Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Year In Review: Organizational Notes (2014-2015)

Twice already this summer I've come across an idea on a blog and thought, "I should do that!"  This thought is followed immediately by the realization that I've already done this particular thing in the past, and I've stopped doing it for some reason.  This then leads to a concentrated wracking of my brain, trying to remember the details of why I stopped doing this thing that I now thought was a good idea (again).  In an effort to forestall this process in the future, I thought I'd make some notes about the year we just finished.

Paperwork
Last summer I bought a ProClick (last summer it was much cheaper to buy in person at OfficeMax) and a box of 5/16" spines and created a number of bound books for the kids.  Gregory (Y3) and Nathan (Y1) had one for their copywork and one for their math.  As I mentioned before, I used the copywork books from Classical Copywork, and bound each one separately.  I also bound each section of MEP separately so that the books didn't get too unwieldy.  I placed a piece of card stock at the front and back of the book to give it a little more rigidity and used these for the entire year, just swapping out pages as they finished a section of math or a copywork book.

I also used my ProClick to make songbooks containing all the music we sang together during Morning Time, adding card stock at the front and back of each book.  These too held up well and were very useful.

Pros:  Durable, manageable in size, no missing pages or ripped holes.
Cons:  Didn't shelve well (although it just occurred to me that I should have tried a magazine holder to contain them on the bookshelf)

Scheduling

The Year
This year was the first year I implemented Sabbath Schooling - a six week on, one week off model for our homeschool year.  We also took a four week break at Christmas and a two week break at Easter.  The kids and I enjoyed this model and we plan to do it again next year.  They appreciated the downtime in the different seasons and having the breaks from their school work throughout the year. Thanks to Mystie's fabulous online course, Simplified Organization, I've started running everything on an interval planning system which follows our school year.  It has been a wonderful addition to our lives.

Pros:  More peace, more stuff gets done, I don't get burned out, the kids don't feel like school is dragging on forever and ever (most of the time, at least!), the world is a happier place.
Cons:   Hmm...  well, it makes the school year look longer, because we started in mid-August and ended in mid-June.

The Week
When I was planning last year, I made a spreadsheet with multiple tabs, one for each child.  In the spreadsheet, I copied and pasted the Ambleside Online weekly breakdowns from the website, modified some things, and added in my own substitutions and changes.  Each week I would change the background color on the cell for each completed reading.  We didn't always finish the weeks' reading in that given week, but seeing it all laid out with the colors made it easy for me to see what needed to be done so I could keep moving things along.  This worked extremely well and I was able to follow out the entire year this way.

For the first part of the year I was working from my spreadsheet and making each child a weekly checklist.  These were stored on their clipboard at their desk, along with their current drawing practice page, paper for drawing, and any reference pages like a cursive alphabet page and multiplication table.  This worked reasonably well, so long as I made the checklists in a timely manner and checked the clipboards weekly to cull finished pages.

But (and you knew there was a but, didn't you?) as I struggled with my sleep issues in the late winter I couldn't keep it up.  I moved to a daily notebook log as Sarah described for Emma (Y7) and Gregory (Y3).  I didn't bother with a list for Nathan (Y1), instead maintaining a list of his weekly read alouds in the Reminders app on my phone and having him do the same basic table work each day.  A written daily list worked well for Gregory (Y3), but not for Emma (Y7).

Emma wanted to be able to see all that she would be doing in the week week and more control over what days she did which assignments.  I tried giving her a weekly list without day assignments (largely because that was a much easier format for me to produce, therefore much more likely to happen in a timely manner), but it was way too easy for her to not do enough work early in the week.  What ended up being a happy medium was a weekly list and a 10 minute conversation each evening.  Each assignment on her list was rated at one or two Pomodoros and I would tell her how many Pomodoros she would have available the following day.  She'd then go over her weekly list, choose her assignments, write them in a small notebook and show me.  I'd look it over, perhaps suggest a modification or two for better balance, and hand it back.  Using the Pomodoro app to help keep her on track, it would then be her responsibility to get the work done before dinnertime.  Side Note:  We have a rule in our house - if you don't have your cleaning chores and your school work done before dinner, you don't eat dinner until they are completed.  It isn't perfectly enforced and I reserve the right to be merciful and grant exceptions, but it does help see that work is completed.

Pros:  My spreadsheet was fantastic - I was worried that it would be unmanageable or become obsolete, but changing the colors and making modifications as we went it worked extremely well.  Looking only at the work for today was a good thing for Gregory.  It helped him be more diligent in getting his work done and it was easy for me to do.  The Pomodoro concept was a big win with Emma, and it has helped her to work in a more focused fashion.
Cons:  I spent a lot of time on my spreadsheets last summer - although this year it has taken probably only a quarter of the amount of time.

Outside Commitments
In this school year, we had Atrium once a week.  We would leave the house at about 2:30 and be home by about 6:30.  Last summer I used the slow cooker meal plan from $5 Dinners to make crock pot meals to use each Monday and on the whole that worked well.  The food wasn't amazing, but it was edible and got the family fed.  Since my husband works from home, I could ask him to do things like start rice in the rice cooker or put prepped broccoli in the oven for roasting, and that was a big help.  If that wasn't an option, I think I would have had to make the rice ahead of time and reheat it when we got home and just had pre-prepped salads as our veggie side each week.

We were also part of a public charter this school year.  The money was nice (although I think I only used about half of it at most), and the occasional field trips were convenient, but the testing, paperwork and the need to go to the monthly meetings was always a struggle.  And when there's money allocated to be spent by a certain deadline, it is hard not to feel like it has to get used, even if I don't really need to spend the money on more activities or more consumables.  The people at the charter I'm with are incredibly nice, friendly and supportive - really, they couldn't be easier to work with.  But it still adds another layer of complexity to my life.

We also joined another family for a small once a month co-op.  During our time together we would do things like a US Geography study, prayer, recitation, a picture study, a poetry study, Shakespeare and folk songs.  The geography study, recitation and prayer were the only things that we did each month, the others were a rotation.  Each month we'd focus on 5-6 states and make a lunch with foods from that region.  Then there would be some time for visiting and play.  The kids (and moms!) enjoyed getting together and we're considering doing it again next year.

Once a month Emma and I volunteered at our local food bank, shelving donations and sorting food.  It has been a good experience for us both, and we hope to continue.  For the first four months or so I took Hannah and wore her on my back in the Ergo, then she got old enough to be left at home with my husband and the other kids.  Our volunteering was a real family effort!

At the beginning of the year I vowed that I would take the kids on a hike at least once a week.  We did well for about three months, then we had a horrible stomach bug run through the family and then we hit all the spring busy-ness.  It was a great practice while it lasted.  On hike days we we did Morning Time together, then a little bit of tablework (copywork and a section or two of math) then headed out.  Sometimes we would bring a lunch, sometimes we wouldn't.  Then we'd be home in time to put younger kids down for naps and I would do some read alouds with Gregory and Nathan while Emma would do some reading.

In the spring I made the mistake of scheduling too many things.  The three older kids were in a once a week clay class, which they really enjoyed.  We also signed up for quite a few field trips, almost one a week.  And then there was a camping trip in Yosemite, Confirmation and two Confirmation retreats...  and it all added up to a lot.  All good things, but too much when taken altogether.

Pros:  Lots of good stuff
Cons:  Too much good stuff leaves everyone exhausted, crabby, and unable to do much at home except cleaning chores, bickering, and school work.  And did I mention bickering?  *sigh*

Phew!  I hope my future self appreciates this!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Family Studies: Weekly Work (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.

Weekly Work
I also used Sarah's loop scheduling for this area as well.  I also moved this to the Reminders app about mid-year and that worked wonderfully.  We spent about 30 minutes on this block, and I generally would group Picture Study and Pilgrim's Progress since each only took about 10-15 min.

Emma (Y7) was present for all of these subjects, but Gregory (Y3) did not have to join us for Plutarch.  Nathan (Y1) was excused from Shakespeare and Plutarch.

Plutarch - Dion then Crassus, using Ann White's excellent (and free!) study guides.  These are absolutely invaluable in making Plutarch doable, especially in the beginning.  I had hoped to study three lives, but two ended up working out much better for us.

Shakespeare - Midsummer Night's Dream then Richard III (which we still haven't finished, but we're getting close!)  I should write more about how we study Shakespeare as a family...  I did several years ago, but we've expanded our studies now that I have older kids.  I had planned to study Julius Caesar in the spring, but I hadn't accounted for the length and the complexity of Richard III when I planned that.

Picture Study - Fra Angelico then Diego Velasquez.  We used Ambleside's art suggestions for both, but then I expanded our Velasquez study to include more paintings mentioned in I, Juan de Pareja.  I added a painting by Pareja as well.  I highly recommend reading that book if you study Velasquez, it was one of our best read alouds of the year.  I had planned to study Degas as listed in the AO schedule, but we were enjoying our Velasquez study so much I decided not to end it prematurely.

Music Study - St. Hildegard, using the AO suggestions, then we studied the orchestra using The Story of the Orchestra and a series of wonderful videos on YouTube from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  I had intended on studying Rachmaninoff as well, but we didn't get to him.  I'm thinking we'll study him next year because he is a composer I really enjoy.

Pilgrim's Progress - We read this all year using the AO 72 week breakdown.  I'm continuing it over the summer so as to not lose momentum.  I hope to finish it somewhere around the end of the 2nd Term, which will give me some room to add a book I want to read next spring.

Handicrafts Instruction - In the first term we worked on small felt projects like felt food and some felt items from Big Little Felt Universe.  This book is not for (most) children but my boys were quite taken with the pocketknife and compass from the book so I made some modifications and they created some fun items.  In the second term we worked on knot tying which was also a big success.  In the third term, the kids all took a clay modeling class at a local art studio (that counts, right??) and made cups, boxes, bowls, pitchers and an assortment of small knives, hammers and other tools.  Emma made a beautiful earring holder for her various dangly earrings.

Nature Study - I did a special study of clover with Gregory (9) and Nathan (7) at the beginning of the year and Emma (13) did one about corn.  They were good studies and went well, but I neglected to have anything on deck to go next.  Emma and I informally studied mushrooms (meaning - we read about them, did lots of observations, intentionally went out to look for them, but didn't actually write anything down) as it was a great year for mushroom hunting, but that's about it.  Not that there weren't lots of nature discoveries and observations and some entries in our Calendar of Firsts, but we did not do any other special studies or nature study journal entries.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Family Studies: Morning Read Aloud (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.  

Morning Read Aloud
This is a spot in our day where I used Sarah's loop scheduling to great advantage.  Sometimes this read aloud got skipped due to time constraints, difficult kid behavior, or mommy fatigue, but the loop scheduling helped us to keep making progress in all the books.  About mid-way through the year I started using Reminders to keep track of the list, and that worked well.  I ended up starting all the books I had planned during this time slot, but there are a few that didn't get finished by our last day of school.  So long as we aren't trying to get out the door first thing in the morning, I try to have a brief Morning Time each day during the summer, and I'm finishing up those read alouds during this time.  One book we finished yesterday, one we'll finish at some point this summer, and the last we'll finish in the next school year.  

I grouped these into categories and read one in each category at a time:

Saint Biography - Saint Joan:  The Girl Soldier*

Church History/Catechism - St. Patrick's Summer* and Crossbows and Crucifixes* (only about a third)

Natural History - Nest for Celeste (worth reading for the illustrations!), Samson: Last of the California Grizzlies*, In the Forest, and Ways of the Wood Folk (about halfway through - we'll finish this in the fall)

Art/Music Enrichment - Knights of Art about Fra Angelico, Hildegard's Gift, and I, Juan de Pareja*

Literature - Wheel on the School* and Red Sails to Capri*

Advent - In Advent, I added an additional read aloud to our schedule, sometimes skipping the scheduled one, and sometimes reading both.  We read The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas*, The Christmas Mystery, and A Christmas Carol*.

*We enjoyed all of these books, but I added asterisks to our particular favorites.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Family Studies: Morning Time (2014-2015)

This year we had three defined areas where all my children worked together:  Morning Time,  Morning Read Aloud and Weekly Work.  I'll discuss each in series of posts.

Morning Time

Morning Time at our house begins at about 8:30.  When I was really struggling with sleep deprivation, it could get moved to 9, but I did a pretty good job of keeping the start at 8:30.  At the beginning of the year I was trying to start it at 8, but that proved unsustainable.  Generally Morning Time takes about an hour, allowing for discipline issues (*ahem*).

Opening Prayer (2-3 min)
Hannah putting the red chasuble on
Fr. Pine to honor the feast of a martyr.
Each morning we start by dressing Father Pine in the correct liturgical color, then we pray a Morning Offering Prayer followed by the Collect for the day.

Hymn (2-3 min)
For the first half of the year, we were working on a selection of hymns.  I used recordings for some of them to help with the tune, but once I knew the tune we were able to sing without the recording.  I neglected to add more hymns after the Christmas break, and by the end of January I petered out on this.  Singing with my kids is one of the more fatiguing activities for me, and in my sleep deprived state it was something that needed to go.  We all miss it though, and it will come back in the fall.

Songs we learned in the first part of the year:
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Amazing Grace
To Jesus Christ, Our Sovereign King
Faith of Our Fathers
Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

Mass Readings (15-20 min)
Using the Universalis app, I read the day's Mass readings with the kids.  I would announce each reading, ask where it is found in the Bible, read the reading, and then have the kids will narrate it, starting with the youngest.  Usually Nathan (7) and Gregory (9) would stick with the content of the reading or ask a question, and Emma (13) would offer a connection or reflection on the reading.  I would sometimes offer my own connection or reflection, but I try to keep it extremely brief - a sharing between brothers and sisters in Christ, not a mini-sermon.  We also pray the Responsorial Psalm, but generally Emma is the only one who will give the response.  

Prayers of the Faithful (5 min)
We pray for whatever and whoever is on our minds and hearts, each taking turns.  Everyone except Hannah (19 mo) takes a turn, although sometimes Justin (3) declines.  At the conclusion of one person's prayer he will say, "We pray to the Lord" and the rest of us respond, "Lord, hear our prayer".  If you're Catholic, this will sound quite familiar.  :-)  Then we pray an Our Father for the souls in Purgatory, a Hail Mary, and end with, "We ask these things in the name of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Folksong (2-3 min)
Folksongs suffered the same fate as the hymns, although I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do about bringing them back next year. After singing Lord Randall every day for a month I was about done with mournful folk songs, but I'm not sure I want to just include the peppy ones in our rotation.  Maybe some we'll just listen to once or twice a week, and some we'll sing and try to learn?

Songs we learned in the first part of the year:
Dixie
America
Lord Randall
The Star-Spangled Banner

Poetry (5-10 min)
We used the absolutely wonderful and handy collection of Y3 poetry assembled by Ambleside Online.  Each day I read three poems - a new one, the one from two days ago, and the one from yesterday.  That way we heard each poem (at least) three times.  Sometimes we'd read a favorite in addition to the three poems for the day.  We didn't read all of Teasdale poetry or any of the Conkling poetry though - I ended up switching to A.A. Milne (from Y1) instead.  

Singing Practice (5-10 min)
I used the excellent Sight Singing School to practice basic music reading and Sol-fa.  This program is fantastic, and we definitely made progress.  It is also extremely easy to use.  We would have done even better if we hadn't taken a 4 month break from the program...  but I was happy to see how well the kids remembered what we'd been doing when we picked it up again in April.

Memorywork (15 min)
This could be a post in itself, but I'll keep it short here.  We practice our memorywork using a system like Simply Charlotte Mason's verse memorization program.  However, we use Evernote instead of a file box (thank you, Celeste, for this idea!) and we move things to twice a month before they go to once a month.  Our memorywork spans poetry, Latin prayers, Spanish prayers and poetry, Shakespeare, and useful information like our address and phone numbers.

Home Geography (5-10 min, not that we actually did it)
I was supposed to be using the geography resource recommended by Ambleside, but it never got off the ground.  I think I read from it once or twice?

Spanish Song (2-3 min)
This was a lot of fun, but again it got dropped in the great mommy fatigue of early 2015.  I used music from ¡A Bailar!, which conveniently has the lyrics to their songs on a handy PDF on their website.

Songs we learned in the first part of the year:
Brilla, Brilla Estrellita
De Colores
El Baile de Las Manos
Cabeza y Hombros

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ambleside Online Y7 in Review (2014-2015)

To Recap: my Y1 review, and my Y3 review.  There's not a lot of duplication here, because there's a big difference between Y1, Y3, and Y7!

Before I begin to share my 2015-2016 plans, I want to spend a little time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  As I've mentioned before, I used Ambleside Online as my guide for planning the school year.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of Year 7 with Emma in 2014 - 2015.

Daily and Weekly Subjects:

Narration:
Emma narrates each of her readings, either immediately afterwards or at some point later in the day. Her oral narrations were generally while we were taking an afternoon walk or while I was making dinner.  At the beginning of the year she wrote 2-3 narrations a week, and by the end she was writing one a day.  At the beginning of the year I assigned which readings would have written narrations, but by the end of the year she was selecting some of them.  If she did not narrate a book orally on the day the reading was assigned, she would have to do a written narration for that reading.

For the first half of the year, she wrote her narrations in a basic composition book, then switched to a document on my computer.  She felt like she could type faster and compose better on the computer than on paper, and since I feel the same way, I let her switch.   In April I set her up with a private Wordpress blog and now they are all tagged by book and nicely ordered.  It is password protected and my husband and I are the only ones who have access to it.  Keeping narrations on a blog like this has been great for my husband and me because it makes it easier for us to read what she's doing and has made it so that my husband can be much more aware of what she's reading and writing.

Copywork:
Emma's only assigned copywork was a verse or two from Luke each week.  She also has a Commonplace book, but uses it only sporadically at best.

Dictation and Grammar:
In the first term of the year, I had Emma doing dictation twice a week and grammar twice a week.  She is an excellent speller, so dropping dictation was a natural choice when I realized that her schedule was too full.  She continued with grammar using Our Mother Tongue into the second term, but once she finished the first unit of the book I put it aside.  She felt like she was understanding  studying grammar through Latin and Greek much better than she was through this book so we streamlined and dropped Our Mother Tongue.  I'm considering bringing it back for part of the year next year as I do think there is value in studying grammar in English, but I haven't decided yet.

Latin:
Emma is very slowly moving through Henle Book 1.  She's finished the first section which introduces the five declensions.  She did 2-3 thirty minute sessions of Latin a week.  In the third term Emma surpassed me in Latin.

Greek:
Three years ago, Emma decided she wanted to learn Greek.  I was enthusiastic about the idea, because I think to at least gain some familiarity with a language with a different character set while young is a fantastic endeavor.  And besides, Greek!  How great is that?  She started with Book 2 then Book 3 of the Hey, Andrew series but found the pace was too slow and they were too repetitive.  I moved her to Basic Greek in 30 Minutes a Day towards the latter half of Y6 and she's continued that this year.  She likes the book and it is going well for her.  She's entirely self taught, I didn't even get past the Greek alphabet.  The best I can do is try and help her check the answer key.  She did 1-2 thirty minute sessions of Greek a week.

Spanish:
Emma is currently using Rosetta Stone Spanish, Level 2.  We really like Rosetta Stone, and feel like it works well and is worth the money.  New this year was the addition of some Spanish translation work, using First Spanish Reader.  She uses Rosetta Stone for 15-20 minutes four to five days a week and does Spanish translation once a week for 30 minutes.  When translating, she first copies the paragraph in Spanish, then writes her translation, and then we go over her translation together.  I took Spanish in high school and college and I'm currently using Duolingo to learn and review (I have a 322 day streak!) so I'm generally able to help her.  Emma is taking a break from Rosetta Stone over the summer and using Duolingo as well.

Math:
Emma has been using the Life of Fred books for several years now, and they've worked well for her.  She started the Algebra book at the beginning of Term 3.  She's found the Life of Fred books very self-explanatory and only occasionally needs help from me.  I do check her work at each bridge (or city, as they are now called in the Algebra book) just to keep abreast of how she's doing.

Book of Centuries:
Emma is using a new Book of Centuries this year, and she's liking this one a lot better.  We were using the one from Homeschool in the Woods, but after reading The Living Page, I decided to switch to the one Jen at Wildflowers and Marbles discussed.  Emma definitely could be making more entries in it than she is, but I'm glad to see that she's been adding at least one to three entries a week over the course of the year.  She has not added any sketches or pictures to her Book of Centuries.

Geography:
For Geography review, I have her using the TapQuiz Maps app two to three times a week.  I also have her look up locations for her reading, and she has a large map of Britain and Ireland next to her work area that gets a fair amount of use.  

Handicrafts:
Emma is very good at knitting and crochet, as well as working with felt, and counted cross-stitch.  She's a very creative person who draws well, enjoys working in clay, and has done some work with acrylics as well.  Some of these pursuits are done at home, but I also try to sign her up for classes periodically at a wonderful art studio/cooperative in town.  She's able to get some good dedicated time for working on projects there, as well as access to a kiln and wonderful instructors.

I'll talk about picture study, music study, Shakespeare and Plutarch when I discuss our family work. 

The Booklist:

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduledbooks in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  *Books with asterisks are her favorites.  +Books with a plus are ones I read as she was reading them.

Please see the Ambleside Online Y7 Booklist for links to the AO books

History and Biography:
+*The Birth of Britain
+In Freedom's Cause
+*The Daughter of Time
+*Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
+Other excerpted primary source documents (see the AO List)

Geography:
*Brenden Voyage
+*How the Heather Looks
+*Book of Marvels, Ch. 31-49

Faith:
A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture (link)
+How to Book of the Mass  (link)
+*The Story of a Soul  (link)
The Power of the Cross  (link)
The Gospel According to Luke  

Literature:
+Age of Chivalry
+*Once and Future King
Chaucer for Children: A Golden Key
+History of English Literature
+*Ivanhoe
+*Watership Down

Natural History:
+Lay of the Land

Science:
+The World of Atoms and Quarks  (link)
+The Wonder of Light  (link)
+Adventures with a Microscope  (link)
+The Journey: A Look Inside the Human Body  (link)
+Microbe Hunters  (link)
+*Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science  (link)

Citizenship:
+Ourselves
+*Penny Candy

Poetry:
Idylls of the King
*Grammar of Poetry

Art History:
Story of Art by Gombrich  (link)

Other:
How to Read a Book

Free Reading:
I have a list of about 100 books that Emma read over the last year.  It seems a little much to post them here, don't you think?  She reads a wide variety of good quality fiction, historical fiction, and some non-fiction too.  

General Comments:

I picked different science books than what is listed for Y7 because the new science recommendations were not out yet when I was planning my school year, and by the time I heard about them, I had already started the school year.  I'm really glad to see that AO is transitioning to a living book science curriculum, and I'm looking forward to exploring the Y8 selections.

On the whole I was happy with the faith related books I picked for Emma.  I wanted to give her something that would be sort of a nuts and bolts kind of book, a saint biography, and something more devotional.  The How to Book of the Mass was great - a fantastic choice for a faithful Catholic family who attends a Novus Ordo Mass and isn't likely to attend anything else regularly.  When I picked The Story of a Soul, I had no idea Emma would choose St. Therese as her Confirmation Saint.  She made this decision even before starting to read the book.  It is a special gift to get to read a book written by your Confirmation Saint, and very helpful to have it already in the schedule!  We didn't get to The Power of the Cross though, but she did have another devotional book, How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist, she was reading during our monthly hour at Adoration.  And I love Knecht's Commentary on Holy Scripture because he does explains the typology in the Old Testament so beautifully.

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion:

Age of Chivalry - This book was fine, but frankly I found it made exciting stories rather boring.  Emma did ok with it, but once we finished the Arthurian stories I decided to put it aside.  Again, that struggle between workload and life meant some things had to go.

Once and Future King - I was trying to read this aloud to Emma, as a special mother-daughter time. I wish I could have kept up with it, but we only made a couple chapters past the end of Book 1.  I have dreams of continuing it over the summer, but that hasn't happened yet.  We loved this book though, and it was a great one to share aloud.

Chaucer for Children: A Golden Key - Emma did better with this book than I did.  I admit that I dropped back to the Chaucer paraphrase by Tappan so I could know what she was narrating.  This was also in the height of my sleep deprivation, and I hope that I can be up to Chaucer the next time around!

Adventures with a Microscope - I bought slides to use with some of the chapters in this book, and that worked well.  Emma did some lovely sketches in her science notebook from her microscope observations, but we did not get as far in this book as I had hoped.  Again, time crunch and a mismatch between aspirations and reality.

Microbe Hunters - We read two or three chapters of this book and I realized I had scheduled her to go through this book much too quickly.  Since it was one I had scheduled for term 3, I decided to pull it and move it to Y8.  The chapters are long and rich, and there were a number of points that cried out for illustrations, online research, and future discussion.

Grammar of Poetry - This has been a great program for Emma.  She's enjoyed learning about the structure of poetry and has sometimes enjoyed writing the poetry as well.  And sometimes that has been a real struggle too, but a worthwhile one.  I'm very glad we're doing it.  We weren't able to get the program until October though, which meant we haven't finished it.  But I plan to have her finish it next year.  I had hoped to do it with her, but that didn't happen.  Maybe next time I have a child go through it.

Poetry - Emma read Idylls at the rate of 15 minutes a week and it took quite awhile to read it at that rate.  But she enjoyed it and also participated in our family poetry time so she had the opportunity of enjoying other poets as well as Tennyson's Idylls.

Art History - I used Gombrich's book because I already owned it.

What I Would Do Differently:

I would skip the Age of Chivalry from the beginning and offer it as a free read.

I would not use The History of English Literature for Boys and Girls.  We both felt like the book talked down to the reader, frequently discussing how wonderful a particular book is then stating that the reader is far too young to enjoy the book, but perhaps he can pick it up when he gets older.  I could see reading selected chapters to give some background for books we're actually reading, but reading the whole thing through felt like a lot of facts without much to hook them on to.  Neither one of us felt like we were retaining much because it was such a litany of books...  and we felt discouraged to look into any of them further by the author's attitude.

I would not schedule out Ivanhoe over the whole year.  Ivanhoe is certainly well written and exciting story, but it is a far cry from accurate historical fiction, even though it feels like it should be. And the author's negative view of the Church and everyone associated with the Church grates over time, and isn't something I want to give such careful study.  Why is it that every religious figure in the book is some combination of greedy, conniving, unfaithful to his vows, a glutton and a fool?  We also listened to The White Company in the car, which had similar issues with the portrayal of religious figures, as well as many harsh words against the cloistered life.  I would keep the White Company as a free read, and not spend the time we spent on it as an audiobook.

I think I would assign Beowulf and Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight (there's an audio version from Audible that has the book read in a modern translation as well as the original language - doesn't that sound wonderful?) instead of Ivanhoe.  Both are already on the free reading list and I think they would be excellent candidates for slow assigned reading.

I would not assign Lay of the Land again.  I thought this book was beautiful, and found a lot in it to encourage me to look more deeply at the world around me, as well as some wonderful quotes about the value of nature study and observing the natural world.  The book fell pretty flat for Emma though, and her narrations of it were not very good.  I think I'd keep this book for an older student.

I would like to use the AO Science recommendations next time, now that they are in place and finalized.


And, that, in an extremely large nutshell, is Year 7.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ambleside Online Y3 in Review (2014-2015)

For those of you who have read my Y1 review, some of this may look familiar.  But for the sake of completeness, I'm leaving in a little bit of duplication.

Before I begin to share my 2015-2016 plans, I want to spend a little time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  As I've mentioned before, I used Ambleside Online as my guide for planning the school year.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of Year 3 with Gregory in 2014 - 2015.

Daily and Weekly Subjects:

Gregory narrated from each of his books, and at this point can narrate quite well.  He still will not always pay attention to names and places well enough to recall them in the narration, but he is steadily improving.  Generally his narrations were completed with his younger brother Nathan.  One would start, then they would trade off until the end.  Then I gave them each a chance to fill in anything that they felt the other person missed.  They did this with the Y1 and Y3 readings, since I found it impossible to separate them at read aloud time.

Gregory completed ten mintues of copywork in cursive every day.  Gregory started learning cursive using Simply Charlotte Mason's cursive book in Term 3 of last year, so we finished that book then moved into the cursive copywork books I purchased from Classical Copywork.  These are fantastic and saved me a great deal of work.  I used the Aesop book, the Genesis book, and the Patriotic book.

Gregory is about halfway through MEP Year 3, and is moving a little more slowly than I would like largely because he's still working on cementing the basic math facts.  I also have him using XtraMath every day to help with this.  I really should be doing more activities with him from the teacher's guide and working with him more, but it wasn't something I figured out how to add in this year.  Instead we mainly worked through the pages with me nearby, and I helped when he got stuck or confused.  I'm hoping to do better with this next year.

We did not keep any sort of history timeline, which I regret.  We did look up places on our globe and maps as we encountered different locations in our readings, and Gregory seems to be retaining this information well.  He's also been practicing with US Geography using the Stack the States app and the TapQuiz Maps app.

I'll talk about art, music study, foreign language, and handicrafts when I discuss our family work. 

The Booklist:

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduledbooks in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  *Books with asterisks are his favorites. +Books with plus signs are ones he read to himself.  All books were narrated.

History:
+ Children's History of the World 
+ This Country of Ours  (I read aloud for the first half of the year)
Our Island Story
Our Lady's Dowry
+ Leonardo Da Vinci
* Michelangelo by Diane Stanley
* Bard of Avon by Diane Stanley
+ Landing of the Pilgrims
+ Marco Polo (Komroff version)

Natural History:
+ Pagoo
+ Secrets of the Woods

Faith:
* Rare Catholic Stories
+ Tall Tales
Bible Story Book

Literature:
Heroes by Charles Kingsley
+ * Children of the New Forest (I had Gregory read this aloud to me)
+ * The Princess and the Goblin  (I had Gregory read this aloud to me)
+ Jungle Book
Pilgrim's Progress
+ * King of the Wind

Poetry:
William Blake
Teasdale/Conkling
Longfellow

Other:
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

Free Reading:
I have a list of about 100 books that Gregory read over the last year.  It seems a little much to post them here, don't you think?  But he is reading fluently and happily on his own, and reading a wide variety of good quality fiction, historical fiction, as well as some non-fiction too.  

If you're familiar with the Ambleside booklist, you'll notice a few things are missing, namely:

Parables from Nature - I just didn't like this book, largely because it seemed too longwinded and it didn't leave enough scope for imagination (Nelleke and I had an interesting conversation about it in the comments on her blog recently)

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare - I didn't use the Shakespeare retellings because we've been doing Shakespeare as a family for two years already, and he's been participating in that.  

Trial and Triumph - We're Catholic, so I do not consider this book an good option for our family.  Instead he listened to stories about English and Irish Saints from Our Island Saints with his brother.

Bible Readings - We read and narrate the Mass readings just about every day in our home, so everyday the children are hearing and narrating from the Old Testament or Epistles and the Gospels.  I decided that since these readings aren't always in order, I would also read a Bible story book to give the children a better grounding in the chronology of the Bible.

A Drop of Water - We used this book last year and did many of the experiments, so I did not schedule it again for this year.

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion:

Jungle Book:  This book was a stretch for Gregory, and I could tell by his narrations that he wasn't getting the stories as fully as I would have liked.  I had him reading one story a week, and I should have broken it down into 2-3 reading sessions.  However, our spring schedule didn't allow for that, so we only read the Mowgli stories.  When I do Y3 again in 2016-2017, I'll allow more time for the book and read it out loud.  I'm sure Gregory will listen in and he'll get a chance to enjoy it more.  It is such a wonderful collection of stories!

King of the Wind:  This is actually a free reading book, but I moved it to Gregory's schedule because it seemed like in the second term he needed a little more.  I probably should have started Jungle Book in Term 2 instead, but I didn't look ahead that far.  However, he enjoyed it, and it was a fun (and easy) one for him to read and narrate.

Teasdale/Conkling poetry:  As I mentioned in the Y1 post, I blended the Y1 and Y3 poetry selections for our poetry selections after the first term.  Teasdale and Conkling were put aside for the (far more enjoyable *ahem*) A.A. Milne.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding - From what I've seen on the AO forums, using this book is rather, well, contentious.  I like it though, and I think it can be used in a way that would work extremely well with Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And I think something like this would give my kids a little more to consider and contemplate beyond nature study.  We live surrounded by so much nature and we are out walking in the forest every day - and the kids are extremely observant of the natural changes in the world.  This is a two edged sword though, because it can be hard to get the kids to engage in the typical nature journalling since it is so ubiquitous.  Or perhaps it is simply a discipline and teaching issue that I'm trying to solve by throwing a book at it.  It wouldn't be the first time...  I didn't end up using it because by the time I had scheduled myself to start it (after covering some of the scheduled topics in The Handbook of Nature Study) I was really struggling to do what I was doing and couldn't take on the learning curve required for the book.

The Elephant in the Room:
No discussion of Year 3 can be complete without at least a passing mention of the issues of a Catholic family using Our Island Story to study the Reformation period in England.  I skipped chapters 63 and 66-70 wholesale and read some of Our Lady's Dowry (a good book, but unfortunately incomplete and only available by subscribing to the Mater Amabilis Yahoo group).  I also skipped paragraphs and dropped some of the more negative descriptions of Catholics in many other chapters.  There are things I like about Our Island Story, namely the quality of writing and the narrative style of the work, but there are some serious historical inaccuracies as well.  To say, for example, "During her [Queen Elizabeth's] reign people were neither tortured nor killed in the name of religion" is absolutely wrong, and would have been a shocking statement to anyone who did not follow the state church, be they Catholic or Puritan or a non-conforming sect.  There's ample evidence to the contrary, and gross inaccuracies like this drive me crazy.  One of our family read alouds for the year is Crossbows and Crucifixes, a needed balance to some of the problems in Our Island Story.

I'm not quite sure what I'll do about Our Island Story when I encounter Y3 again.  I may use just a few chapters along with Our Lady's Dowry and Crossbows and Crucifixes.  It is certainly not one I would hand to my child to read on his own.  Celeste, at Joyous Lessonshad a good discussion about this issue in the comments of this post.

And, that, in an extremely large nutshell, is Year 3.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ambleside Online Y1 In Review (2014 - 2015)

Before I begin to share my 2015-2016 plans, I want to spend a little time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  As I've mentioned before, I used Ambleside Online as my guide for planning the school year.  I'd like to share not only what I planned, but also what I ended up actually doing.  I think one of the greatest shortcomings in homeschooling blogs is that we're great at sharing all the wonderful things that we want to do and plan to do, but not so great at following up and sharing what actually worked, what we bailed on halfway through, or what sounded like a great idea but never really got off the ground.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of Year 1 with Nathan in 2014 - 2015.

Daily and Weekly Subjects:

Nathan has a huge advantage when it comes to a Charlotte Mason education, namely that he's been listening to his older siblings narrate for years.  In fact, he started voluntarily joining narrations about two years before he began Year 1.  Nathan also has a magnetic attraction to me reading aloud.  If I am reading aloud anywhere in the house, he'll be there before I'm halfway through, and generally bringing his own book for me to read next.  After the first couple of weeks of our school year, I realized it was going to be impossible to read to Nathan and his older brother, Gregory, separately.  So Nathan ended up reading and narrating from Y1 and Y3, all year long.  I have no idea how this will play out in 2016-2017, when it is his turn for Y3!  

Nathan completed about seven to ten minutes of copywork daily, largely using copywork books I purchased from Classical Copywork.  These are fantastic and saved me a great deal of work.  I used the Aesop book, the Genesis book, and the Patriotic book.

Nathan is just about finished with MEP Year 1, which was a great fit for him and a wonderful (and free!) math curriculum.  I plan to do a little bit of the rest of Year 1 over the summer, then start him on Year 2 in the fall.  I didn't end up using the teacher's guide as much as I should have, but I've gained enough training in the MEP methods from using it for two years already with Gregory that we did ok.  It is something that I plan to remedy next year, however.

We did not keep any sort of history timeline, which I regret.  We did look up places on our globe and maps as we encountered different locations in our readings.  I am not sure that much of it was retained, however.

I'll talk about art, music study, foreign language, and handicrafts when I discuss our family work. 

The Booklist:

Titles in Bold are books we used and finished all I had scheduled, books in Italics are books we abandoned or didn't even begin, and books in plain type are books we put in some work on, but did not complete as scheduled.  *Books with asterisks are his favorites.

*50 Famous Stories
Our Island Story
Our Lady's Dowry
*Viking Tales
Our Island Saints
*d'Aulaire - Buffalo Bill, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin
Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints
*Paddle to the Sea
*Harriot's Treasury 
*Aesop
Just So Stories
Blue Fairy Book
A Children's Garden of Verses
*Now We Are Six
Oxford Book of Poetry
Pilgrim's Progress
Bible Story Book
Burgess Book of Animals
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

If you're familiar with the Ambleside booklist, you'll notice a few things are missing, namely:

Parables from Nature - I just didn't like this book, largely because it seemed too longwinded and it didn't leave enough scope for imagination (Nelleke and I had an interesting conversation about it in the comments on her blog recently)

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare - I didn't use the Shakespeare retellings because we've been doing Shakespeare as a family for two years already, and he's been listening in on that.  

Trial and Triumph - I decided I would rather focus on English and Irish Saints from the Year 1 time period.  Besides, I'm Catholic.  :-)

Bible Readings - We read and narrate the Mass readings just about every day in our home, so everyday the children are hearing and narrating from the Old Testament or Epistles and the Gospels.  I decided that since these readings aren't always in order, I would also read a Bible story book to give the children a better grounding in the chronology of the Bible.  

And in case your wondering what happened with the books we didn't use as planned, here's a bunch of excuses brief discussion:

Our Island Saints - The stories are on the long side, and worked better split over two weeks.  I decided to read fewer of them this year.  I'm going to continue this book next year.

Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints - We read all of the first book, and about half of the second.  I'm not particularly enamored with the fairy tale-ish feel of these books, and when I looked at what we were already reading, I decided to drop it from the schedule.

Blue Fairy Book - I will fully admit that this is a place where I am lacking.  I really dislike reading the Lang fairy tale books aloud.  I'll read picture book fairy tales and shorter versions...  but the Lang ones just seem to go on and on and on and on and I just want to die.  My kids have listened to them as audiobooks though, and I am trying not to let on how I really feel about them.

Oxford Book of Poetry - I decided after the first term to read poetry as a family.  So Term 2 was A.A. Milne, and Term 3 was Longfellow (from Y3), which meant I skipped the Oxford Book of Poetry.

Burgess Book of Animals - I was reading this to Nathan and Gregory the previous year and at about five chapters from the end we all had more than enough of Old Mother Nature and Peter Rabbit.  If I could never read another Burgess book again, that would be a great thing.  We started reading some more detailed nature related picture books and Secrets of the Wood Folk by William Long, both of which were creating far more connections, lasting memories and interest in my children.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding - From what I've seen on the AO forums, using this book is rather, well, contentious.  I like it though, and I think it can be used in a way that would work extremely well with Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And I think something like this would give my kids a little more to consider and contemplate beyond nature study.  We live surrounded by so much nature and we are out walking in the forest every day - and the kids are extremely observant of the natural changes in the world.  This is a two edged sword though, because it can be hard to get the kids to engage in the typical nature journalling since it is so ubiquitous.  Or perhaps it is simply a discipline and teaching issue that I'm trying to solve by throwing a book at it.  It wouldn't be the first time...  I didn't end up using it because by the time I had scheduled myself to start it (after covering some of the scheduled topics in The Handbook of Nature Study) I was really struggling to do what I was doing and couldn't take on the learning curve required for the book.


And, that, in an extremely large nutshell, is Year 1.