toward next year, what's worked, what hasn't, what to change, what to keep.

From my post last year, this is what my plan was.  I'll go through it line by line: 

Language:
Writing and Rhetoric: Book 2, Narrative and Book 3, Narrative II.  Yes.  This.  These books are excellent.  I have been teaching Book 3 in a class setting, and its so much fun to see what each student comes up with for sentence play, rewrites, and just in talking about the stories.  These books are based on the progymnasmata method of writing instruction, and so they introduce students to great writing and stories to fill their minds with good examples to draw on.  Books 1-2 were very gentle introductions, and Book 3 ramps up the challenge quite a bit.  It focuses mostly on stories from the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, and the kids have learned a lot about story parts, outlining, using interesting words and more. I'm confidently sticking with this series next year. 


-Latin for Children Primer A: This was super challenging for us this year, and wonderful all around. Now that we are finished with our first full year of Latin, I see so many benefits to this being a star of our language arts.  It is so easy to see and understand grammar in action in Latin, and the kids are learning to guess what a word means, because they know the Latin root parts of the word.  Like "exclamatory." Because of Latin for Children, we know that ex- is a preposition meaning out, and "clamat" means he/she/it shouts.  Exclamatory=to shout out. Exclamatory sentences express sudden or strong emotion.  This was just a connection we made while studying grammar, not something outlined in Latin, and I love Latin because of this. There were countless connections the kids made across other subjects (science, history, Shakespeare and more). Latin for Children also makes it challenging and fun.  The video series is great, and having headventureland.com to practice vocabulary games online  is another huge perk.  It's a really delightful, alive program, in keeping with all Classical Academic Press products.  Again, confidently moving on to Latin Primer B next year!


-All About Spelling Level 5: We finished this, and still love All About Spelling. I toyed around with just not doing level 6 and dropping spelling from our rotation, but I really want good spellers, and Level 6 deals with lots of exceptions to rules, so we're going to work through it. 


-New American Cursive 2 & 3: I love these books. They are self-teaching (I don't do anything but require 2-4 pages a week).  This makes it easy on me, and gives the kids easy practice with their cursive while writing quotes of the founding fathers, poetry, Bible verses, and more. 


-English Grammar Recitations:  So I've tried lots of different grammar programs.  Lots.  Hmm... let's see.  First Language Lessons, Shurley Grammar, Classical Writing's Grammar, Harvey's Grammar, taken a peek at Rod & Staff, and now English Grammar Recitations from Memoria Press.  This is by far my favorite.  It is to the point and gets the job done. I'm impressed with what the kids have been able to learn and retain this year, including the definitions of concrete and abstract nouns, physical and mental action verbs, helping verbs,  and lots more.  The trouble is, they've just memorized those things, and practice applying them on about ten sentences.  I'm not sure they really understand the ideas. I'm also not sure they really enjoy and delight in this part of their learning.  And I want them to delight in language, how it works, its rules, and how to use it effectively themselves.  I would stick with this program through its four books if I wasn't convinced that I want EVERY subject we study to be filled with delight and deep understanding.  I have one more program I want to try next year, and if it doesn't maintain the rigor while also being delightful, we'll come back to this series. 

Logic:
-Math-U-See Epsilon & Delta: Both kids did really well with math this year.  MUS is really clicking with them and we are going to continue with it.  Luke will be in Zeta next year, their last book before pre-algebra. Um, what??  Yep.  Levi LOVES Mr. Steve and math, so no complaints here.  We did mid-year decide to finally try the Life of Fred books. I got the first four elementary books, and realized I had the Fractions and Decimals as hand me downs that I'd just stuck on a shelf.  I pulled out Fractions for Luke, because Epsilon is fractions, and he's been working through it slowly and will get through the rest this summer. Levi loves to read Fred and we made it through Apples and some of Butterflies.  I think these books are fun and engaging, delightful ways to play with math. But personally, for me, I don't think they are complete on their own. I do think Life of Fred and Math-U-See work beautifully together. :)  So I plan to get a few more of them and use them in summers and as  read alouds.  


-Piano Lessons from Grammy: Levi started piano this year too and all the kids are loving it and doing a wonderful job!  Kiryn also got a violin for her birthday in January and has been practicing her technique with the first Suzuki book. 

Knowledge:
-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
We really enjoyed our time with CBS this year.  I think we all grew a lot, and it was great for the kids to be in a full-morning program with kids their own ages and teaches.  We plan to attend CBS again next year!  We ended up not continuing to learn the catechism just for lack of time, but I hope to pick it up back up this coming year. 

-Science: Science in the Ancient World, with Memoria Press Insect Nature Study:  This year is the first year I feel like our scientific studies mattered.  In the past when we were doing topical science, and while the topics might have created a momentary wonder, there was no depth of knowledge or real sticking of the information that I felt at the end of the year had grown the kids in any way.  They hadn't truly learned anything, known anything, grown to love anything through science. So it was basically a waste of our time.  This is why I decided to finally give nature study a try.  We have LOVED the Memoria Press insect study.  We worked on this about three days a week, memorizing the facts of the orders of insects, their characteristics, what their names mean, reading about their metamorphosis and habitats and diets, answering some comprehension questions, and spending time studying their physical appearances and sketching them.  What I found with this was that the kids really grew to know these insects.  They knew where to look for them when outside, they knew what stage of metamorphosis they were in when they found them, they knew what to call them, they knew how to describe them, and they wondered at God's handiwork as a result.  Very quickly this year I realized, this is knowledge they will keep with them always: intimate knowledge of one small element of God's creation, that will lead them to be curious about other elements.  I'm sold on nature study.  : ) We will continue next year with a reptile study that we are putting together on our own (based on the ideas and pattern we learned in the Memoria Press study this year, only because Memoria does not have a reptile study!) and we will be learning the constellations with an in-depth study of astronomy with Memoria Press materials.  As for Science in the Ancient World, I also LOVE this!  We did a short lesson once a week, usually on Fridays, exploring different scientists who lived in history.  We got to know who they were, where they lived, what questions they asked and why. We studied what they got right, what they got wrong, performed experiments like they did, and saw how one person's findings led to another, how they built on each other.  We made it from Thales to Archimedes this year, and will continue with this series until we make it to modern times. I think this is really valuable for them to study scientific figures and know their thoughts and writings. I'm learning a TON! :) 


-Geography I: We enjoyed this study. It gave us some more structure to our geography studies.  I like that they learn the flags of each country, and a very basic history of each place, by continent and region, while they're also learning landforms, rivers, and capital cities of each country.  We will continue with Geography II next year. This is pretty much self-taught, just pace it out over the weeks to complete the book. It could be easily amplified to produce a richer study, but my main goal with this is for the kids to know where things 
are in the world and be able to know context when reading about different places in the world through history and literature. 

-Tapestry of Grace Year 1: Blend of Upper Grammar and Lower Grammar work, studying the Ancient World: We are just four weeks away from wrapping up our study of the Ancient World for the second time!  I can't tell you how much we've enjoyed this year, mainly because we've had a co-op of families working through Tapestry and growing together. We have met every other week all year to tackle fun projects and keep the story of history going.  One thing I changed this year in how we do TOG is that I opted to have a narrative history spine that we read aloud from everyday all year long.  I love the TOG books, but almost every year at some point, I loose the thread of the story.  The topic based learning is good, I love diving into details about ancient Egypt, how pyramids were built, the movement of the Israelites, Greek scientists and mythology, and daily life in the Roman Empire.  But somewhere in all that, I usually end up loosing the story of how one things connects to and leads to another. This is the time I want my kids to be internalizing the story of history, so that when we come back to this in early high school, we'll have the story down, and we can spend more time digging into the details. I don't want to miss the forest for the trees.  So I chose the following spine to read aloud from daily for this year: 

-A Child's Story Bible (Bible and history of Israel)
-Peeps at Many Lands (Egypt)
-Our Young Folks Josephus (Israel and inter-testamental period, relating to Greeks and Persians.  Fascinating stories in Josephus that I wish I'd read long ago.)
-The Story of the Greeks
-D'Aulaire's Greek Myths (we spent about 8 weeks with this book)
-The Story of the Romans

Most of these are available free on iBooks, Kindle or mainlesson.com.  This worked wonderfully for us.  We still had the TOG books on hand each week, and used them to dive into topics of interest to each child. But it was there more for interests' sake, not as the main dish.  One other thing we did was practice reciting the story in our own words once a week up to the point we'd gotten to in history.  I decided early on this year that if at the end of this year, my kids can tell me the story of the ancient world including some specific places, names of major figures, and a handful of dates, in their own words, I will be so pleased with this year. I'm not talking about reciting memorized sentences or paragraphs. I'm talking about telling a story based on what they've put into their minds and hearts.  And so far, we're doing well, but have a ways to go in the next four weeks. :) I definitely plan to do this again next year, probably with more of the H.A. Guerber "The Story of..." series.

Additional Enrichment:
-Ambleside Online Literature selections for Read-Alouds from Years 4 and 5: I ended up going back to the beginning of the AO literature recommendations instead of jumping into Year 4.  So this year we made it through The Blue Fairy Book, Elementary Geography, The Princess and the Goblin, Just So Stories, Farmer Boy, and Little House on the Prairie, in addition to some historical read aloud with Tapestry. I'm pleased with what we accomplished in reading aloud this year!  


-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. :) I can't possibly begin to give an exhaustive list of what each of the kids read this year, but I know it includes Pinnochio, Heidi, Peter Pan, the entire Narnia series, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Five Children and It, The Book of Three (first Chronicles of Prydain), and more.  :) This type of book was the standard, and Kiryn has earned three ice creams, which means she's read 18 books (she did read at least five Nancy Drew books, too), and Luke is at about 16, I think. :) 


-Draw and Write through History: Creation through Jonah, and Greece and Rome: This was a good thing to give the kids one or two days a week to keep their hands busy while reading aloud history lessons.  And we produced some beautiful drawings from it!  I already have the next books historically in my cart at Rainbow for next year. :)


-Ken Ludwig's How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, along with some Ambleside Online Shakespeare titles: I cannot praise this book enough.  It has helped me so so much in introducing my kids to Shakespeare this year.  Without it, I would have been reading plays aloud and we'd have all been lost.  Ludwig offers context and background for vocabulary, understanding cultural references, and points out the beauty and cleverness in certain turns of phrases, alliteration and more that would have been lost on me otherwise.  He also walks through one play slowly and suggests specific things to teach the kids and passages to memorize.  So this year, we spent the first semester on A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the second on Twelfth Night.  We began by reading the sections in Ludwig on the play, and reading several story versions of the play, to get the flow of the story and plot.  Meanwhile, we were memorizing 3-4 passages from the play.  Once I felt like we had the story down, we watched a dramatization, usually something short and animated online, like this one.  Then, I read the play aloud over several weeks.  We'd wrap up the study with watching a live action dramatization on film, if we could find one appropriate. :) The kids blew me away with their ability to appreciate humor and sarcasm in Shakespeare once they weren't trying hard to understand the plot.  And I found that I love Shakespeare, much to my surprise.  I never enjoyed it in high school, and now I think I know why. I was struggling too much to keep up with the plot to appreciate the language, and the unfamiliarity with the language made the plot hard to hold on to.  I'm thankful that my kids will learn to love Shakespeare from a young age and will be exposed to his writing for years and be familiar with him all their lives. :) (And me too, now!) There's also a lot of great ideas and resources on this post at Simple Homeschool, many of which we've done as well just for fun!

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

So Levi's KG/1st grade year.  He's kind of all over the place.  He would have gone to KG this year by his age.  He's completed 1st grade phonics (All About Reading 1), and is already showing a mastery of the phonics rules learning in Level 2, so we're just not going to bother with ongoing phonics next year and move right into spelling. (This is what I did with the older two kids as well and it's been totally fine! Spelling is the flip side of the phonics coin, so there's no gaps in doing this.)  He's two-thirds of the way through his first grade math book, and almost done with a first grade handwriting book.  We've read all of Aesop's Fables (Milo Winter version), The Real Mother Goose, three Burgess Animal books, Life of Fred Apples and Butterflies, and more. Levi has also read to me half of the Veritas Press readers and a few history readers (Pompeii!), the Little Bear series, and lots of Dr. Seuss. He loves reading! I was a lot more laid back with Levi in his first formal year of school than I was with the older two.  There were weeks where he didn't want to have anything to do with handwriting, and all he wanted to do was math. And he'd blow through a lot of math in those weeks and love it.  But suddenly, he wouldn't want to do any more math, and all he'd want was to write.  Copywork, write sentences from dictation, write the family members' names, anything and everything.  And his handwriting would grow by leaps and bounds in those weeks. I came to see them as learning growth spurts.  I didn't force him to do something he didn't want to do, as long as he was learning and practicing a skill and loving it.  And that has worked wonderfully for him this year. :)  I'm really pleased with where he's at.  


So there you have it! Another year in the books. I feel like this year, with the possible exception of grammar, we have found a delightful way to accomplish our learning and educational goals and are on a path that everyone is thriving in.  I'm growing as a teacher, learning so much myself, being excited and inspired by what I'm reading and talking about with other moms. I'm thankful for this year, thankful that we're not ending it spent, but feeling filled up with wonder and beauty, and eager to begin again in the fall.  To God be the Glory!