Curriculum Choices

As we sit and wait for the hurricane I thought that now is as good a time as any to start blogging again.  I’ve been meaning to get back up and going especially since we started our school year.  And it seems the best place to start is with our curriculum choices for the year.   For those who homeschool maybe it will give you some ideas and for those who don’t, it might give some insight into what we do all day (since that’s a question I get asked by my non-homeschooling friends).  So far we like the materials we are using; most, though, are ones we’ve been using for years.  Some are really popular while others are off the homeschool beaten path.  So, without further ado, here is what we are using this year…

Religion–Seton’s Religion

I like that Seton’s religion program is concise while providing a solid Catholic foundation.  It has also helped us memorize our catechism and improved the girls’ reading.  We are also using the Virtues in Practice program from the Dominican Sisters of St. Celia.  It’s a free program that focuses on a different virtue and saint each month.  It helps us easily learn about saints and holy virtues.

 

Literature–Memoria Press

We are doing the third grade literature study from Memoria Press.  The novels include Mr. Popper’s Penguins, A Bear Called Paddington, and Charlotte’s Web.  I’m replacing Farmer’s Boy with The Courage of Sarah Noble since we haven’t started the Little House on the Prairie series yet and The Courage of Sarah Noble fits with our Social Studies curriculum.  Our current schedule has us finishing the novels before our year is over so we will either enjoy books of the girls’ choosing, continue our Shakespeare studies from last year, or jump into the Little House on the Prairie series.  We’ll figure that out when we get there.

 

Poetry–The Harp and the Laurel Wreath

A lot of our curriculum choices are inspired by the classical program put forth by Laura Berquist so it makes sense that for poetry we use her anthology.  Each morning we read and practice our poem until eventually the girls have memorized it.  After reciting their poem correctly for their grandparents, we move on to another one, usually completing a poem a month.  During the course of their memorizing, we also have many discussions about the poem, read other books connected to it, and complete a coloring sheet.  This is one part of our homeschooling that has surprised me by all the benefits and joys it has provided us.

 

Latin–English From the Roots Up

Also based on Laura Berquist’s curriculum, we are using English From the Roots Up flashcards this year to introduce the Latin and Greek root words so that when they officially begin studying Latin next year it will be easier.   Each week we add three new cards that we then review daily and regularly I’m giving them a quick, cumulative quiz.  So far the girls are loving this–learning a different language and getting to play with words.  I was surprised that they consider Latin to be one of their favorite subjects.

 

Grammar–Easy Grammar

Easy Grammar really is just that, easy.  We do about a page a day.  The lessons include good explanations and enough practice without overdoing it or giving busy work.  I especially like that it starts with prepositions and prepositional phrases before identifying the subject and verbs.  Makes it so much easier and will make diagramming sentences easier in the future.

 

Writing

This year we aren’t really using a formal writing curriculum but working on simply writing regularly.  While we have some materials from the teaching supply store, I’ve also purchased a few things from Teachers Pay Teachers and will be occasionally supplementing with Memoria Press’s Introduction to Composition book which parallels our reading program.  I’m trying for as many authentic writing experiences as possible, trying to connect our writing to what we are studying or experiencing in life in order to make it more meaningful.  We aren’t just doing formal writing assignments, but writing letters, journaling, and creating stories.  At this age, I want the girls to like writing and to develop into strong writers.  So our goals for the year is for them to enjoy writing and to be able to write clear, well written paragraphs.

 

Math

Math is another subject where we don’t have a clear cut curriculum this year.  We are taking a strong mastery approach.  While the girls haven’t struggled with math concepts, they have struggled to memorize their math facts.  I know this is going to continue to hold them back.  They were also getting frustrated and hating math.  So we have taken a step back from an organized curriculum to focus on learning all of our math facts.  We are using Xtra Math daily which does a great job quizzing the kids on their math facts.  We are also using our Math Wrap-Ups (but if you get these be sure you get the set with the CDs; if you don’t have the music they don’t really work), worksheets from education.com, and fun resources such as Fun-Schooling Math Mysteries and Practice Problems with Minecraft.  We started all the way back with our addition facts and will move through subtraction, multiplication, and division with fractions and balancing equations along the way.  By the end the girls will have mastered their math facts and will be truly ready to move on to higher level concepts.  We’ve already seen improvements but the best one so far has been that they are enjoying math again and regaining their confidence.  This was a hard decision for us to make (math was the one subject I said I would always need a formal curriculum for) but this is one of the many reasons why we homeschool–to meet our children’s own needs.

 

Science–Elemental Science, Chemistry

In addition to Laura Berquist’s book and approach, our homeschool is strongly influence by The Well-Trained Mind.  One thing I like about the classical approach is focusing on a different branch of science each year.  Instead of spiraling and covering the same topics every year, we rotate through Biology, Earth Science/Astronomy, Chemistry, and Physics on a four year track.  While I like what Susan Wise Bauer describes in The Well-Trained Mind, I didn’t quite like how she approached it and wanted more structure as well as more diversity in activities.  Elemental Science uses the yearly structured I wanted.  It also uses real books as opposed to a text and includes lapbooking and has easy hands on experiments for every week.  Basically, Elemental Science program has everything I want in a science program.

 

Social Studies–Truthquest

Truthquest is basically my Social Studies equivalent to Elemental Science.  While it offers suggestions for a spine the program is also based on real books.  For the most part it is a list of topics with book suggestions.  It also includes lapbooks, writing assignments, timelines, maps, and coloring sheets.  And most importantly it makes history fun.  What I also really like is that it starts with American history and it is so hard to find a classical, hands on program for American History for the lower grades.  So often the classical programs start with Ancient History which I think can be very confusing for young children–here is a totally different culture from a long time that includes a bunch of gods that we don’t believe in.  The reason the Greeks used to study Greek history first is because it was their history and they started with what they knew so to me it’s silly for us following the classical model to start with the Greeks when what we really should start with is our own history and culture, like the Greeks did, building on the framework that children already have.

 

Spelling–Spellwell

This year we are trying a new spelling curriculum and so far so good.  Spellwell is phonics based with each word list grouped according to a different rule or phonogram.  What we like is that each list is only 10 words long but there with spaces for me to add words to each week’s list.  I also like that the week starts with a pre-test so we can focus on the words they need to.

 

Handwriting–Abeka Writing with Phonics Cursive

The girls asked to learn cursive awhile back and it’s been great for them.  While they are still working on perfecting their penmanship, learning cursive early helped them get their b’s and d’s straight.  And while the curved lines and loops are easier for them than manuscript writing, it has helped their manuscript printing as well.  Currently we are using our handwriting book from last year.  In addition to the workbook, I have them write their final drafts in cursive but for everything else the girls can choose what style they want to use.

We are also using our Draw Write Now books every so often as further practice for handwriting, drawing, and our fine motor skills.

 

Art–Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters

In the past we’ve just done art projects throughout the year.  While this was great when the kids were younger, it’s been really hit or miss so this year I wanted a more structured approach.  But not too structured that it took out the fun of art at this age.  We are doing an artist/project a week and just moving chronologically through the book.  It is exposing our entire family to a wide variety of artists and different techniques.  We tend to already have the materials on hand and the projects are fun.

 

 

So that’s what we are using with the girls.  We are also doing sewing and nature study but those don’t really have a curriculum.  And of course we also have our little man doing tot school but I’ll be sharing that along the way.

For my homeschoolers, what curriculum are you using this year or what do you love?

 

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Inaugural Bingo Board

The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of our country and on Friday we get to watch it once again.  I personally am excited and will be watching it with my children and friends.  In order to help my children get the most out of the event and keep their attention, I created a bingo board filled with questions whose answers should appear during the Inaugural coverage.

If you prefer, I also listed the questions in a simple worksheet with lines for the answers.  And I made an answer key if you don’t hear the answers or want to check yourself.

Inauguration Bingo Board

Inauguration Worksheet

Answer Key

 

 

Our New School Room

I love our new school room!  Over the summer I just got fed up with our school room.  It had been cute when we set it up but as the actual schooling got under way, it just became too disorganized, drab, and depressing.  It needed a redo and desperately.  Take a look, here are our before pictures…

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And now, ta da!

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I really wanted the room to be brighter and happier so I went with the bright green, blue, and pink.  And we desperately needed more organization.  The room was fabulous when it was first set up but now that the kids were older and a baby was in the picture, we had outgrown the original design and it was a hot mess.  I wanted to move away from the crowded cupboard to more shelf space that was organized.

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We bought the shelves from Walmart for only $30 a piece and then the colorful baskets came from Michaels on sale.  I made the tags out of scrapbook paper (all those stacks of it finally came in handy) and black chalkboard paper.  I just used a white paint pen to write on them.

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And here is the front of the room…  The bulletin board is for our Bible verse that we are memorizing.  And on the white board you can see our timer which has been so helpful in keeping us on track and helping the girls focus on their schoolwork.

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On the next wall is my desk.  When I first set up the room, I didn’t have a desk for me–my thought being that this was a space focused on the kiddos (and I didn’t see how it would fit at the time).  But that just didn’t work.  Maybe it’s the teacher in me but I needed my own space to work, prep, and plan.  The bulletin boards will soon be filled with the kid’s work and the bean bags are our reading nook.

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And here is our science center.  I really love it!  I covered an old bookcase in patterned contact paper (like what I used on the filing cabinet).  It hid the water damage and stains.  On the shelves are all of our science and social studies books and activity kits.  On top are our science tools.  The Parts of the Scientist poster came from here.

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The filing cabinet is one of my favorites.  My dad had given us the filing cabinet but it was pretty dingy.  I spray painted it purple and covered the drawers with the purple chevron contact paper.

redone filing cabinet

Be sure to take the drawers all the way out and remove the handles, etc.  There should be screws in the back that you can use to pry them off.

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Really I went a little spray paint happy.  Once I did the filing cabinet, I decided to paint my little plastic drawers.  I’ve had this set for years (you can usually find it at Costco or Michaels) but was just done with the multi-colored look.  So I painted all the drawers purple.  I also took off the silver handles to add the labels.  In the past I’ve used paper labels but this time I used dry erase tape so that I can change it whenever I want.

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I also painted our school desks.  They were looking dirty and dingy but this really brightened the entire room.  Just be sure to put many coats of a sealant such as polyurethane coating for wood.

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Finally, I added the paper flag banner to be a finishing touch and help bring cheer to the room.  I wanted a place that made me smile when I entered because I knew that would make the children smile too.  I used scrapbook paper and twine that I already had around the house.  For the flags I used the template from Flairy Tales found here.

Paper flag banner

Not only is the room happier, but it has made us more efficient.  It’s easier for the kids to help the room stay clean and shows them just how much we value their schooling.  Win win win!

First Day of First Grade

So we started another school year two weeks ago.  I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks.  We got a bit of a late start due to our big trip back East (we did a LOT of traveling this summer) but it’s been good to be home and get back into the groove of things (even if the transition has been a little rough).  I just wanted to share some pictures from our first day back and our family traditions.

graduate Tshirts

I love these shirts!  We bought large ones and made the 2027 logo last year.  We are taking a picture of the girls in their shirts every year to show how they grow and change.  By the time they graduate high school in 2027 the shirts should be fitting a little better (tearing up a little thinking of them growing up so fast). 2028 Graduate

Want to make your own?  Just choose your year, download the pdf, and print it out on iron-on paper.

2026 Graduate

2027 Graduate

2028 Graduate

2029 Graduate

Need a different year?  Here it is in powerpoint so you can change the year: Graduate T-shirt adjustable year

And of course we take normal pictures too:

This is one of my favorite, just because they look so joyful

This is one of my favorite, just because they look so joyful

 

Another tradition is entering the school room.  I shut it down before we start school and work on getting everything clean and set up nicely (this was actually a huge project this year which I will blog about soon because I’m so proud of how it turned out).  This year I decorated the door a little to build up the excitement.

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And then we have all of their new school books sitting out on their desks.  In addition to the books are all kinds of special treats–scented markers, new crayons, smarties candies–just some things to make the day special and celebrate their new beginning.

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Word Wall Ball

Last week  I put on a Word Wall Ball for our military homeschool group and it was… word wall ball titleAWESOME!  Okay, I know that is totally braggy but I’m just really happy with how well it went and how much fun we all had.

So what is a Word Wall Ball you ask?  Well, my sister gave me the idea from something she observed in a kindergarten class.  The idea was that kids would have their list of sight words on their word wall when they have learned all of them they earn a ticket to the Word Wall Ball.  Really we just celebrated everyone’s accomplishments in reading, whether it was learning sight words or starting to read for the first time or finishing a grade level.

DSCN1720We held it at the community center on base and everyone brought a potluck dish to share for lunch.  I said for the kids to dress fancy for them–whatever would make them feel special–and boy did they dress up.  I had helium filled balloons floating around with strings long enough for the kiddos to catch them and then other balloons on the ground for kids to bounce around (if you know me IRL you know what a big deal this was for me because I HATE balloons).  When they entered I had royal music playing (alright, it was just the march from Sleeping Beauty) and as soon as the kids came in and saw the balloons and everything they started screaming and bouncing around and dancing.

In addition to the balloons and dancing, we also did a cake walk.  If you haven’t done a cake walk, you are seriously missing out.  Think happy musical chairs with cupcake prizes.  We had sight words cards for our spaces.  When the music plays the kids walk around the circle.  When the music stops, we call out a word and the child standing on that space gets a cupcake and leaves the circle.  Add in a DSCN1686new kiddo and begin again.  We just played until everyone got a cupcake. (Okay in a real cake walk it would be cakes and then you would start with a whole new group, but I really like it this way.)

Download the Sight Word Cake Walk

 

I also had out scratch out for the kids to do.  Such an easy craft–just set out the supplies–but such a big hit.

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And we had a photo booth!  I think I love the pictures even more than the kids loved taking them. 🙂

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I found my props online; then just cut them out and added shish kabob skewers.  I recommend using an exacto knife for the eye holes and other fine details.  And before sure to glue the skewers with the pointy end against the paper piece so no one gets hurt.  So many are for weddings or adult parties but I found good ones for the kiddos at Accent the Party (a great list) and Creative Juice.

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But the best part of all for everyone was recognizing the children’s accomplishments.  On the walls I had a img074book for each kiddo celebrating their achievements in reading.  I had the parents write me with what they wanted to celebrate and then I just copied and pasted them onto the book stencil.  At the end of the party we gathered the children around to acknowledge each of their accomplishments.  After announcing the child’s name, I would read their “book” to the group and we all cheered.

I am uploading the book template as a powerpoint file so that you can make adjustments and add your text.  I am also adding it as a pdf in case you can not open the powerpoint.

Book template powerpoint

Book template pdf

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In homeschooling kids can miss out on public recognition of their achievements.  While we shouldn’t do things just for the applause, it certainly is nice to be celebrated.  I think all the parents were surprised at just how much it meant to our children to recognize them in front of the group.  You would have thought they won the lottery when I called a name.  We will definitely be doing this again in the future.

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That night the girls told me how proud they were of themselves.  Looking at those smiles, I know that the greatest part for them was getting recognized for their hard work.  And one of the greatest parts for me…  Mia ran up, gave me a giant hug, and said “Thank you Mama!”

P.S. We used the plain scratch art paper that I actually cut in half sheets and it worked just great. The kiddos loved creating their own designs. But if you are looking for something a little more fancy or structured, there really are all kinds of great options.

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