Here is where I will recap and review our homeschool year. This was my third year of planning a full Charlotte Mason style curriculum with short, morning lessons on a wide variety of subjects according to a strict timetable designed to fit our family, but it was only my second year planning for 7/8-year-old John. I love to consult Ambleside Online, a Catholic Charlotte Mason curriculum, as well as Wildwood Curriculum for ideas, but I put it together in my own way. You can see my original plans here.
This was a year with a lot of growth for John. Most of what we did worked well, especially because I gave him a little more space, but there was 1 subject that I completely let go of for John this year. On to the review . . .
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This year we read narrative portions of the bible during our morning time during breakfast using the lists available on Ambleside Online and using a New Revised Standard Translation. Using this translation worked better for us than using the King James Version, so we will continue to use this version next year. Unlike Ambleside Online's plans (which coincide with the way Charlotte Mason planned bible lessons) we choose to read only 1 book of the bible at a time instead of alternating between the old and new testaments.
Language Arts: Reading/Literature, Spelling, Copywork/Handwriting, Recitation, Modern Language
Reading/Literature (10-20 minutes lessons every day)
I followed my reading plans for John based on the reading immersion lesson from A Delectable Education podcast. Basically, we read through this book [$8.95, but got free with gift cards] and each day I helped John learn any unfamiliar words using a whiteboard and movable letters. We also played with movable letters to practice phonics and used sight-reading flash cards. We also read from a variety of other easy readers.
And . . . he still isn't reading fluently. It is frustrating for both of us. For me, because I really don't want to be the reason why his reading hasn't taken off and, for him, because he has a desire to read but he resists additional practice and lacks the motivation and attention to focus on reading for any length of time, which I think is mainly due to the fact that phonics is not intuitive for him and so reading is still blunt force decoding and it is exhausting.
He is making progress, but slowly. He has routinely seen an optometrist for comprehensive vision checks and he shows no obvious signs of vision problems or dyslexia, so we are going to continue to try new things and make progress slowly, but surely.
This summer I have been having John use Explode the Code Online for 10-15 minutes 4-5 days a week and I think the structured phonics practice is doing wonders with his ability to decode simple words and just get more practice at his actual reading level. We are going to continue using the program alongside our one-on-one reading lessons because I think the drilling is helping him internalize the phonics rules better.
I also read The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan during our morning time, with John and his brother sharing narration duties. He also enjoyed listening to our lunchtime and bedtime read alouds and enjoyed many audiobooks via Hoopla, Overdrive/Libby, and all of the Redwall audiobooks available on Audible.
All About Spelling Level 1 [bought and used by his older brother]
As I predicted, doing spelling did help John with reading. He completed level 1 and we will move onto level 2 next year.
Beginning Traditional Cursive, Grades 1-3, 3-4 lines of a worksheet daily
Printing a few lines in a primary notebook from Spelling Wisdom selections.
We followed our plans but somehow didn't finish the cursive book yet. John does tend a bit toward the dawdling, but his attention improved a lot throughout the year . . . as did his handwriting.
Each 6-week half-term he prepared to recite beautifully 2 poems and 1 passage which he performs at our family poetry tea scheduled during each break week. I continue to choose two of the pieces and he choose one of them.
Memorization has never been John's particular strong suit and his lack of reading fluency means that he can't just read his pieces. Nevertheless, poetry tea is a fun and festive time for everyone where what is remembered or read is appreciated by all. For John, I always have his pieces open before me and just feed him his next lines to jog his memory. He MOSTLY memorizes everything . . . just not always well enough to get through his pieces with no help.
We began the year doing what we did in previous years, where I would read his pieces to him over and over and he would say them along with me or to me as he became more familiar with them. As our toddler became more disruptive and I tackled first trimester symptoms, I tried a new trick of recording his pieces using the Easy Voice Recorder App. I chose this app because it was easy to name the files and easy to save them to my Google Drive so that if my phone was dead or unavailable, he could use any browser on any device to listen to the recordings.
This strategy was partially a success--we both seemed to really enjoy taking a little break from each other during lesson time as most of the time we were connected at the hip. On the other hand, he seemed to do worse overall at learning the pieces when he just listened by himself.
So in Term 3, we went back to doing most of our recitation practice together but used the app as a back up if our toddler was disrupting lessons too much. This middle ground worked well.
Poetry (Listen to the same poem read aloud every day for a week at morning time)
As planned, we focused on a different poet each term, and although I do not follow Ambleside Online's poetry schedule, I do choose the majority of our poems from their collection. This year we focused on:
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- John Keats
- Eugene Field
We loved our Longfellow study and also enjoyed Eugene Field, but Keats was not a favorite--except for mom and dad! We loved reading Keats every day as a family, especially because we were both in the midst of reading or rereading the Hyperion Cantos which includes LOTs of references to Keats, including a main character programmed to be John Keats himself. I don't think it is a bad thing that the kids didn't enjoy our Keats study, but I always wonder if it would have been better if we had waited a few more years. Luckily we can return to Keats again one day as a family and maybe cultivate a few more Keats fans.
Modern Language: German (4x15min/week)
While my older son and I continued our study of German through Talkbox.mom [generously funded by a grandfather]. I ultimately decided to release John from this lesson completely. In the beginning, I encouraged him to participate, but eventually, I stopped even that. Even so, he always participated in learning German songs through YouTube with us.
I think there is a lot of value to learning a foreign language but given my own lack of facility with German, John's inability to read well, and his not being a great memorizer . . . this was just unnecessarily frustrating for him. And I just don't think it is worth it to force something that isn't vital . . especially when he is doing such hard and consistent work in his more core subjects.
Social Studies: History and Geography
We used the following books for American history of the 1800s this year:
- A Child's First Book of American History by Earl Schenck Miers [$26.95 new from Beautiful Feet Books]
- How We Crossed the West by Rosalyn Schanzer [$4.19 from Thriftbooks]
- Escape North: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Monica Kulling [Library]
- To California by Covered Wagon by George Rippey Stewart [$1 book sale find!]
- Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire [$13.95 new from Beautiful Feet Books]
- Jimmy at Gettysburg by Margaret Bigham Beitler [already own gifted book]
- The Story of Mark Twain (Signature Biography) by Joan Howard [vintage hand-me-down from my mom]
I was happy with all of our book selections. I liked A Child's First Book of American History, but I will admit it was written in an odd style that made narrating difficult. To me, it fills a much-needed gap by writing about American culture and experience outside of only major events and battles. On the other hand, it might be too patriotic and gloss too much over the experiences and persecution of native Americans and enslaved people. Just know that we supplement our book selections with a lot of honest conversations about looking at history from other perspectives.
John also worked on a personal chronology chart, but we probably need to spend some time adding a bit more to it until we consider it finished!
I also read the following titles at morning time to supplement our study of the 1800s. They were not narrated and all of them had been picked up at book sales over the years for about $1 each:
- A Head Full of Notions: A Story About Robert Fulton by Any Russel Bowen
- Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude by Louise Borden
- Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille by Russell Freedman
- Journey to the Bottomless Pit: The Story of Stephen Bishop & Mammoth Cave by Elizabeth Mitchell
- Along the Santa Fe Trail: Marion Russell's Own Story by Marion Russel / Adapted by Ginger Wadsworth
- Walking the Road to Freedom: A Story about Sojourner Truth by Jeri Ferris
- Children of the Wild West by Russell Freedman
- The California Gold Rush (Landmark Book) by May McNeer
- Marie Curie: Brave Scientist by Keith Brandt
- The Story of George Washington Carver by Eva Moore
- Navaho Long Walk by Joseph Bruchac
- Klondike Gold by Alice Provenson
- The Story of the Gettysburg Address by Kenneth Richards
- Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell
- The Mill by David Macaulay
Geography (2x20min/week, oral narration after each reading)
- Seabird, Holling C. Holling (Term 1) [alread used with his brother = $1 book sale find!]
- Tree in the Trail, Holling C. Holling (Term 2 & 3) [already used with his brother - bought used on Amazon for $6.13]
- Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason [Free ebook under its original name on Google Play] We will continue to work through this title where we left off last year.
This year we made a good subject even better by reducing the pages read per lesson and spending more time with maps. John's improving reading skills made him more able to use maps to identify particular features, but he still isn't great about paying attention and remembering the place names on the map!
At the end of the year, we had some extra time left so we used it to look through a scrapbook I made of my cross country trip from NY to CA and back with my sister in 2005. This was a fun experience and I think it really helped him make a connection with the places studied in Tree in the Trail, the overall geography of the U.S., as well as what the different landscapes of our country look like.
We also finished Elementary Geography this year. I really enjoy using this book and stretching it out over two years seems to work well for us.
I planned to use the following materials:
- Life of Fred - Picking up where we left off in volume 6 of the elementary series (Farming)
- Gattegno's Mathematics Textbook 1 using Cuisenaire rods,
- Beast Academy, 3A [purchased for my older son for $32 and used with dry erase marker in slip sheets so we could reuse it without buying another workbook. YAY!]
We began mainly doing Life of Fred with some Cuisenaire rods, and some random lessons here and there with dice, coins, worksheets, etc. but over the year we transitioned mainly to using Beast Academy. At first, we alternated between Life of Fred and Beast Academy, but by the end of the year it was Beast Academy all the way.
John took very well to Beast Academy although it did frustrate him at times (as it is designed to do). He truly excelled in the first chapter of 3A because he is so good spacially and that gave him confidence. But I have been really impressed at how well the other chapters have worked for him. He likes math, but it isn't an all-consuming passion for him like it is for his brother. I think he enjoys the gaming aspect of Beast Academy that doesn't focus on memorizing math facts or drilling that appeals to him. He finished level 3A and moved on to 3B . . . ahead of my schedule. He is now in the 2nd of 3 chapters in level 3B which he continues to work through about 15 minutes 4-5 times a week.
Science: Natural History, Special Studies, Nature Notebooking
Natural History (2x20min/week, narration after each reading)
I planned to read the following to John for him to narrate:
- Terms 1, 2, 3: Eyes No Eyes, by Arabella Buckley (1 chapter/week)
- Term 1: African Critters by Robert Haas [bought for his brother last year for $3.99 on Thriftbooks] & North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson and Patrick Benson [already owned gifted book]
- Terms 2 and 3: Squirrel's and Other Fur Bearers By John Burroughs [free online MANY places, I'm using Google's free illustrated edition]
The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies by Jean Craighead George
I chose the following topics for the year using the rotation found on Sabbath Mood Homeschool :
Term 1: Butterflies and Wildflowers
Term 2: Evergreens Trees and Birds in Winter
Term 3: Insects and Non-flowering plants
We read living science and natural history books as part of our morning time, including:
Battle on the Rosebush: Insect Life in Your Backyard by Marian S. Edsall
My Puppy is Born by Joanna Cole
Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith
A Child's Book of Trees by Valerie Swenson
Wild and Woolly Mammoths by Aliki
The Sun: Our Neighborhood Star by David J. Darling
I See Animals Hiding by Jim Arnosky
Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins
Simple Machines by D.J. Ward
Why Glasses? The Story of Vision by George Sands, M.D.
Marie Curie: Brave Scientist by Keith Brandt
The Burgess Bird Book by Thornton W. Burgess
Mill by David Macaulay
Milk from Cow to Carton by Aliki
The Burgess Seashore Book by Thronton W. Burgess (some)
We did many of our object lessons at our local Wild + Free nature group. I led some and other mothers did too, which was great for me!
Nature Notebook (daily entries, nature watercolor drawings, nature walk as an afternoon occupation)
John continued to make near-daily entries in his nature notebook by dictating them to his dad. Until winter, I was really great about getting him out to take a 15-minute walk in the neighborhood every afternoon we were home. Then winter, pregnancy, and a global pandemic got us out of the habit. I will be working on keeping this habit going in the new school year.
He also made a watercolor brush drawing in his notebook each week. It is not his favorite, but it gets done and I think it is valuable. I am curious to see how his sister's passion for art may infuse new enthusiasm for this subject next year.
Wild + Free Nature Group
We participated in our weekly year-round nature meetup at a rural property through the summer, fall, winter, and into the spring, rarely missing a week until our state shut down due to the novel coronavirus. Fortunately, we were still able to get out to local nature spots regularly through the shutdown.
John thrives outside and is never at a loss for what to do in nature with other kids. He is the first one to get wet or covered in mud and sometimes gets so absorbed in what he is doing that he forgets to eat. Like his siblings, time in nature + lots of nature reading has yielded an aptitude and excitement for nature observation and knowledge. It is a joy for me to witness.
Art and Music: Watercolor, Drawing, Handicrafts, Singing, Artist Study, Composer Study, Music
Because it was in the schedule, it got done! Once a week was for any kind of drawing/painting, often nature drawing, and once a week was a watercolor drawing for his nature journal.
During our handicraft time, we used some of our planned resources including:
- Rubber Band Engineer: Build Slingshot Powered Rockets, Rubber Band Rifles, Unconventional Catapults, and More Guerrilla Gadgets from Household Hardware by Lance Akiyama [Christmas present!]
- Paper Sloyd: A Handbook for Primary Grades by Ednah Anne Rich [free online]
- Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make by Andria Lisle [already owned gifted book]
We also tried some origami, a little whittling, luceting, and random other projects. I need to be better at documenting these for our own memory's sake. He also took a 4-week pottery class at a local art studio and he was so proud of his many interesting projects. He also continued to help out a lot in the kitchen--always flipping tortillas, topping pizzas, and very into making cookies or dinner if someone can read him the recipes.
John really enjoys making things and can follow diagrams with ease. He is only limited by his reading ability . . . which he compensates for so well that it affects his motivation to learn how to do it better.
We had planned to learn the following songs over the course of the year and we did. John and I are not the best about memorizing ALL the lyrics and I can "cheat" by reading so he has a harder time than me. But we focus on what we do learn and enjoy singing the parts we can remember.
I chose many songs that matched our historical time period (1800s) which worked beautifully.
I also planned to work through the solfa lessons from Children of the Open Air but they weren't working so well for us and the boys already do solfege singing as part of their Hoffman Academy piano lessons, so I let this one go after term 1.
Artist Study (1xweek at morning time)
This year we followed our plan to study 6 works from a different artist each term:
Term 1: Monet [Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason, $18.95+shipping]
Term 2: Van Gogh [Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason, $18.95+shipping]
Term 3: Durer [Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason, $18.95+shipping]
Composer Study (1x10min/week)
This year we studied the following composers using YouTube performances of their work and Classics for Kids episodes. I chose compositions to listen to from Ambleside Online's lists, but I did not follow their rotation.
- Term 1: Robert Schumann
- Term 2: Franz Liszt
- Term 3: Richard Wagner
This may be our weakest subject that we actually do and I'm not sure how effective it is for the kids. I know that I certainly don't learn or retain very much from it. But we do it and I will just be satisfied with the small exposure to composers which is more than I had . . . . until and unless I figure out a better way to do this subject.
John continues to use Hoffman Academy [Not an affiliate link! We just love Hoffman Academy.] He began the year about 2/3 done with unit 3, which he completed along with unit 4 and is about half done with unit 5.
At the beginning of our summer break, I realized that he was sort of cheating on his practice sessions--not doing everything and sort of limping along when things were hard. As a result, he wasn't getting to mastery level on his songs no matter how long he practiced and he couldn't play along with the practice tracks as required. This made his practice less effective and more painful.
So I committed to being his practice partner again. This made his practices go smoother because I was there to read the instructions, handle the technology, and break down the tasks until he was up to speed enough to meet the unit's expectations of his current ability level.
It hasn't always been pretty. He is a secret perfectionist who hates making mistakes even when learning a new song! But he has made tremendous progress and is about up to speed. His level of complaints and negativity has also decreased. Honestly, I don't know if I will be able to continue being this hands-on when our new baby arrives, but he is now able to follow the Hoffman Academy instructions as written, so his practices should be able to be managed by another adult until I'm feeling ready to pick them back up.
His piano playing is important to me and I think it is valuable for him so I want to put in the time to help him succeed. I notice that he is reading notes more (as opposed to memorizing songs) which is another sign to me that he is becoming more developmentally ready to become a fluent reader.
This year, John could not participate in summer 2020 swim lessons or his spring soccer season, but he did enjoy an active lifestyle before and after our state's stay-at-home order with fall soccer, hikes, bike rides, roller skating, and walks around town. He was able to complete 8-weeks worth of ice skating lessons, he went on an overnight hiking trip with his dad and brother, and we enjoyed lots of swimming and hiking on our yearly family cabin camping vacation.
Being "safe at home" all spring actually gave him the time and impetus to really start exploring our small town by bike--alone and with his brother. This has been an awesome outlet for him because he is a great bike rider and enjoys his freedom.
I read a book about personality-typing your kids on the Myers-Brigg scale and (surprise!) John seems to share my personality type. Hahaha! He is such a different student than Peter, but I am endlessly thankful that he keeps me from being a smug homeschool mom with all her compliant ducklings in a row ;-) I have learned so much about when to push and when to back off (not that I get it right) that I know will serve me well in the years to come. I hope that I can find the best ways to keep him moving forward at his own pace with his confidence intact.
We officially finished our normally required 180 days of school at the end of April (very early for us!) even though we didn't have to because of the coronavirus. After taking 2 weeks completely off in early May, we switched to a low key summer schedule where John completes the following most mornings unless we have something special planned: chores, outside time/garden work, 15-minutes of piano practice, 15-minutes of Beast Academy, and 10 minutes of Explode the Code Online. We will enjoy another total break from lessons (except Explode the Code because it is relatively painless and really helping him!) from the day our new baby arrives until we start term1 on August 10.
You can see past plans and recaps here.
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