Fresh Semesters

As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to love entering a new year. Actually, I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of a fresh beginning and all the uncharted territory and hope symbolized by the small numbered blocks in a crisp, new calendar. I keep four calendars (One is a monthly menu.) in our home and one weekly school schedule on our fridge. This is the calendar that I keep on my dresser by my side of the bed. It’s responsible for making sure I show up on time and on the correct date to the activities I’ve committed to and scheduled for our family. Unfortunately, I don’t always manage to get everything written in, and that sometimes results in a minor catastrophe here and there. I’ve just opened the front page on my fourth calendar like this and it is, by far, my favorite.

My mind stays pretty scattered and disheveled until it remembers weird, uncanny things that most people forget about other people and events. When I consider a hypothetical mental image of my mind as a room, it’s lined with filing cabinets and flanked by enormous stacks of paper and thick files laying open all over the floor… more papers jammed in partially-opened drawers, with clutter and dust everywhere. When little bits of information connect to help me form a big picture, I can remember some of the craziest, not-so-random stuff… and it’s eerie… even to me. However, I can never count on that to happen when I’m actually making an effort to draw up that information. And so, my outer world has to stay pretty organized if I’m to keep myself and the rest of the household on track.  Even with lots of lists and calendars and schedules, I still manage to forget/overlook really important details at times.

We’re starting another 18-week semester on Monday. Typically, my kids and I get more than three weeks at the holidays, but we’ve had visitors this fall and we started later than usual. And that’s the beauty and joy of home-education. We relaxed long enough to take breaks and enjoy our families earlier in the semester.

When I say 18 weeks, I really mean, “We’ll work on what we work on until we’re done.” even if it doesn’t quite take us 18 weeks. And it probably won’t. I tend to stack everything back toward fall and winter and let it all slowly run down into the spring, because the kids and I are MUCH less apt to want to spend a lot of time doing school (or anything else indoors) when the world wakes up outside.

That said… by the time we make it to this place in the year, I’ve allowed some things to slide, added a few things, and also deleted a few things from our schedule. For the fist time ever, since they were pretty small, I’ve allowed my kids to have a full co-op day without requiring any added school work at home. The kids are still required to complete some practice at the piano on those days, but that’s it. It’s made for a much smoother year.

We’re an Ambleside Online family, but this is the first year that I haven’t tried to combine anything extra with it. Wow. Finally just trusting that process has made a huge difference for me as a teacher and the kids as students. It helps that my eldest finished his reading program last school year and that my youngest completed hers within the first half of the first semester of this year. A whole new world opens up when reading becomes pretty fluid. The kids still read to me from The Storybook of Science three to four days out of the week just so that we can gain some fluidity with oral reading and challenge ourselves to become better readers in general.

Know and Tell by Karen Glass really freed me from the idea the my kiddos needed a separate writing curriculum. While, I agree, some students probably need that structure (We’re all brilliant in different ways.), I believe that kiddos who consistently have good literature in their ears and under their eyes will have a well of words intuitively at their disposal and won’t really need to utilize a formulaic list. However, to each his own. I feel a teacher must be comfortable with the method used to teach, or the student won’t glean much from the process. Thankfully, there are lots of method and curriculum choices out there. Stay tuned. I may be singing a different tune on this in a few years. :o)

That said, I did feel a strong desire to find a program that made grammar feel more fun and accessible to my kiddos. Ambleside Online doesn’t recommend starting formal grammar until year 4 (My eldest is a year 4.), but our kids have had some grammatical training since they entered year 2, mostly because my husband valued it and requested that we add it in those years. I don’t know how long we will follow this particular grammar curriculum, but so far, I’m loving Cottage Press Primers. They’re meaty, they’re challenging, they’re beautiful, and they focus on correcting early some of the common misuses of the English language.

I’ve always hated sentence diagramming (and geometry), but I do see the merit in it, especially regarding the study of foreign language and Latin. We will likely plunge headlong into that practice when it presents itself, as much as I dread it (and wish I could omit it). The really exciting thing about this series of grammar books, for me, is that it gives us a place to “keep” our artist and composer studies, spelling dictation, and some of our nature study. It’s marketed as a blend of classical and Charlotte Mason-style learning, and it certainly lives up to that standard, even though I’d argue that Charlotte Mason is classical learning. But that’s a subject for another post. :o)

We use Bob Jones for math and Spanish. I love that there’s an option to use distance-learning videos, but so far, we’ve only sprung for that with the Spanish curriculum. The teaching is excellent. The kids have really picked up on some good stuff this year. However, the video teaching for the elementary Spanish only covers level one of three levels.

We will likely dole out the funds next year for the math videos. I’m finding that the little break with our Spanish and art videos is really beneficial. It seems to balance the monotony in our school days with something fresh and new.

Until my kiddos finished their reading program, we used All About Spelling. My eldest got through level three in that curriculum and my youngest made it through level two. I feel that it was an excellent foundation, but we’ve since switched to Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason. The kids study a short dictation passage each week and write correctly, as I recite it to them, in their Cottage Press grammar workbooks. The passages are often well-known proverbs and quotes. The added benefit is that, by the end of the week, those proverbs and quotes are solidly in their memory banks.

Plutarch and Shakespeare were the clinchers for me this year. I was really sweating getting those into our schedule. So, I made a goal to get through two Shakespearean plays and one “life” this year. However, I backpedaled just before school started and decided to use the book suggested by the Ambleside Advisory Board as a stand in for year 4 Plutarch called Stories from the History of Rome. I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that we read that book first. I wish they’d suggest it in the regular schedule instead of burying the suggestion down in the notes. We are now ready to begin lesson three in the the first Anne White Plutarch guide entitled Publicola (pronounced like Agricola with the accent on the second syllable), and because we slowed down and began with Stories, we have context for the harder work we’re doing with Plutarch.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s really difficult. I’m having trouble getting my mind around it. But we’ve been through this before with Ambleside, and I’ve never been sorry at the end when we’ve successfully slogged through something that really stretched us all.

Shakespeare is coming along much better than expected. We’re using the guides from Simply Charlotte Mason and that’s making a world of difference. This year we’ve listened to/read As You Like It, and we’re now about half way through Twelfth Night. I pull out the guide and we listen to the freebies on my Librivox app, which are surprisingly well done. We read along together and I pause occasionally to describe the scene or explain what’s going on. We devote a few minutes to this pursuit every Friday, and that’s it. We may actually finish the three plays suggested by Ambleside. However, I may decide to stop at two this year and try for three next year.

Other pursuits this year have included Bulfinch’s Age of Fable (a beautiful re-telling of Greek mythology… I LOVE THIS BOOK!), This Country of Ours and George Washington’s World for history, Robinson Crusoe, Kidnapped, short stories by Washington Irving, Jonathan’s independent reading and oral and written narrations of three biographies (He’s completed Poor Richard and was only required to narrate orally after each reading in that book through our first term. He has started both Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution, and The Ocean of Truth: The Story of Sir Isaac Newton  and is now completing short written narrations as he reads each chapter in the Newton bio. Melanie may read Poor Richard soon and complete the other two books next school year. ), hymn study, Bible study, artist study, composer study, and nature study.

More than anything going into this school year, I dreaded presenting Jonathan with the idea that he would be reading three books on his own and completing written narrations on one of those books. He did buck me on it at first, but surprisingly, he’s currently taking it as a matter of course and has offered comments here and there on how much he’s enjoying the books and how fun it is to relate the content to our history readings and free reads.

We do depart from the Ambleside schedule with science. I love the Apologia series and we are thrilled to be covering science in a co-op setting again this year. The kiddos also get art, drama, history, lego-engineering, math games, and lots of good spelling, reading, and writing instruction through a curriculum called Spell to Write and Read (SWR for short). While I couldn’t really make the leap to follow this curriculum at home, it’s similar enough to the program we completed that it makes an excellent review and is helping my boy with his atrocious handwriting. We also use Simply Charlotte Mason’s handwriting books. However, the kid’s copy work (included in their grammar lessons) is often lengthy enough that I allow the handwriting practice to slide a bit here and there.

This sounds like a lot, but it’s really very doable. Charlotte says “spread a feast” and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do… albeit imperfectly. I tend to have to go at planning with a big picture in mind, and I typically start for the following school year right about now. If I have the big idea in my head, I can work inward toward the details, but it takes me several months to get myself all the way down to the practical aspect of actually ordering materials. It’s a long process for me. We were supposed to formally introduce Latin this year, and I didn’t. I’m still not sure we’ll study Latin, although I can see the many benefits. It may be something of an elective if we actually get to it.

Here’s a sample of our weekly schedule as it looks now. I shared one at the end of last school year. It always changes as the year goes on and I get a feel for how much is doable and worthwhile. The formatting is a bit off, but it gives an idea. Also, next year I’ll be doing away with that time column because it is completely misleading. I don’t adhere to it at all anymore.

Happy New Year!

Daily Plan: Week Seven~Term Two (Y3 & Y4) Dates~________19

Block Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
7-7:30 AM Breakfast Daily… *Free Reads- Sign Of the Beaver, 4 Story Mistake, Anne Of Green Gables
7:30–8 AM Plutarch: Publicola – Lesson 3 AoF: Chp. 17 Shakes: Twelfth Night Hymn:Be Still My S.

Fruit: Overview

Poet: Dickinson

Matt. 13: 1-23

8–8:15 AM Bible – OT Bible – Psalm Bible – Prov. Bible – NT FRUIT
8:20–

8:35 AM

Piano Practice J&M

Book Basket M&J

Piano Practice J&M

Piano/Theory Less.

Piano Practice J&M

Book Basket M&J

Piano Practice J&M Piano Practice J&M

Book Basket M&J

8:40-

8:50 AM

SoS – J&M

I Can Do… Art

SoS – J&M SoS – J&M Co-op SoS – J&M
8:55-

9:05 AM

Spanish Lesson

BJUP

Spanish Lesson

BJUP

Spanish Lesson

BJUP

Land Animals of the 6th Day Spanish Lesson

BJUP

9:10-

9:25 AM

BJU Math 4 – J

BJU Math 3 – M

BJU Math 4 – J

BJU Math 3 – M

BJU Math 4 – J

BJU Math 3 – M

BJU Math 4 – J

BJU Math 3 – M

9:30-10 PLAY!! PLAY!! PLAY!! PLAY!! PLAY!!
10:05-

10:20 AM

Ocean of Truth:

4

TCOO: 46

GWW: 264-276

Abigail Adams: J

Chp. 7

Kidnapped Book Basket M&J
10:25-

10:45 AM

Geo. Long’s & CM Geo. Long’s & CM MHLW: pgs. 69-70 Timeline

History & Bible

10:50-

11:05 AM

Spelling Wisdom

J&M

Spelling Wisdom

J&M

Spelling Wisdom

J&M

Exploring Nature with Children
11:10-

11:30 AM

Grammar – J & M

Handwriting

Grammar – J&M Handwriting Grammar – J & M

Handwriting

Grammar – J & M

Handwriting

11:40-12 Composer Study –

Paganini

12-12:15

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