Year In Review: Homeschooling 2016-2017

Most places wrap up their school years in May, perhaps June. Here at our house, we finished our home-schooling year in mid-August! It was an odd year for us – we’d finished our previous year later than I’d originally thought we would, mostly due to Matt’s heart attack. That meant we started this year’s curriculum later than I’d thought we would. And on top of that, we were finishing up our adoption process last fall, necessitating hours of paperwork for me, trips to our Secretary of State’s office to certify documents, travel coordination, and so much other logistical work that we didn’t get through as much of our curriculum as I’d originally hoped in the fall – and then, of course I went to China. And I returned from China with a 3-year-old, and we all had bonding and attachment needs, and she had major medical needs. But God 🙂 Honestly, it stressed me out, not being ahead of the game in terms of our school schedule. I am a perfectionist, and I like to be well ahead of the pack. Except there is no pack. There’s learning and growing together – or not. And we’re learning and growing together. And truth be told? My kids (and I) do better with year-round structure. They (and I) do not do well with weeks of totally unstructured time. It was a good thing for us to do school over the summer. We still have a ton of fun – pool time and parks and playing – but we also do some work. It’s a good balance for us.

I’m actually quite proud of the ways in which we’ve grown as a home-schooling family this year. It feels like we’ve settled into more of a groove. We’ve figured out more of what works well for us, and we’ve stuck with that, whether it matches up with what anyone else does or not. I used to think that we had to start our day with Bible reading, because obviously your day should start with Bible reading! It turns out that doesn’t work so well for us. Starting our day with math works well for us. It’s the most intense of our “seat work” subjects, and if we don’t get it out of the way early, it’s a real battle to try to tackle it later. If we do math and handwriting right off the bat, they’re done well and they’re done quickly – at least more often than when we do them later in the day 🙂

And then we do something that gets us moving. I love checking off boxes. If it were up to me, we’d do all of school right away, and then we’d be done and have the rest of the day to play. It turns out that this is another area in which my initial expectations just don’t match up with the reality of what works well for our family right now. My kids do so much better if we take a break after their seat work is done. Cosmic Kids Yoga is a favorite. 

If I were less of a check-list mom, we’d probably go out to the park more often (also if it were easier to take 4 small children, one of whom uses a wheelchair and one of whom is an untrustworthy runner, to the park). Or even for walks. But I am a check-list mom, so we do yoga 🙂 And I work on growing toward being more laid back.

One thing I’ve loved about this year has been the continued cultivation of a love of reading. We love the majority of Sonlight‘s book choices. After we take our mid-morning break, we dive into reading – often for hours a day – and we enjoy it. These were some of our favorite books from our core curriculum this year.

Reading quality books has also been a huge part of cultivating a love of reading in our kids beyond school. One morning I looked around me, and this was what I saw – all 4 kids looking at books.

That warmed my heart. More than I want to impart any particular pieces of knowledge, I want to instill a love of reading and of learning, and my hope is that we are doing that through the choices we’re making.

Part of that has been making some curriculum adjustments. I mentioned in some of the posts linked above that I was exploring different math curriculum options for Madeleine CaiQun, and I’m glad I did that this year. Singapore Math is an excellent curriculum for Miranda – she loves mental math and just gets math in general. It didn’t click as much for Madeleine CaiQun. After doing more research, I bit the bullet and ordered an entirely separate curriculum package – Math-U-See – for her, and it’s a great fit. The use of manipulatives helps her to understand each lesson so well, and I’m seeing her manifest true mastery of concepts. It’s certainly not financially optimal to have two kids using two different curricula, but one of the beautiful parts about homeschooling is that when you have two very different children who learn and think in very different ways, you have the freedom to teach them and help them learn in very different ways, and I’m thankful for that.

We also have the freedom not to have to work through all things on exactly the same timetable, and I’m thankful for that, too. Miranda is still finishing up Singapore’s Year 2 math, even though we’ve technically finished the school year, and that’s fine. Not having started her new math curriculum until mid-year, Madeleine CaiQun is also obviously not finished with it, but again, that’s fine – we’ll work through it and move on to the next level once we’re ready for it. We also needed to take a bit of time after the end of this school year to finish up our Language Arts program from this school year, and we’re only about halfway through the first book from our Spelling curriculum. I’m always reminding myself – this was their kindergarten and first grade year of school. They are doing great, whether we make it through an arbitrary number of lessons in a given year or not. Obviously if they were showing significant deficits, we’d be concerned and would take whatever measures were necessary to address that – but that’s not the case. They are learning and growing and doing beautifully. 

I think we had a successful year. We learned, and we grew. We made it through (approximately) one year’s worth of curriculum in approximately a year for most subjects. We’ve found some routines that are working for us. We’re getting a lot of quality time together. We talk about anything and everything. This was a good year, and I’m so looking forward to our next one!

Homeschooling So Far This Year

My last few blog posts may have given the impression that my life these days consists entirely of adoption-related activities, but that’s actually not quite true! While my time and my heart are quite occupied with adoption, as the mama of three kiddos here at home, I have a lot of other things going on, too!

We are about mid-way through our 7th week of homeschooling, and when I shared about our curriculum for this year, I promised I’d write about how our school year was starting, so I want to do that now!

Honestly, I’m really happy with all the curriculum we’re using. The girls are plugging along with hand-writing, not really learning anything new per se, but continuing to hone their skills.

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Math is going well. Miranda regularly reports that math is her favorite subject, and she does well with it, though as she’s gotten older and the lessons are longer, she sometimes has a hard time staying on task and motivated for long enough to finish an entire assignment – but she understands the material and loves learning new concepts.

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I think I may have let Madeleine CaiQun speed through Kindergarten math a bit too fast last year, so this year we’ve taken some time to slow down and make sure she is really grasping the concepts being taught – I’ve had her use manipulatives when she isn’t coming up with the correct answers for addition and subtraction questions right away, and that helps her tremendously. Singapore Math seems to be very heavily a mental math curriculum, and while it’s awesome for Miranda, I’m not sure it will continue to work well for all of my kids all the time, but we’ll continue to re-evaluate that for each child as needed. One thing I love about homeschooling is that we have the freedom to do that 🙂

One area in which Madeleine CaiQun truly shines is reading. This girl loves to read and has grown in leaps and bounds in her reading ability in the last year and a half – I started her last year reading consonant-vowel-consonant words, and now she excels at the grade 2 readers I have her doing and could really probably be tackling more advanced books! She does enough of that on her own, though, that I think it’s good for her to hang in there with the grade 2 books for school, just getting some practice slowing down and enunciating as she reads out loud with these. Her consistency and desire to learn have really paid off in this area.

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It’s interesting to me that both girls recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and see where the other shines, as well, but neither appears to be jealous or angry about it.

We’re all enjoying the Bible and Language Arts curriculum we’re doing this year, and I see the girls learning in both arenas. We’re studying some characteristics of God this year, which has been cool. And in Language Arts, they’re beginning to learn about some simple grammar (i.e. nouns), memorize some poems, and acquire the basic building blocks for learning to spell. This Language Arts curriculum feels more focused and straightforward than what we were doing last year, so I feel good about making the choice to switch and try something new, and the girls like it better, too.

And, of course, we’re enjoying Sonlight’s read-alouds, the literature books I read out loud to the girls each day. We started off with Charlotte’s Web, and when we finished, we had a family movie night to enjoy the film!

I wasn’t sure what studying ancient history with 6-year-olds would really be like, but so far, it’s going well! We’ve learned about archaeological digs (and had a conference call with my brother, who spent a summer working on a dig in Italy!), and this week we’re reading about ancient Egypt, mummies, and King Tut.

In science, we’re learning about animals, and the girls are really enjoying that. The internet-linked capacity of our animal book is something they really love, getting to watch videos of many of the animals about which we read each day. We also took a day recently to drive to St. Louis with some friends and visit the zoo to see many of the animals firsthand (and, of course, to ride the train).

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I’d say the biggest struggle for me is fitting it all in each day – and the result is that we usually don’t fit it all in each day! I’m constantly going back and forth about whether that’s okay (they’re six! they learn through play! they don’t need to spend 5 hours a day doing school or hit every subject every day!) or whether I really need to get us on track now (we’re going to bring home another toddler soon, so we need to accomplish as much as possible before then! we should have a solid routine that allows us to accomplish everything each day! we should check things off our lists!). Being a checklist-oriented person, I still cringe inwardly every time I think of taking 8 days or so to do 5 days’ worth of scheduled work, but I also think it’s what’s working best for us now. We’ve had a number of doctor appointments recently, we’ve had adoption paperwork to do, we’ve taken advantage of some nice days to meet friends at the park, and I don’t want to sacrifice those things in order to guarantee that we hit every subject every day.

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The girls are learning and growing. We’re taking time to talk about character when needed – it may not be on any checklist, but I have to remind myself nearly every day that addressing character issues and teaching my kids about what it looks like to follow God is so much more important than getting through every subject on the list each day.

I do worry about how we’ll all adjust once we have two little mischief makers underfoot instead of just one, but I imagine we’ll figure it out 🙂

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And if it takes us more than a year to get through this year’s curriculum, but we do it well, so be it. They’re six, and it’ll be okay – or so I keep telling myself 🙂

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We’re spending time together as a family, learning about God and life, learning about the world, and (even if not as quickly as I’d like), checking off the boxes on our curriculum 🙂

Homeschooling 2015-2016 – Curriculum and Plans

Given that we started our school year over 4 months ago, it’s about time I share a blog post about what we’re doing this year 🙂 When pressed, we say that this is Miranda’s kindergarten year and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-k year, but for the most part we just work with each child wherever they are and work on learning and growing.

We were super happy with our Sonlight curriculum for two years ago and last year, and we’re using Sonlight as the primary basis for our school curriculum for this year, as well. Sonlight packages together several primary subjects as cores – Bible, History/Geography, and Read-Alouds – which allows you to explore the year’s main theme from each of those angles. This year we’re using Core A, which is Intro to the World: Cultures.

We’re finishing up the 12th week of the curriculum, so we’ve made it through about 1/3 of the material, and we’re really enjoying it. We’re always looking for more good kids’ Bibles, and this one is pretty good. In history and geography, we’ve been able to read about ancient societies (Greece, Rome, and China), and we’re now up to somewhat more modern times (Spanish explorers, Dutch traders, Pilgrims and Native Americans). The books present the material in interesting, age-appropriate ways, and honestly, all 3 of us are learning about these different cultures and enjoying doing it! The read-alouds are awesome, as well. We’ve already read everything from The Boxcar Children to Curious George to Dolphin Adventure to Little House in the Big Woods. My biggest complaint about the read-alouds is that we love them so much that we’ve read through them faster than the curriculum guide dictates, and I’ve needed to supplement them! That seems like the best type of problem to have 🙂 Beyond that the only modifications we’re making have been to the Bible curriculum. Our girls are participating in Awana this year, so they’re memorizing the Bible verses that their Awana groups are working on instead of those from our school curriculum. I’m also supplementing the Bible curriculum by having the girls memorize answers to catechism questions, as well. Going through this book is helping them synthesize some of the Bible information they’re learning, and they are learning about ways in which God’s truth applies to our daily lives from the accompanying stories in the book.

For science, we’re doing Sonlight’s Science A package, which focuses on Biology, Botany, and Physics. I’m pretty impressed with it. There’s interesting science reading, some of which comes with links to internet videos about the topic at hand (Madeleine CaiQun’s favorite part), and each week there’s information about how to do at least one science experiment, sometimes more. In and of myself, I’m not super creative or hands on, so I very much appreciate the activity suggestions!

experimenting to see which substances from our refrigerator will freeze when put in the freezer
experimenting to see which substances from the refrigerator will freeze in the freezer

For Language Arts we’re also using Sonlight packages – Language Arts 1 for Miranda and Language Arts K for Madeleine CaiQun. This is the part of our curriculum about which I’m most ambivalent. This is probably my girls’ least favorite part of our school day – they say they enjoy it, but it’s the aspect of school about which we have the most conflict. I think that is in part because the choice of Language Arts level is dependent upon the child’s reading level, but reading level and maturity level are not necessarily the same. Additionally, there is a big jump in the expectations between the kindergarten and first grade packages, both in the types of assignments given and in the amount of work included. I find myself altering specific assignments in both girls’ programs, and I’ve pretty systematically altered Miranda’s first grade package by removing the spelling component. She just isn’t ready, at 5, to do a spelling program, and she really doesn’t need to be – she’s only 5! I actually suspect that she’ll pick up these spelling words without any effort just given some additional time reading, and if she doesn’t, we’ll come back and pick them up later.

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What I do really appreciate about the Language Arts program is that it has been a great tool in teaching both of my girls to read. It moves slowly enough that they build a lot of confidence in their reading abilities as they go, but it also introduces them to increasingly complex words, so their abilities really are growing. On top of that, because the Language Arts and the reading aloud portions of the curriculum are linked, the Language Arts concepts we discuss often show up in the reading, giving the girls experience dealing with punctuation, compound words, etc. as we discuss them.

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Both Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun love reading out loud and are continually growing as readers, which is so fun to see. And we do have some fun Language Arts activities, as well. Both girls love playing Sight Word Bingo!

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All that to say, Language Arts is going pretty well this year, and everyone is definitely learning and growing, but I probably will explore what other options we might have for next year, just to see if there’s something else out there that might work even better.

The last piece of our main daily curriculum is math, and we very much enjoy our math curriculum! We’re continuing with Singapore this year – grade K for Madeleine CaiQun and grade 1 for Miranda. Both girls love, love, love math – most days I have to cut them off and announce that we need to move on, or they’d just keep working their way through lesson after lesson.

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It’s really fun for me to see them growing in their understanding of numbers, simple addition and subtraction, and other math concepts and truly enjoying it all. It happens quite often that Miranda will run up to me and announce excitedly, “Mom, I thought of a number sentence for you!” She’ll tell me an addition equation, smile, and run off to play again. We’ve also been playing some games like Shutbox, in which they can practice their addition skills without even realizing it, and they could not be happier.

Overall, we are really having a great time with school and with these materials in particular. We love the reading – frequently my favorite part of the day is curling up on the couch with the girls with some books. The girls are learning about science and history, they’re learning language skills, they’re learning to read, and they’re growing in their math abilities. It’s so encouraging for me as a teacher to see them developing in all of those ways, and I pray these years of quality time plus foundational development will be a great blessing for them in the years to come!