Summer School 2018 and Why We’re Schooling Year-Round

We finished up our 2017-2018 school year last week (blog post on that coming soon)…and so, obviously, the thing for us to do this week was to jump into our summer school routine!

In general, we’ve done school year-round, sometimes in different ways and for different reasons, but we’ve found it works really well for our family.

First, it allows for us to have a generally consistent structure to our days. Our kids don’t do well with extended periods of time of no structure. And, to be honest, really don’t do well with extended periods of time of no structure. We lighten things up over the summer, but we can keep our general structure pretty similar to what we do during the school year. The day starts with math and handwriting over breakfast, and then everyone gets a bit of play time before we tackle anything else, and we do some more work before and/or after lunch. The little kids are continuing to be exposed to the idea that they have some choice in what we read, but I get to read the books to them, and we all sit on the couch and read together for a period of time in the afternoon.

Second, it allows for us to continue to work on building skills that would otherwise stagnate or start to decline if ignored for months at a time. We’re continuing on with math, handwriting, reading, and Chinese, all areas in which I think it would be harder for my kids to jump back into their work in the fall if left alone all summer.

Third, we can pick up some study in areas in which I want to prepare more for the fall. We’ve jumped around a bit in terms of our Language Arts curriculum over the last couple years, and we’re going to try Sonlight again in the fall, and I think I need to work with my girls a bit on writing before we start that program. With the little kids, I want to work more on letter recognition over the summer.

Fourth, a lot of the rhythms of our lives just incorporate homeschooling. Matt and I usually read out loud to the big kids before bed, and a lot of the books we use are our Sonlight read-alouds. That’s part of the rhythm of our family life, not something we want to drop just because it’s summer time. Similarly, we’re attempting to cultivate a lifestyle, not a checklist. Yes, my kids are required to read every day…but we want them to read because they have a lifestyle of learning, not just because any given day is classified as a school day.

Fifth, schooling through the summer gives us so much more flexibility during the year. If we’ve continued on with even a portion of our school work during the summer, I don’t feel at all bad about taking days off to go to the park or visit friends and family during the school year, and our many doctor and PT appointments don’t throw off our school schedule. We can create a schedule that works best for us and includes a good deal of flexibility, because we’ve already done a lot of school work, even before the official school year starts.

Of course, we’re also spending a good deal of time just playing outside, going to the pool, and generally enjoying life and the blessings of summer! But summer school is also part of our family’s summer life, and I’m thankful we’ve gotten started on that 🙂

Homeschooling 2017-2018

Our 2017-2018 school year is well underway! We’re about 8 weeks into our curriculum, which is, as usual, not quite as far as I’d like to be but is absolutely far enough 🙂 This year we have Miranda (2nd grade), Madeleine CaiQun (1st grade), and our two littles, Atticus and FangFang, along for the ride.

I do actually have some goals for the littles this year! This will be the last year for which I do no formal schooling with them at all, but I want to start getting them prepared for that. To that end, we’re working on learning letters and numbers, and I’m more intentionally spending some time reading books to them (which is, honestly, most of what their “pre-school” year will look like anyway!).

Things are a bit more intense with the bigs 🙂 We are using primarily Sonlight curriculum again, and everyone was super excited for our box day!

As usual, the girls dug in and started reading through a few of the books right away 🙂

This year, we are using Core C for our History-Bible-Literature package – it is year 2 of World History (picking up after the Fall of Rome). Honestly, while I know there are people who are passionate about ancient history (I’m looking at you, David!), I’m enjoying getting to slightly more modern times.

We’re also using Science C, which has some biology but also focuses on geology, meteorology, and mechanical technology. So far we’ve been learning about animals and about how our human bodies work, which has been fun for all of us.

One thing that is new this year is that I have the girls each doing their own level of readers, with Madeleine CaiQun actually at the higher level. I knew even toward the beginning of last year that she was a notably strong reader, and while she struggles a bit with appropriate expression when reading out loud, she continues to be an excellent reader. She’s using the Grade 4 Readers this year. Miranda is also a great reader, and for this year she is working her way through the Grade 3 Readers.

This is the first year during which I’ve allowed the girls to do any of their reading silently on their own, just reporting back to me afterwards and talking with me about what they’ve read. I know this is the beginning of a transition for us, toward them being able to do more schooling independently. To be honest, it is a bit sad for me, in that I’m no longer intimately involved in everything they’re reading and doing, but it’s all part of the process of growing up and gaining independence, and I know it’s ultimately a good thing 🙂 And one advantage is that I more often catch them digging into good books and curling up on the couch to read all on their own!

We generally start our days with seat work. Every family has to find their own routines, and over time, we’ve found that this is what works best for us! Miranda is continuing with Singapore math – at the beginning of the year, she finished up their 2nd grade curriculum, and she is now well into 3rd grade math. Math is pretty intuitive for her, and it brings me a lot of joy to work through it with her. It’s so neat to see her grasp new concepts – this week we tackled two-step word problems, and I wasn’t sure whether she’d understand the logical leap right away, but she absolutely got it!

Last year we tried a few different things for Madeleine CaiQun, for whom Singapore was not as good of a fit. She does best with a slow pace and with the incorporation of manipulatives and a gradual transition to completing the same math problems without those manipulatives. We ended up landing on Math-U-See as a math curriculum for her. Obviously it would be convenient (and cheaper!) to have every child in our family using the same curriculum, but one of the benefits of homeschooling is that we can work with each student in the way they best learn, and this is an instance in which we see that playing out well in our family. We started with this curriculum mid-way through the year last year, so Madeleine CaiQun is wrapping up her Alpha year, and when she finishes that, we’ll start on Beta.

We are continuing to use Handwriting Without Tears for handwriting practice, with Madeleine CaiQun having another year of practice with printing (with her book modeled by Atticus!) and Miranda starting to learn how to write in cursive.

To round out our Language Arts curriculum, we’re using First Language Lessons: Level Two and All About Spelling (continuing in Level One).

We actually tackle our school work throughout the day, starting with seat work at the table (math and handwriting) and then taking a break. Miranda, in particular, does best if she gets to move around before spending a lot more time doing school. After our break, we move to the living room and snuggle on the couch for most of our “reading school,” after which our afternoons are usually pretty free (though we’re often finishing up something that didn’t quite happen that morning!). But our days conclude with the last of our school work, as Matt puts the littles to bed, and the big kids and I snuggle in my bed and use our read-alouds as bedtime stories.

Overall, the year is off to a good start 🙂 I’m thankful, yet again, for awesome curriculum options, and I’m thankful for this time I get to spend with my kiddos!

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!