Saturday, February 16, 2013

Some things we use in homeschool

I get asked frequently about what I use to homeschool my kids and how I do it. This is part of a response I just sent to a friend about it, but I wanted to post it here in case its helpful to any of you. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE post other resources you have found helpful in the comments! Ok, here goes!

First, our educational philosophy is to do our best to prepare our kids to do whatever they feel called to do. So, at 18, we want them to be able to be prepared for college (if they so choose), hair dressing school, or whatever. If I don't do my job, though, and my kid wants to be, say, a doctor, then I have done him a disservice by not preparing him. We want our kids to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we believe that doing school is the best way to teach them to love and worship God by using their minds. Also, our choice to do Thai school has been a difficult one (with other families not choosing the same thing), but in the end, we landed on wanting our kids to thrive in this culture and be able to interact at church, be a part of what we are doing here, and have Thai friends. We are planning to be here for the long haul, so its important that our world isn't segregated from theirs. We want them to grow up loving Thai people and feeling like they are an important part of what we do.

 Here are the things I am currently doing (its mostly bare bones, just because of the addition of thai school in the morning--not a lot of time for fluffy. The good thing is, though, that with CC, the kids get a science experiment and science mini lesson with memory work, a fine arts lesson, an opportunity to practice public speaking, and then all of the memory work to go alongside of it.) Ok, I definitely like parentheses waaaayyyy too much, and that was to loong for a parenthetical statement, so I am coming out of it.

Here's a low-down of what CC (Classical Conversations) is. The way I would describe it is "the backbone" of classical education that SWB's WTM describes, just already planned out and done in community to increase fun factor. So, each week, there's a history sentence (set to music), a set of timeline events (usually 7--each year you learn the entire timeline of world history, along with all of the US presidents), a math something-or-other (first semester this year was skip-counting all of the numbers up to 15, now they are doing equivalents. this week is 2.54 cm=1 in, 12 in=1 ft, 5280 ft=1mile), a latin foundational thing (this year learning noun declension endings for all 5 declensions), a bible verse (this year is ex 20), science fact (this week is the three kinds of rock--sedimentary, metamorphic, igneous), geography (this is amazing--how it builds just by learning 5 places per week), and English (first semester memorized the list of prepositions with motions, this semester is helping verbs).

So, with all of those things already set up for us, it really frees me to not worry so much about memory work or feeling like I am missing something by not doing tests.

So, our nitty gritty every day (we start at 12:30) works out to doing some combination of these things:

Phonics Road
Basically, I love this. I get really happy inside when someone thinks through phonics, spelling, grammar, and reading in such a systematic way. I like it so much that I actually wrote the lady a letter thanking her for writing something so awesome and that it was people like her who made it possible for people like me to be overseas. A lot of grammar and spelling (including the Spelling Workout that SWB's WTM reccommends are just waaaaay too random for me and not systematic. Kids just forget things, especially when spelling is something that's taught according to rules. For example, if i give a kid all "at" words one week (cat, sat, bat, hat, etc), and I give them a spelling test, all I have actually taught them is that all they have to remember is that all of them end in "at" and that they really don't have to think. But for her, from the beginning, she introduces what she calls Rule Tunes that she teaches alongside the words, so all of the weeks are a mix of all of the rules and you're always reviewing. The emphasis is learning the rules of the English language rather than the words themselves. And it works. Its like this with grammar, too. In the second year, you start dictation, and after you have done dictation on monday, you go through and pick out the subject and predicate and noun and verb on tuesday, etc. Then you build each week as you do things. She also has each child keep everything in a reference notebook to have at the end of the year, and after year one, you transfer it all into your year two book (because you use it!). Ok, two other reasons why you will love it and I will be done 1)its set up to link up with the Latin Road, which is a study of latin that will prep them for AP Latin. 2)Its completely on video. This, to me, is a sort of love/hate relationship. Its supposed to be that you watch it beforehand in order to learn how to teach your students (which I might do, if i were teachng a class), but what we end up doing is let her just teach it, sing out all the rules as she's going through the words, etc. rather than me fumble through it. My kids really like it. Its such a new way of teaching language that it almost has to be modeled, so I see why they did it this way. The annoying part of it is that if you ever want to flip back through a handy now-what-did-she-say-about-that-word book, its not there. Its all in videos (or in the notes you have taken in the teacher's manual). So, while I like to just let the kids go, and pause when they need pausing, I also need to be engaged, taking notes, etc, so that I am aware of all of the little things she is teaching. Ok, if that explanation makes you excited, then we can talk more. If not, I think I have told you enough of why I like it for you to see my philosophy of education so that you can compare it to your own. (And, she offers missionaries a 10% or 15% discount--I forget which--so if you're interested, I can give you the info). One thing you need to know, though, is that its expensive (about $200 per year), but if you think about the cost of all the workbooks you would have to buy for spelling, grammar, language, reading, etc, it evens out. You just have to get over the psychological hurdle of this :).

Saxon Math--love love love. The "meeting" part of the lesson makes it really long for us, so with all of the memory work we do for cc, a lot of the times I skip that part and just teach the lessons. There's always a mad minute and always an a/b side of a worksheet, and they are ALWAYS reviewing. In fact, on each side of the worksheet, the new skill is only on there once! I am up to Sax 3 with my kids, and though it took tweaking, my kids love it. PS I started on Sax 1 with my older kids, but it was pretty easy. If your daughter already has math, you could probably go ahead and get into Sax 2, but I think there might be an online placement test. But, just so you know, even if you want to be safe and start with Sax 1 for first grade, its created in such a way that if you do one level per year, then the 12th year is Calculus.

First Language Lessons/3rd Eclectic Reader (ok, there are two versions of McGuffey, and at the moment I am not sure if this is the right one, but the one I am referring to is the one SWB recommends in WTM. These are leftover recommendations from SWB's WTM that I still do. I like the Ecl reader for practicing oral reading. First language lessons, I think that Phonics Road will cover everything, but it has poems that my kids love to memorize, so I am still incorporating it, even if less and less with our time constraints.

SOTW History/Activity Book You guys do this. I am not sure how you use it, though, so here is what we do. We do the map work, pointing out specific places that we will be talking about during the chapter (noting where it is on our map from CC as well, especially if they are places we have already learned), and have it in front of it as I read. When I mention a place, they touch it and its kind of like a game (that burns the places into their geographic book  shelf). After each section, we talk about the questions from the Activity book, then I have them do a narration (like SWB suggests). With our extra time, they can do the coloring sheet. Usually when we do history, we finish a whole chapter in a day (we don't do it every day of the week, but try to do 2-3 chps per week)

Memory work--through cc (try to go through 2x per day, once on the way to school, once on the way home, but once a week I have the two older ones copy the History Sentence for copy work). CC also has a website that you can join to download their songs and other things that other people have done. They give missionaries the same rate as if they were in a group in America--$6/mo , and you can do it month-to-month, so you're not required to do it for a whole year. I have their Foundations Guide book, which is a book with an outline of all of the memory work and extras, the tin whistles, and the other books they recommend on the website, but all of the songs and other resources all come from the web! amazing! I can give you the contact info if you would like it for the guy that can sign you up).

Reading Ok, phonics road teaches reading and has literature as part of the curriculum, but for the 2nd grade, its Little House in the Big woods all year long. They analyze, write character sketches, summaries, etc., but I want my kids to just be able to read! (And have a great place for a list of age-appropriate books my kids will love). What I have done the past two years is order the recommended reading list from Veritas Press  (this link goes to the lesson plans. its the quickest easiest non-committment way to be able to get the list of readers for a specific year--their website isn't super user-friendly) for the year. Last year, I ordered all of the study guides for lily's books, but this year I didn't. I thought she was already doing plenty of writing, and their questions seemed overly laborious for a 1st grader. I do LOVE their list of books, though. Lily has loved every single one. She is an avid reader, so one of the ways I slow her down is to have her write a summary of each chapter. this is helping her be aware of punctuation and capitalization (though her spelling is excellent already!). Another thing I do for her writing is to have her journal during her quiet time in the morning.

For Elliot, he's not as excited about reading but his reading level is right on par with his grade, if not higher. He's just reading the 2-3 pages required per day for LHBW on Phonics Road, and I try to have lots of books he loves (he loves science!) that he will try to read because he thinks they're interesting. So far that's working!

Teaching reading to Sam using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This is one of the least classical things I do, but I tried The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and it made me want to vomit. This book is wonderful is that it takes some shortcuts (with orthography-to make each letter represent only one sound--for example sh is connected at first, etc) to get the child reading quickly, then slowly takes away the crutches, and at the end of the book, the child is at a 2nd grade reading level. Technically, phonics road teaches beginning reading, but I have just split if off because its worked already for the other two, and it was really nice that they already knew how to read starting phonics road. My recommendation is that if you have an early reader (who might not be ready/able to write yet) I would just go ahead and do 100 el and save PR to start around the first grade age so its not a shock to do all at once. Sam (4) is loving it and he practices writing his letters on a little Melissa and Doug placemat that someone bought us from Mardel.

I think that's everything. Let me know if you have any questions. Hopefully through this I have given you a little insight into my personality as well (INTJ--I like systems, efficiency, etc), so that you can make some good decisions for yourself. Obviously, what we like isn't for everyone!

Ok, now its time for you to tell us your best resources! What do you love?? I wish I had a giveaway...all I have for you is a imaginary cyber pat on the back :) Don't you feel it? Also, are there any boxed curriculums that you love for moms who are just starting out? Tell us your loves and why it is that you like them!