Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Post About Homeschool

I have been asked by several friends who are entering the world of homeschooling for advice in general and curriculum specifically.  I decided that a blog post may be a more efficient way to respond.  This is a rather lengthy post…you have been warned. 

Last year at this time I was overwhelmed with all of the options that homeschooling has to offer.  How was I going to choose curriculums for so many subjects that fit my teaching style and Audrey’s learning style?  I wanted the freedom to choose each subject by itself, you can buy package curriculums that include all of the subjects, but I didn’t feel like that was the best route for us.  I asked all my homeschooling friends for advice on what has worked for them.  One of my friends recommended the book, The Well-Trained Mind.  I rented it from the library, and read it immediately.  I only focused on the sections for elementary school.  I took notes as I read and at the end I had 6 pages of notes.  I hadn’t heard much about the Classical method of schooling before this, but when I read the book, I knew that this was exactly what I needed.  It spelled everything out for me, several curriculum choices for each subject, schedule suggestions, and the whole concept of Classical education. 

One of my biggest issues with the public schools here was Common Core.  I felt like the assignments were sometimes ridiculous, and obscure.  I hated the focus on quantity of writing, rather than quality.  Audrey would have a whole page written out, full of spelling and grammatical errors, with no corrections on it.  Her math assignments were abstract to say the least.  I wanted her to have a good foundation to build the rest of her education off of, and she was NOT getting that in the public school. 

Here is what we used this year for curriculum:

MathMath-U-See, both Audrey and I have loved this program.  It is easy for the parent because you watch the 3-5 minute lesson with child (about once a week), you get a refresher on the concept, and I learned quite a few new math tricks.  The teacher explains everything in a clear way, and there are no frills or distractions.  I have been amazed with Audrey’s progress in math this year. 

GrammarFirst Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, this was written by one of the co-authors of The Well Trained Mind.  I have always thought of Grammar as a dull subject, but Grammar is one of Audrey’s favorite subjects!  This curriculum has given Audrey solid, old-fashioned (in a good way) grammar skills.  I started her off in 2nd grade grammar and writing because her skills were so weak.  She is now a good way through the third grade level.  One of the things that they have the students work on is memorization.  Audrey has memorized quite a few lengthy poems this year, a skill that I never knew she had! 

WritingWriting With Ease – this was also written by one of the authors of The Well-Trained Mind.  Basically you/your child reads an excerpt of a classic story, and then writes a summary, does some copy work, and diction.  I am passionate about classic literature, so this was a great fit for me as a parent.  Audrey has greatly improved her summarizing skills this year. 

Spelling-  Audrey is literally the worst speller that I have ever seen.  The poor child has no natural sense of how to spell words, it is almost humorous.  I spoke with her teacher last year about it, and her teacher gently said “some kids have it, and some kids don’t”.  I accept that she is to opposite of a natural speller, but I absolutely think that she can improve her spelling skills!  All About Spelling is the best thing that have ever happened to spelling challenged kids.  It breaks down all of the English rules for spelling words.  I have learned SO much!  This program is the only hope that Audrey will ever have to improve her spelling.  She still struggles with it, especially if she is writing a long letter to someone, but she has improved SO much during the year!  I started her off in first grade spelling, we did one lesson per day, and now she is almost done with third grade spelling.  This is one that if you want to start, you should start from the beginning (level 1), each level builds on the last.  If your kid is a natural speller, there are plenty of other spelling programs out there that would be great.   If your kid struggles with spelling like Audrey, this is your answer!

History – We tried Story of the World, and while I enjoyed it, it was over Audrey’s comprehension.  Too many strange names and weird words, it just did not hold her concentration.  I would revisit SotW in Middle School I think.  What we have switched to is more Unit Studies.  For example, we had planned a trip to Biltmore, so we did a month of reading, research, and projects on the Vanderbilt family, and Biltmore itself.  It set the foundation for Audrey to be completely fascinated with Biltmore, she fully appreciated it, and so did I!  I love researching, and I love history.  Right now we are doing a unit study on Williamsburg, we listened to all of the Felicity American Girl Doll books, and we are reading books from the local library about the history of Williamsburg, and what life was like back in the 1770s.  We are planning a trip to Williamsburg sometime in the near future. 

Reading—Audrey did not like reading, in fact, it was the worst chore you could ask her to do.  My goal for this year was for her to develop a love for reading.  After reading books of her choice, at or slightly above her reading level, for half an hour every day, for the whole school year, she is finally showing signs of being interested in what she is reading!  I did not choose a specific reading program for her, because I felt like just putting a book in her hands was the best route for this year.  The makers of All About Spelling have a reading curriculum called All About Reading, I may purchase that for Phoenix next year because I have been so impressed with their spelling program. 

Science – We have also approached this with more of a unit studies approach.  I usually switch off between science and history, so one month we focus on history, and the next science.  We are planning a trip to Idaho this summer, so when Phoenix ends Kindergarten we will start a unit study on Yellowstone.  I really like to study something, and then go experience it, and the kids have loved doing that also.  I did try a science book at the beginning of the year, it was one of the ones recommended in TWTM, but it wasn’t a great fit. 

Handwriting—Both Audrey and I have wanted her to learn cursive, and a few moms recommended Handwriting Without Tears.  I bought one for Audrey, and a beginner one for Phoenix.  I really love both of them!  I always wondered why my kids wrote floating in between two lines, but it is because they never learned how to properly write their letters!  I am actually considering purchasing the beginner books for Audrey also so that she can learn the proper way to write letters.

One of my friends was also starting homeschooling last year, and she was also doing the classical method.  She told me about Classical Conversations, a homeschool group that gets together once a week for a 24 week cycle.  They go over math, grammar, science, art, music, geography, and Latin every day.  I instantly knew that I wanted to be a part of this!  We joined CC, and I literally knew next to nothing about it.  It does cost roughly about $500 per year (for the elementary age).  Both Audrey and I looked forward to our CC day, it was kind of a day off for her, and a day off for me!  The moms are expected to stay in the class with their kids (unless they are a tutor).  I have made a few good friends, and it is so refreshing to talk to other like-minded people.  Audrey gets the classroom experience, without all of the bad stuff in public schools.  Every week each kid can do a presentation, so they get a lot of oral speaking experience as well.  They also have spirit days (crazy hair day, pj day, dress as your favorite historical character day).  We have gone on several really good field trips with our group.  I always say that CC fills in all of the gaps of homeschool.  There is a book of stuff the kids are supposed to learn each week, so if you wanted, you could use solely the stuff from CC for history, science, and Latin.  CC may not be the answer for everyone, and it may not be available in all areas, but for us it has been a great addition to our homeschooling. 

We belong to 3 homeschool groups; CC, our local town homeschoolers, and the LDS homeschoolers in the area.  Our area is incredibly homeschool friendly.  There are SO many people here that homeschool!  Because the public schools do year-round school here, there are always camps offered all throughout the year.  I have put Audrey in a week long gymnastics camp, and an ice-skating camp this year.  I signed both her and Phoenix up for a week of gymnastics camp in August.  It is so nice for both Audrey and I to have occasional weeks off!  I sewed SO many projects during my last week off, and it was awesome!  Audrey is also part of a homeschool theater group.  Your commitment only lasts for about 3 months, so I figure that I will have the kids do about one play per year.  I am going to sign both Audrey and Phoenix up for art classes once a week next year.  Art is one subject that I did not excel in this year, so we are going to hire that out. 

Homeschooling has been an awesome experience for us so far.  I am not trying to convert anybody to it, it certainly is not for everyone, but it has truly blessed our family.  I feel confident that Audrey is getting a solid education, and she is protected from so many things because she stays at home.  She has been able to be more social this year, because we have so much free time.  I also feel like my kids will be well-rounded because of homeschool.  We can travel both for fun and for educational purposes, the kids will have time to do many activities, and most importantly, they have time to play and be kids!  I have been homeschooling Phoenix on his track outs, and he has done so well with it!  He will finish Kindergarten, and then he will start homeschooling.  All of us are so excited for him to be home during the day.  


Heather Macbeth said...

Thanks for your blog post. I've been doing lots of research on curriculum and I find it difficult to get a grasp of the exact teaching/learning style most of them offer. So I'm actually going to head down to the Homeschool Gathering Place off of Glenwood Ave. to look through books and see what I like. I will definitely check out some of your suggestions too. I already know about some of them, but I'll look at the others.

Thanks for telling me about A Well Trained Mind. I read it a few months ago and it was helpful for sure. I wouldn't say that I'm 100% classical, but I'm definitely partly classical.

And btw yesterday in Sunday School I had each of the kids write their name on a paper and Phoenix's handwriting was by far the best. It just came out of nowhere and I told him how amazing his writing was! Now I know why!

Erin I. said...

Rachel, I loved this post! We also use Math-U-See and the same grammar, writing, and handwriting programs you use, and we love them all. And CC has been the perfect fit for us. I'm constantly blown away at what these little minds can remember! I'm so glad homeschooling has been such a blessing for your family too :)

Kory said...

I admire you so much for doing this! You are such a good mom!