School Curriculum Part 3: Reading and Language Arts

Here’s what we’re using for phonics/reading, grammar, and spelling.  🙂

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We use Phonics Pathways for our core reading program. This is an all-in-one, kindergarten through second grade program-in-a-book. While Marcus is just starting in it Bri is hurrying to finish it up. It also includes simple games (which both of my kids thought were a lot of fun). It’s not divided up into specific lessons; instead you move at the child’s own pace, whether that means completing half a page or two pages/day. There’s a lot of helpful instruction for the parent as well.

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For reading, I have used the Amish Pathway readers with Brianna (Marcus isn’t ready for them yet). Bri started out in the 2nd grade readers this year and zoomed through all of those, then completed the 3rd grade readers as well, so that she has now graduated to other chapter books. She reads a chapter in her Bible each day and has started on the Boxcar Children series.

A site we’ve used for reading and phonics fun is Starfall. I never paid for the full version, but we’ve just used what was available on the free version for a little extra math and reading fun. 🙂

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 First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind takes a Classical/Charlotte Mason approach to language study. I think one of the best words to describe the approach used here is “gentle.” Copywork, dictation, poetry memorization, story readings and discussions—as well as the technical side of learning parts of speech, diagramming, etc.—all play an integral part in this language program. Each lesson is scripted for the teacher which makes it very easy to use (books 1 and 2 contain 100 lessons each). Lesson time will vary from child to child, but we probably spend about 10-15 minutes a day with it on average (minus copywork time). Although Marcus isn’t technically at the grammar level of study in these books, he memorizes the poems with Bri. 20180314_155349

It’s easy to teach, easy to use, and we plan to work our way through the whole series of four books.

Spelling

We’ve started with a program called Spelling You See. I love, love, love everything about this program…okay, except for the price tag. It is a little pricey (as in $40+ to $50+ per grade level), but I use these consumable/non-reproducible books in a way that will make them last through every child who will use them, so I feel like the cost is at least somewhat justified (I’ll explain in a minute). 20180314_155457

Copywork and dictation are the foundation of this course. However, its real strength and unique quality lies in its highly visual approach to learning. No tests are ever given or required (though you can do this for your child yourself if you feel it’s a must).

Bri started out in Level B this school year (technically about a first grade level) and it includes two student workbooks, a handwriting chart, and the instructor’s handbook. The books contain 18 lessons each for a total of 36 weeks’ worth of lessons. In the first book, she practiced copying a new poem each week (so in Lesson 1 she copied part of “Jack and Jill” every day for a week). Then she practiced tracing letters and/or writing some words from dictation (week 1 included 3, three-letter words, but towards the end of the first book she was writing up to 15 words/day from dictation, and words with up to 5 letters each). 

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The second student workbook is where she began to really get into the core of the program: color “chunking.” As with the first book, she copies a poem each week. But first, she reads the poem, then gets out her crayons and “chunks” it (we use dry erase crayons on a sheet protector into which we slip her page for the day, so it’s erasable and reusable).  20180314_155728 

Yellow is used for “vowel chunks.” Purple for “bossy R chunks.” Blue for “consonant chunks.” Pink for “endings” (like ed, es, ful, ing, ly, etc.) And so on (initially, only a couple of colors are used as children get practice with the concept). By color coding each of these “chunks” in her poem each day, she is creating a visual memory of the words. The reason this becomes so important (especially later on) is because many English words are not phonetically spelled, and cannot simply be “sounded out.”

So after she “chunks” her poem, she copies part of it (in a separate notebook; I don’t let her write in the student workbook). She then chunks the poem (this time handwritten) a second time before finishing up her lesson. She is then to read what she has written. 

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So read, chunk, copy, chunk, read. That’s the order. Then at the end of each week instead of copying her poem, she writes it in its entirety from dictation/memory.

I can see the program helping her already. When I’m dictating a word in her poem I’ll ask, “What vowel chunk (or what bossy r chunk) did you color in this word?” The light will go on and she’ll be like, “Oh, I colored ‘ou’ in ‘spout’”; or “Oh yeah, I colored the bossy r chunk ‘ar’ in ‘cupboard.’” 20180314_095612

She’s usually able to complete a lesson in 15 minutes or so, depending on how much she piddles. 😉 And most of her lesson can be completed independently, so there’s very little teacher time involved and practically zero prep time with this course (after the 1st book of Level B, that is).

It’s a win-win for Mom! 😉

Around the World in…Four Semesters: School Curriculum Part 2

My son is obsessed with all things maps. If you didn’t think someone could actually love geography, well…

He collects maps the way some kids collect coins or stamps. Family, friends, and acquaintances have supplied him with maps galore, and I’ve bought him a National Geographic book of our National Parks—just because the thing is filled with maps. When a friend sent me a homemade apron made from atlas print material, Marcus went bananas over it.

“Hey! It’s got a map, Mom!”

We’re not doing a formal geography curriculum this year. It’s more like a little bit of this and a little bit of that. To me, geography is a subject that would be incredibly boring in a vacuum, divorced from its bigger (and much more interesting) brother, History. So I tacked some of it on to our history lesson: after listening to our lesson, we simply find the place the events took place in on a globe and/or map, and we might look up pictures of the country on the internet.

Then we fill the cracks in with bits and pieces here and there.

My favorite discovery in this department for this year has been the Draw ____ series. Each book focuses on a different country or continent, teaching you to draw and label it in its entirety, step-by-step. 20180127_130916

I intend to slowly collect the series over time. This year I bought Draw the World and Draw Europe. Bri was able to follow the simple directions on her own to complete both maps. She’s already drawn Europe a couple of times, and I plan on having her periodically get the books back out and draw through each one multiple times as she gets older to help her memorize the layout in her mind.

While I originally only planned to assign a few steps a day, she ended up enjoying it so much she finished a map in one day of her own accord the first time I gave her the book!

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This was her drawing of Europe.  🙂

 

Puzzles are another great way to help kids learn geography painlessly. While we have various geography puzzles, my favorite set would be the Geo Puzzles. What makes these different is the fact that each piece is cut out in the shape of a country, state, or continent.  

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Finally, there’s media/internet. In my history post I mentioned we watch “Are We There Yet?” videos from the National Geographic Kids channel on YouTube.  (Another article I linked to in the history post also lists various other history and geography YouTube channels for kids.)

A couple of websites we use for learning and games include National Geographic Kids, and Ducksters. I also found a closed Facebook group called Learn Around the World which I joined. Members post a potpourri of neat ideas, games, projects, books, etc. related to geography. It’s a fun group to follow, so if you’re looking for ideas in this department join up and check the group out. 🙂

When I was a kid one of my favorite computer games was DK’s World Explorer. Having fond memories of this, I looked it up to see if I could find an updated version for my kids. Sure enough. With few changes, it’s exactly how I remember it. There’s a LOT of geographic information packed into this colorful game. To this day I still remember facts I first learned from it. Good memories!  Screenshot_20180312-151337

How about you, Mamas? What are you using this year for geography?

Dashing Knights and Fair Damsels: School Curriculum 2017-2018 Part 1

20180120_121541Viking raiders, daring knights, and damsels in distress—it’s the stuff of medieval legends. Making our way through a four-year tour of chronological world history, we’ve found ourselves in the Middle Ages this year. From St. Patrick to John Huss, King Alfred the Great to Joan of Arc, this time period holds many captivating stories.

We’re using The Mystery of History series by Linda Lacour Hobar. This year we’re in Volume II: The Early Church and the Middle Ages.

I enjoy this series because it covers much more than western history. This year we get to learn about the Maori in New Zealand, famous emperors and empresses of China, the great Zimbabwe of Africa, the Samurai of Japan, etc., right alongside classic western history. It’s fascinating to learn that about the same time as Leif Ericsson was discovering America, a great civilization was arising in Zimbabwe. Did you know that about the same time the Inkan empire was emerging in South America, the Turks were engaged in the conquests that would establish the Ottoman empire?

It’s captivating to watch all the pieces fit into the story together. And through it all, Hobar points to God’s sovereign plan through history in the lives and events of man and time.

Volume II contains 84 lessons, and begins in the year A.D. 33 with the disciples at Pentecost, ending in 1456 with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. The text for each lesson is usually 2-3 full textbook pages in length. This year I bought the set on CD so that we could listen to the lessons while we’re eating breakfast. (I love this option and wish I had taken advantage of it the first year!)

Hobar provides the teacher with lots and lots of extras. She stresses that there is no reason to try to do everything she suggests. Pick and choose. (Volumes I and II both contain the text and all the extra resources and activities in one book. Volumes III and IV each include a set of books which can be purchased separately or together.) I didn’t actually make a lot of use of the “extras” this year, but I’ll run through them so that you have some idea what the program offers.

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She suggests doing a timeline and explains how to make the figures for it. The first year we made a timeline, but I bought pre-made figures to save time. It still felt like a good bit of work and with the kids being quite young I wasn’t sure that it was worth the extra effort. So we didn’t do a timeline this year, although when the kids get older I want to have them do something at least similar.

Then there are the memory cards. Each week, a few sentences summing up people and events from the lessons are written on a card and periodically reviewed. Again, I did this the first year, and got lazy on the second. I’ll wait till the kids can write out the cards for themselves. ;p

A student notebook, divided into sections by continent, is kept so that work pertaining to the lessons can be filed under the appropriate geographical sections. 20180120_120740

Her lessons include map work (all maps and templates for projects are included in the back), and we did a little bit the first year, but I decided to wait on that this year until they’re a little older. For now, I toss them an inflatable globe and we find the country we’re studying on the globe and/or map each morning.

For activities, each lesson is followed by one or more suggestions under three different categories corresponding with different age groups: younger, middle, and older students (this program can be adapted for use for 1st grade through 12th grade).

For example, after reading about the great Zimbabwe of Africa, younger students might go on a gold hunt or play gongs; middle students might visit a local craft shop, buy glass beads and string them together in honor of this ancient African tradition, or find and photocopy of picture of Victoria Falls and file them in the student notebook; and older students might research African countries and write about their basic facts (type of government, capital city, population, language, religion,). etc.). 20180120_121726

Then there are plenty of tests, quizzes, crossword puzzles—you name it. This woman has thought of everything. It would be overwhelming to try to use all of it, so you customize the program for your own family’s use.  20180120_121643

After listening to the lesson in the morning I usually try to find a brief documentary clip (or on rare occasion a full one), or even a cartoon short that sums up the story again. Just by doing a search on YouTube I can usually find something—I’ll put in the name of the person or event followed by “for kids” (you’ll see as I do this series of posts that YouTube is my best homeschooling friend, lol). You can find plenty of History Channel videos and other similar documentaries. 20171213_091806

One channel I like is Extra History (from Extra Credits): bright, peppy summaries of historical events in a sort of fast-paced, comic-book style. The overviews are really pretty good. These aren’t necessarily geared toward children, but my kids really liked the videos. 20171213_091706If we’re studying a particular country, I turn to the National Geographic Kids channel “Are We There Yet?” series: seven-minute overviews of the land and culture of a country from the perspective of kids.

When we were studying ancient history last school year and going through Bible history, a really good channel I stumbled onto was The Bible Project, which gives very solid and succinct outlines of books of the Bible, summarizing their message with personal application in 5-12 minutes’ time.

Here’s an article listing geography and history channels for elementary students on YouTube.

With the exception of The Bible Project, I can’t vouch for the appropriateness of the content of all the videos of these channels, so view with your kids at your own discretion. 😉

For a hands-on activity we’ve been using the Famous Figures series by Cathy Diez-Luckie. Each book contains 10 to 19 historical figures to cut out and put together. At the front of the book there is a short biographical section for each character, and then there are two sets of each figure printed on heavy cardstock: one in full color, and one in black and white which the student can color (we’ve just been using the colorized version). The costumes are carefully researched and historically accurate, so this is a very nice addition to a history program. 20180120_12132920180120_121254

After cutting out the pieces you attach them together with brads so that you now have a moveable figure. The kids play with them like puppets. The Famous Figures of Medieval Times include Justinian I, Theodora, Charlemagne, Leif Eriksson, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Genghis Khan, Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, and Joan of Arc.

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We couldn’t study medieval times without making a castle, so I bought Easy-to-Make Castle by A. G. Smith and we cut out, folded, and glued the pieces to make our own cardstock castle (or rather, we all cut them out and I folded and glued them together). 🙂 20180120_121203

Dover Publications makes some very accurate, detailed, and informative historical coloring books. I bought Medieval Jousts and Tournaments and Life in Celtic Times, thinking the kids could color in them while they listened to the lessons. But we ended up listening to the CDs during breakfast so I had to find other times to use the books here and there. (Note: in Life in Celtic Times there was a page depicting gruesome religious practices that I chose to remove.)  20180120_121039

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Okay, that all sounds very time-consuming, but really I’ve just kept it pretty simple this year. This is what our basic history time looks like Monday through Wednesday:

We listen to the lesson during breakfast.

We find the country the story is about or takes place in on a globe and/or map.

We watch a brief video (if I can find one; also, last year we would briefly “re-enact” a scene together).

Throughout the week during our reading time (when we read storybooks, poems, etc.) I will sometimes include a book from the library on something that corresponds with our history subject.

And that’s pretty much it.

I don’t really do anything for history on Thursdays, but on Fridays we may cut out a character from Famous Figures. Haven’t done any full documentaries in awhile, but I try to schedule these for Fridays if we’re going to watch one.

And—oh, did I forget to mention History Day?

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Every once in awhile we do a themed “History Day” just for fun. We drop our other subjects for the day and do activities, read books, make projects, and even watch movies that have to do with our theme. Last year we had a history day with an ancient Egyptian theme: the kids dressed up and had a “feast” on the floor with some traditional Egyptian foods, reclining on cushions while listening to ancient Egyptian music (thank you, YouTube), etc.

This year we had a medieval-themed day. The kids dressed up, we read/looked through lots of books of castles and knights (from the library), cut out and made our castle, listened to medieval-style music (again, thank you, YouTube), had an archery contest with homemade bows that Cliff had made for the kids, read the story of Robin Hood, and to top it off they got to watch a cheesy old medieval movie: Prince Valiant.20170929_161446 20170929_160221

More for fun than for historical accuracy or academic value, History Day is still a hit in our family.

But as some say, “Play is the highest form of research.” 😉