Our 2008/09 School Plans

It seems everyone is planning out the upcoming school year. I actually enjoy the process and get excited about all the activities I hope to incorporate over the year. This year, Sweetie will technically be in 1st grade and Buddy will be an official preschooler.

We have been using a blend of approaches but mostly Classical and Charlotte Mason. As a teacher, I am comfortable creating my own materials and pulling things together from a variety of sources. Other than an idea of what topics we want to cover over the course of the year – where I want each of my children to be academically – I don’t follow a specific plan.

The teacher within me has developed a weekly plan (shown above) of what subjects I teach on Monday, what subjects we do on Tuesday, etc. It gives me an idea of what to accomplish each week, however, I have discovered that I rarely follow this schedule. In this way, we are Unschoolers – taking it day by day. We do what we feel like doing. We study what is of interest at the moment. We go with the flow.
For Sweetie:

  • Reading: We’ll continue to use Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It finally clicked this summer. She can read most 3-letter words now and is beginning to sound out longer words. We are also using the Now I’m Reading! series by Nora Gaydos. She is motivated to read all of the mini-books on her own and has nearly finished Level 1.
  • Poetry: New this year is also a new poem each week. My hope is to begin with copywork and then progress to memorizing the poem by weeks end.
  • Grammar & Writing: Integrated through science and history … copywork, letters to family and friends, creative writing activities, etc. We really enjoy the Draw Write Now! series of books – we have all 8 – and I select pages that relate to our studies in science and history. I work in grammar skills as she does these assignments. We also play MadLibs frequently and she is able to define verb, adverb, noun and adjective.
  • Handwriting: She’ll continue to practice cursive letters with a Practice Power book that has a write on-wipe off surface. Continued practice with alphabet sheets from LearningPage.com and copywork printed out at Zaner-Bloser online. Most of her daily work is done in block script. Once she is comfortable with cursive, I’ll request that she apply her skill.

  • Spelling: We didn’t do spelling last year. I thought I would give the Spelling Workout program a try this year. We’ll also take words from our reading to incorporate science and social studies.
  • Math: Math is her strong area. She can do multiple digit addition with carrying. She also can do multiple digit subtraction but can not yet borrow. She can tell time and does well adding/subtracting money. She is beginning multiplication and division. She has very few lessons left in Singapore 1B, then we’ll work through 2A and 2B. We didn’t use the workbooks with 1A and 1B but we plan to with level 2. Between each text, we’ll take a week or two to practice skills and before we advance to the next level. Throughout the week, I also try to incorporate as many games and manipulatives as possible.
  • Physical Education: She’ll continue with her study of Taekwondo. She may also continue with Ballet and/or Tap – depending on her interest later in the year. We’ll also continue to incorporate running, swimming and cycling throughout the year.
  • Chinese: We’ll pick up where we left off on Mango Languages and do a lesson a week (we’ve mastered only the first 2 lessons). Ideally, I’d like to do the online lesson on Monday so we can have the week to practice the vocabulary. I can then make up little activities to enhance the lesson (bingo, matching sheets, etc.).
  • Sign Language: When Sweetie was little, we did a lot of signing. We love the Signing Time DVDs which we borrow from the library. Another homeschool mom is teaching an American Sign Language class this fall and Sweetie has expressed interest, so we’ll give that a try.

For Buddy:
He has been saying, “I want to do schoolwork, too.” So he’ll be focusing on learning the alphabet, using letteroftheweek.com and occasionally alphabet pages from First-School. We will also introduce computer skills (use of the mouse) on occasion. One of my favorite learning sites is Starfall.

  • Handwriting: He’ll begin to practice block letters with a Practice Power book that has a write on-wipe off surface. Continued practice with alphabet sheets from LearningPage.com
  • Math: We’ll continue to practice simple addition and subtraction with manipulatives (his plastic animals, Hot Wheels, etc.).
  • Physical Education: He has expressed interest in also studying Taekwondo. He has participated in one class (for fun) and did well. As a result, we will register him in September when the Dojo begins offering classes for 4 year olds. Though he isn’t yet 4, he will be allowed to participate since he has watched his sister for 2 years and understands what is expected. We’ll also continue to incorporate running, swimming and cycling throughout the year.

Although I plan the rest of the subjects specifically for Sweetie, I try to include Buddy as much as possible.

  • Art: It was nice last year to have artist of the month to focus on, so I randomly picked 9 more artists to study. We discovered last year that we are most likely to do art when it ties into another subject so I did my best to also incorporate the art of ancient cultures.
  • Music: I really want to incorporate music into our curriculum. I have thereby randomly picked 9 composers to study, using materials from Classical Magic and Classics for Kids, among other resources. I also play to buy a few instruments and begin introducing them to reading music. I played clarinet 5th – 12th grade so I am familiar with the basics. As they progress and express interest, I’ll seek out other avenues, as this is the area I am least comfortable.
  • Science: Science is a natural part of life around here. This year, we will begin to follow the 4-year rotation of science outlined in The Well-Trained Mind. This year is life science. We spent much of the summer focused on plants, fall will be devoted to animals, winter on the human body, and spring will be on ecology. As I am a former elementary science teacher, I have a significant library of activities and materials. I will thereby pull things together as we go along. One of my favorite resources is Ranger Rick Nature Scope activity books. We’ll also continue with our Outdoor Hour Challenges each week.
  • History: We are continuing with the 4-year rotation outlined in The Well-Trained Mind. I recently purchased all 4 volumes of The Story of the World along with the accompanying activity guides. This years focus is on The Ancients. We will also use History Pockets Ancient Civilizations and copywork from History Scribe and/or Smooth Stones Academy.
  • Library: We go to the library once a week to check out books related to our current studies in science and history. The kids also check out a few books ‘just for fun’. There are comfy giant bears to cuddle upon to read. There is also a quiet study area that we’ll take advantage of between activities so that we can avoid going home and going back out again.

County Fair

As is tradition, we attended the county fair on opening day (convenient with our schedule – particularly this year). The kiddos and I arrived about an hour before DH and had just enough time to walk through the animal exhibits before he met up with us after work. Buddy was most intrigued by a woman sheering a sheep. Sweetie was enamored by the rabbits and even asked one of the 4-H members if she could pet her bunny. I love bunnies myself, and hope that when the kids are older and members of 4-H themselves, that DH will allow them to have a bunny.
When DH joined us, we walked amongst the commercial booths for a few minutes before buying tickets for the rides. Fortunately, the kiddos are young and are thereby terrified of the ‘big rides’… the ‘kiddie rides’ seem much safer to me anyway! The kids enjoyed 7 rides a piece and we then decided to get a bite for dinner. I made the mistake of getting just enough cash for dinner – there wasn’t enough to buy an elephant ear or snow cones – but then again, perhaps that was a good thing? We then walked through the 4-H and Open Class Exhibits. Last year, Sweetie had entered a few things in the Kids Corner and she was encouraged to do so again this year. This year she had 7 projects: Scrapbook Page (Best Friends, sorry no picture), Apple Butter, Crocheted Item (washcloth), Nature Craft (insect collection), Paper Mache (Egyptian Canopic Jar), Watercolor (Horntail Caterpillar), and Pastel Drawing (Egyptian Pyramids). She did very well! All blue ribbons except the scrapbook page which received a white ribbon and the insect collection that received a green (at her age level, there is no category for entomology and her collection wasn’t really considered a ‘craft’).
Buddy also had one entry this year. A pastel drawing that he told me was a storm. We thereby titled it, Eye of the Storm. He also won a blue ribbon – though he was the only entrant in Pastels for his age division. Sweetie was the only entrant for Crocheted Item and Food Preserves – Jellies as well. We have noticed a significant decline in the number of handcraft entrants each year (photography is the only category that has seen an increase in entrants). I recall from when I was in 4-H, there were racks of clothing items and other entries. Now, there are only a few. This makes winning easy but takes away from the spirit of competition.

As homeschoolers, the county fair is a great opportunity to showcase our work and get an opportunity to see and be inspired by the work of others. I wish, though, that more people would take advantage of the learning opportunity.

Wildlife Safari :: Field Trip

I have very fond memories of visiting the Wildlife Safari when I was a little girl. I was thereby very excited to share the experience with my own children. We arrived Friday just before 11 a.m. and proceeded to drive through the park. Immediately, animals were visible all around us. Though we were able to see all the animals relatively well (the cheetahs were the only exception), most were not very active due to the heat.
Preceeding our visit, I attempted to contact the education department to inquire about possible pre-visit activities and field booklets they may provide for school children. Unfortunately, no one returned my calls. I thereby had to create our own activity books. Sweetie was focused and worked diligently on completing the pages – she even collected data to help us to answer the question, “How often do elephants interact?” Two sample pages from her field research notes are shown below. If you are interested in seeing the complete booklet, it is available as a free download at Homeschool Launch. I’d be more than happy to share.Buddy, on the other hand, was focused on another objective, “When we go to Grandma and Papa’s? I’m ready to go now. How much longer? It’s been a long time.” He makes me laugh! Whenever we go anywhere, he is very anxious and filled with excitement and anticipation. No sooner do we arrive and he is ready to depart for the next adventure.
Throughout the park, they allow you to have your windows rolled down to take photographs. The only area that this is restricted is in the bear habitat. They even have a guy on patrol watching for would be violators! As I am taking photos from the passenger window, DH rationalizes that it must be okay to roll the windows down since the bears are playing with one another some distance away. As he does so, the patrol guy announces over the loud speaker, “Keep your windows rolled up in the bear habitat!”
Busted! I think DH felt a little silly for breaking the rules… we quickly moved on to the next area.
Sweetie enjoyed the safari as much as I predicted she would. She spent most of the evening drawing pictures of the animals that she had observed. I was a little disappointed with the facilities. The park was opened in 1973 and it is very obvious that the buildings and structures are dated. I was surprised that there were limited number of ‘Ranger Talks’ and opportunities to learn more. We basically observed the animals from a distance, nothing more. No signage. No talks. No docents or volunteers anywhere!
It is unfortunate that the region doesn’t have a stronger economic base with which to support their endeavors with fund raising and private donations. Gives me things to mull over and discuss with my Roots & Shoots group in the near future.

On a related note, we are going to be focusing on vertebrate animals in our science studies over the next couple of months. I generally start with inverts… but since we had an opportunity to go on safari, I figured it was a good kick-off.

Othello & The Hobart Shakespearans

Last week, DH and I attended a Shakespeare play in Ashland as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It has become an annual tradition, this being our 3rd year. In past years, we’ve seen A Winter’s Tale and Romeo & Juliet (the best production thus far). This year, I selected Othello.

As we had won a silent auction package at a Chamber function earlier in the year, our seats were good (Section A Row S). However, we were in the balcony and it was difficult to hear the actors. I don’t know if this was solely due to our seats or if the actors were not as audible as they have been in the past.

Othello is performed on the Elizabethan stage open to the air, my favorite. Last year, we attended the preface to learn more about the story, themes and characters of Romeo & Juliet. This year, we didn’t have the luxury of time. I wish we had, however, as I was less familiar with the story of Othello than I was of Romeo & Juliet.

In the playbill, the director writes, “The thing that makes Othello so very modern – and so frightening – is the way it takes us on a journey into madness. It is deeply psychological before the invention of psychology. Iago is a mesmerizing guide on this journey…” Dan Donohue, who plays Iago, is great! He is my favorite actor in the company.

Preforming in the courtyard, prior to seating, were The Hobart Shakespeareans, a group of students from Los Angeles. Inspired by their performance, I bought the book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. It is a fast read and is certainly inspiring!

After reading the reviews on Amazon, however, I agree that Rafe has a rather large ego. One of the biggest advantages he has over the typical public school is that he teaches in a year-round school and though it is an inner-city school, many of his students have previously been identified as ‘gifted’. Additionally, there is a big difference between the children of new immigrants seeking to make a new life for themselves and the children of impoverished families who have lived in American housing projects for generations, have little faith left in the system and are often unmotivated as students and parents.

The book is a fast read and provides several suggestions for fun games and challenging educational activities in all subject areas. Though I had hoped for more practical information on how to teach Shakespeare and integrate baseball into the curriculum, I was intrigued by the diversity of the projects he undertakes in Room 56. I would recommend this book to teachers both in the classroom and in the home.

Barb inquired about the production in a comment she left earlier; “I would love to hear about Othello. We were actually thinking about going to the Festival this year but couldn’t decide on which play to see. We thought Othello might be too dark for the kids.”

To answer her question, I think that older children would do well with the psychology of Othello. Many of the Hobart Shakespeareans were in the theater also enjoying Othello. If your children have been exposed to Shakespeare and are familiar with the stories – they’ll enjoy Othello.

How Did We Get Here?

When I was teaching in NB, I thought about homeschooling only on a few occasions. One of my husband’s colleagues, a hospital pharmacist, homeschooled his children. A few years prior, I had had the opportunity to interview him for a paper I wrote in college. I had only a vague understanding.

There were several families that had enrolled their children in public school after educating them in their homes for a number of years. The ages of the children, the number of children in the family, and the number of years they were educated at home varied amongst the families. However, the one thing they had in common was that all the children were excited about learning, were responsible and well mannered. Model students, really. I became intrigued.

When Sweetie was born, I knew immediately that I would stay at home with her. In the beginning, this transition was very difficult. I struggled with my decision to be ‘just a mommy’… I struggled with my identity.

My plan was to return to the classroom when my own children started school. As those years got closer, however, I began to think about our options. Other parents were comparing elementary schools, considering private, magnet or charter schools. The common questions I heard were, “Where is Sweetie going to preschool? Have you thought about Kindergarten, yet? Will she go to your neighborhood school? Are you going to try to get into Amity Creek or Westside Village? We are on the wait list at High Lakes.” Words that could have been scripted for a movie! She is only 5 – what does it really matter!?

I started to pull away from all this discourse and began to really give thought to educating my own children. I asked several of my teacher friends about their opinions and they stated the typical, “What about socialization?” The one argument that I thought the most about was, “Your strength is science. How are you going to teach the areas in which you are less comfortable? Their education won’t be as well rounded because they won’t have been taught by a variety of teachers with varying strengths and weaknesses.”

Sweetie’s birthday falls just 2 weeks after the cut-off. She would thereby not start public kindergarten until 2008. In April of ’07, I had registered her for preschool for the fall. However, as September approached and as we began to do projects for the fair, I knew she was ready for kindergarten. Her best friends and her cousin were starting kindergarten and she wanted to as well.

Another colleague of my husbands, coincidentally, another pharmacist, homeschooled their children through junior high. I asked them everything that crossed my mind. The idea of homeschooling became more fascinating to me. I started doing a lot of research. When I discovered Charlotte Mason and her approach to education, I knew immediately that I wanted to give homeschooling a try. 2007-08 became an experiment. If it worked – we’d continue. If not, Sweetie would start Kindergarten in the fall. No loss.

For Sweetie, I want to homeschool because she is bright and perceptive. I want to challenge her and not hold her back. I want her to continue to have the opportunity to explore areas of interest to her – living history, crochet and needlework, archeaology, nature study, and art. I want her to grow to be an independent, confidant young woman. I fear her self-esteem could be wounded – her true self altered to please others.

For Buddy, I want to homeschool because he is active and spirited. I fear that in the classroom setting he would be labeled as ‘attention-deficit’. He has Congenital Nystagmus and I don’t want others to judge him as my brothers were. I want him to have the opportunity to explore areas of interest to him – animals, construction, and nature study.

To my delight, homeschooling has been a challenging and very rewarding experience. We begin our 2nd year more knowledgeable. More connected. More prepared.

How about you? Whether you homeschool or enroll your children in public or private school… how did you come to your decision? Leave a link in the comments and I’ll add you to the list below. All participants (excluding me, of course) are eligible for a prize – see my Friday Freebie #3 post for more details.

Click on one of the following links to read similar posts by other families:

Are You Going to Kindergarten? by Teacher of One
Our Adventure in Homeschooling by Alex
A Rocky Start to Homeschooling, Then I Found the Path by Barb
How & When Did We Decide to Homeschool by Neely
When and How Did You Start Homeschooling by Cellista

Discovering Ancient Egypt: Activities for Kids

After a couple of months of vacation we are back in the groove. It feels good to have a plan… a schedule. I like having an outline… a map to guide us along our journey.

Since we initially read about historical discoveries in The Story of the World: The Ancients, Sweetie has wanted to be an Archeologist. So she was delighted to start our studies again and is so immersed in Ancient Egypt, she wants to have an Ancient Egypt themed birthday party.

Ancient Egypt Activities

Reading & Narration

This morning, we read Chapter 4: The Old Kingdom of Egypt. After reading each section, I asked her to tell me what she could recall from the chapter. Right now, I play scribe and record her words on the back of the map work that accompanies the chapter. When she gets older and is more comfortable writing, she will do written narrations. Here is her oral narration of the the section on Egyptian Mummies:

“The Pharaoh Cheops died so they [the priests] took all his organs like brains, heart and stuff and washed them and put them in special jars with heads of goddesses. They then wrapped his body in linen. They saved him for 40 days. They then washed everything again, wrapped him in linen again, and put his body in a silver case. They put that case in a wooden one. Then they carried him across the street to the pyramid. Inside the pyramid was a special place called a burial chamber. They put food and a boat for him to use in the Afterlife. Later, he will discover his chamber is filled with treasure.”

Wonderful! She is so detailed (though a few minor errors – it was a gold coffin, not a silver one). We frequently practice doing narrations – for movies, recapping the days activities for Daddy at dinner time, of books I’ve read aloud at bedtime, etc. I hope her narrations continue to be as accurate when she begins writing them on her own.


She loves crafts so she was delighted to create a Canopic Jar of her own. Using an empty creamer bottle for the base, she covered the bottle with paper maché. Once they were dry, she painted them to look like cats and other animals revered by ancient Egyptians.

She also added what she learned to her Book of Centuries notebook, pictured above beside her finished jar which she plans to exhibit it the county fair next week!