Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Homeschool Planning Thoughts (way) after the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, 2016 Edition

This is the fourth year I've prayed the Novena in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, asking specifically for wisdom and guidance as I consider our next school year.   Each year I've found this an excellent and clarifying experience, and it has become an essential part of my homeschool planning process.

This April was a particularly busy one for me as I planned and helped lead a retreat, finished the spring Shakespeare session, had my work-from-home husband away for a conference, and prepared for and traveled to a family wedding.  I still diligently prayed the novena, but I didn't feel like I had time to process what God was telling me during this time.

As I continued to consider this experience over the last few months, the message gradually became clearer and clearer, and as I re-read what I wrote last year and the year before, I can see how it fits into the continuum of what I have learned before.  The phrase that kept coming into my mind was the idea that "education consists of books and things".

Now the word "things" is not particularly profound, and it is both vague and encompassing.  I've heard Sonya Shafer talk about this idea, and I think that's why this particular phrase kept coming back to mind.  We've certainly improved over where we were a couple years ago, but there is still room for improvement.  For example, my kids could be more physically fit and active. There's also more work we should be doing with our readings beyond narration, and we should be making more of an effort to do that.

In considering how to move forward, I realized that a couple things needed to change.  I needed to figure out how to free up more time in my children's day so they could have that ample free time that the students in Charlotte Mason's schools had, and I needed to figure out how to maximize the work they were doing in each of their lessons so we can get the most out of our books and other work.  It is easy to get stuck in the read and narrate rut, and pass over the other sorts of work the students in the Charlotte Mason paradigm are supposed to do as well.  Narration is certainly the cornerstone of the child's work, but it is not the only work she expected from the students.

Studying my Form 1 and Form 2 schedules to make sure I wasn't double-booking myself and trying to make sure it all made sense.

In the end, and after re-listening to a number of the Delectable Education podcasts and re-reading Nicole William's scheduling series, I decided to move to a completely schedule based system.  My books would be picked such that they filled the blocks of time I have set out for the different subjects, and if the book didn't fit into that block, then it would move to the free reading shelf or it wouldn't get used at all.  I believe this will keep me from that subtle booklist and activity creep that gradually makes the day longer and longer.  I'm so good at thinking, "oh, why just do this twice a week?  Let's  do it every day!"  Or, "this would be a great book to add, why not add this one in too?  It is just one more book..."  The scheduling cards from A Delectable Education were extremely helpful with this endeavor.  There was something about working with physical cards that made the process much easier, more creative and actually even enjoyable.

The other piece of the puzzle is procedure lists.  I need to communicate clearly what I expect from my children in the course of their lessons.  And I need to have a clear idea of that myself!  We need to move beyond a simple read and narrate model, which is all we had time for (barely!) when we had so many books.  We'll still have that wide and varied curriculum that Charlotte Mason's philosophy is so known for, but I anticipate fewer assigned books in our core school time and more books on the free reading shelf and sprinkled throughout our week.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Keeping Company: Pilgrim's Inn

Lucilla knew always, and Nadine knew in her more domesticated moments, that it was homemaking that mattered. Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil.  But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilization depended on their quality, and it was no good weakening oneself for the brick-making by thinking too much about the flood.   ~ Pilgrim's Inn, Elizabeth Goudge, p. 48 

This is the first book I've read by Goudge, but it certainly won't be the last.  What a beautiful writing, and such memorable characters!  And her descriptions of the Pilgrim's Inn and Damerosehay...  I so hope there are places like that in the world.

I'm trying to shore up my commonplacing habit this summer, and I've decided to take a cue from how I have my kids do some of their work.  If I plan to spend about 30 minutes with a "stiffer" book I'm reading, I break it up into about 20 minutes of reading and the remainder for writing in my commonplace.  I either write quotes from what I've just read, so I copy something from an easier book I am reading in the evenings.  I appreciate not having to find another chunk of time for just writing, and it makes the commonplacing much more likely to happen.

Currently Reading (by category)

Lighter Non-Fiction

  • A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell (because I am fascinated by bees and would love to have a couple hives someday)

Continuing Education



  • Catena Aurea - The Gospel of St. John (I started this in January thinking it would be the year's focus...  but as I'm only about halfway through Ch. 5, I think I'll be working on it a lot longer than that!  But I love it, and I am so glad I'm continuing to read and ponder it)
  • Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (ok, so I haven't actually started this yet, but I will - soon! -  maybe even today!)


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Year in Review: Y8 (2015-2016)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some time reviewing this past school year, the materials we used, and the changes we made.  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.

My plan for my daughter's Y8 work owes a great debt to the work of the amazing women at Ambleside Online.  However, I departed in many ways from their programme in Y8, so I don't feel I can call this an AO review as I have with Y2 and Y4.  My changes largely reflect my desire to give more of the Catholic side of the story of the Reformation, to read and discuss a great work of literature with her, and to pick a few books that I thought would speak to her more than some of Ambleside Online's choices.

Here is the review of Y7 from last year.  I'll be using a similar format in this year's review.  Emma is still a part of all our family studies, which I've detailed in a previous post.

I asked Emma to share some photos of some of the things she has created over the course of the school year, and you'll see some different examples of her work below.  All the photos are hers as well.

Earring and necklace set

Daily and Weekly Subjects


Emma narrates each of her readings, generally between finishing her math and lunch and in the late afternoon while we are making dinner.  If we have an afternoon event, she will usually narrate in the car.  She writes one narration each day, although towards the end of the year that wasn't as consistent. There were a few books where I assigned written narrations, like Bacon's Essays, but for the most part she picked which reading she used for her written narration.

Towards the end of y7 we set her up with a private Wordpress blog and she writes all her narrations there, with the exception of her science ones.  The science narrations go in her science notebook, and they stay separate because they usually have a sketch or diagram to go with them.  On the blog, they  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.  I get an email each time she posts a new narration, and this has made it easy for me to keep up with reading them.  I seldom find spelling or grammatical errors in her narrations, but I will occasionally ask her to add more detail.  Her narrations are generally a delight to read, full of big thoughts and well chosen phrases.


I have not done any formal writing program with Emma since we had a complete and utter fail with a progymnasmata program in 3rd grade (can I admit that publicly?).  Since then all she has done is narrate, narrate, narrate, and I am extremely pleased with her ability to share her thoughts in her writing and how she already shapes her argument and narrative.  Her writing is enjoyable to read, well worded, and worth reading.  Narration works, and it is for a very long time.

Occasionally I will ask her to revise and polish a narration, and this year I have started asking her to add supporting quotes to some of her written narrations.  In her written narrations for Bacon's Essays, I asked her to do things like make an outline of Bacon's argument, restate his argument in your own words, write a bulleted list of the pros Bacon lists about a subject and the cons, as well as the more standard written narration.  

This spring she's started writing a novel, and right now it is about 30,000 words into it and going strong.  And for the most part, the book is a delight to read.  There's a few parts that need some work, and she recognizes that and is willing to go back and polish when the time comes.  But that seems like that should be expected - after all, who writes a perfect first draft?

These earrings are her signature pieces right now, and she's sold quite a few of them.


Emma should be writing in her commonplace, but is not.  I have not tried to make that a requirement, although I probably should.

I am requiring a weekly nature study entry, although I was letting her do this with photographs on her narrations blog for a little while.  I think that was a mistake, and I am now requiring a weekly nature journal entry from everyone - including me!

Emma has continued her Book of Centuries from last year, and is adding a couple entries a week.  I've also assigned her to create some timelines of people's lives or eventful periods (Galileo, English Reformation) and those were a mixed success.  Lack of inspection on my part was a real problem.

Emma keeps a science notebook, and adds sketches and diagrams as well as some narrating from her science reading a couple times a week.

Dictation and Grammar

In order to make dictation happen at least a little more often, I started using Simply Charlotte Mason's Spelling Wisdom Book 4 with Emma.  This has worked extremely well, and has had the additional bonus of introducing Emma to some new books.  We try to do dictation twice a week, but I think we probably averaged just a little over once a week.

For grammar, I tried using Our Mother Tongue again but just didn't find it working for Emma.  I ended up buying IEW's Fix-It Book 2 for Emma and I'm having her do for about 10 minutes 3-4 times a week.  She is not doing the copywork or the vocabulary aspects of the curriculum.  I wouldn't say it is the greatest thing out there for grammar, but it is working well for her where she is at and helping her to move forward.  As a principle I don't like having kids study things that are wrong, but I think she's old enough that the copy-editing practice is helpful.

Classical Languages

Last year Emma studied both Greek and Latin, but over the summer we decided to drop Greek.  We didn't have enough room in the schedule to do them both justice, and I decided Latin was the more important one for her to continue to study.  

She's continued to move slowly through Henle Book 1, working 30 minutes at a time, 3-4 days a week.  She has picked up speed this year, and is moving through it more quickly than in previous years.

A lovely scarf she knitted - she has an even more elaborate one on her needles right now


Emma has continued to use Rosetta Stone for about 15 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week.  She also has continued to use Duolingo, doing 1-2 sessions a day.  In addition to this work, she is spending about 15 minutes three times a week on Spanish translation from First Spanish Reader.  She is also studying Spanish grammar by reading a section of Essential Spanish Grammar 1-2 times a week and writing a written narration.  


Emma has been using the Life of Fred books for several years now, and they've worked well for her.  She is most of the way through the Algebra book at this point.  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 city to keep abreast of how she's doing.  During the summer she's changing gears and working through some of the Khan Academy Algebra materials.  She's enjoying the review and the different presentation of the material.  I'm not quite sure what we'll do in the Fall.


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.  I also have her doing a map drill of the shires of England 1-2 times a week.  This is challenging work, but I think she's finding it helpful in her reading.  I should probably have started it a lot earlier.


Emma is a handicrafts superstar.  This year she's started selling earrings that she designed, set up an Etsy shop, is learning how to make baskets, worked with clay, knitted, crocheted, sketched, painted, explored cartography...  the list goes on and on!  

Her first basket

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 her favorites.  
+Books with a plus are ones I read as she was reading them.


A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture
*+Christianity, Pure and Simple
+The Family that Overtook Christ
The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Additional Notes - In the third term I decided I needed something a little shorter and easier than The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, so I picked The Family That Overtook Christ because I think it is a must read.  It would probably be better as a Y7 book, but oh well.


+The Great Heresies (one chapter) by Belloc
+The New World (Churchill)
+Characters of the Reformation by Belloc
+Speeches/Docs as selected by Ambleside Online
+Pilgrim Journal
The Voyage of the Spanish Armada
+Life of Francis Bacon
*+Man for All Seasons
Coffin for King Charles
Charles II: The Last Rally
*+Galileo’s Daughter

Additional Notes -
  • Next time I would skip The Great Heresies.  It has some interesting ideas, but it was too complex and had too much assumed knowledge for Emma to get much out of it.  
  • Characters of the Reformation was a little uneven - some chapters were excellent, others were decent, and some felt like filler.  Next time I think I'll just assign some of the chapters rather than the whole book.  
  • Reading 1491 was a fantastic read for this year.  It was also fascinating to read the back story of what was going on in the Americas when the Pilgrims arrived, and to gain a fuller understanding of the New World.  This book sparked lots of great discussions!
  • I assigned (as usual) too much this year.  Thankfully I realized it early enough to pull some books so I could lighten her load.  It all was still probably a little too much, but it was much better than it would have been otherwise.
These are made out of Sculpy - aren't they amazing?


I, Promessi
+Come Rack, Come Rope
*+Faerie Queene

Additional Notes -
  • I moved I, Promessi to her free reads list because I needed to remove some books.  She hasn't read it yet, but I'm going to bring it up to her again soon.  I read it a few years ago and I thought it was wonderful!
  • I used a different version of the Faerie Queene than what Ambleside Online recommends.  We felt like it dumbed down the Faerie Queene, and added help that wasn't necessary.  We were also very interested to notice that some of the interpretations of the allegories that the editor gave in a canonical manner were quite different from the interpretations offered by the editor of the version I got from Project Gutenberg.  
  • Come Rack, Come Rope is a great book to read in Y8.  It gives a good view of the Catholic side of the English Reformation in a way that is very matter of fact and not incendiary.  The author isn't trying to make the Protestants out to be all bad guys, rather he's trying to tell the story of the people who tried to remain Catholic in a very difficult period of history. 


Geoge Morison's Columbus
Book of Marvels

Additional Notes - I decided to cut them both, letting the geography in our family reading and in Emma's other books stand in for this year's geography reading.


Chemical History of a Candle
+Briefer History of Time
+William Harvey On the Discovery of the Circulation of the Blood
+Adventures with a Microscope
*+The Sea Around Us
Brother Astronomer
+Microbe Hunters
The Great Courses:  Our Night Sky
The Great Courses: Experiencing Hubble
Assembling California

Additional Notes -
  • This was a tough year to plan science.  I had to get it planned before the new AO science recommendations were out, and ended up with a hodge-podge of books and resources.  I felt like it was an ok science year, but not a great one.
  • We did not do all of the experiments in A Chemical History of a Candle.  Having Kathy's study guide was great, but even still it was quite an effort to get Emma to do them...  and I wasn't sure how much I should take the lead in getting them done.
  • I had really wanted to use these Great Courses lectures, but it turns out that one course is all I can make time for, and Emma won't do it on her own.  I decided to prioritize the Dante course, which I think was the right choice, but I think these other courses would have been a great addition to the year.
  • I am really looking forward to going to Nicole William's science immersion at the CMI Western Conference in August!  I'm hoping it will make science a lot easier to plan and a much better experience for our family in the years to come.

Natural History

*Arctic Dreams

Additional Notes - I loved this book!  It was especially wonderful to read after having spent three weeks in Alaska last summer.  I highly recommend it.


+Bacon's Essays
*+Whatever Happened to Justice..? 
+The Story of the Constitution by Tappan
How to Read a Book

Additional Notes - 
  • I've been having Emma read 15 minutes of How to Read a Book each week, but that isn't enough to get us to where we're supposed to be according to AO's schedule.  Oh well.  
  • Whatever Happened to Justice...? was one that sparked a lot of conversation.  Sometimes it is good to read a book that you argue with so you can hone your thinking.  We had a lot of good conversations about concupiscence this year, and how damaging it is...  as well as conversations about how we aren't made for this world, and we can't expect to be able to recreate Eden.  Reading Utopia played into these conversations a great deal too.  
  • The two Constitution materials were a last minute addition to satisfy a charter school requirement, and they left something to be desired.  But they were better than the textbook that the charter offered, so at least there's that.
And a note by Emma -

  • I have noted Whatever Happened to Justice as one of my favorite books; not because I agree with all of what he says, but I have marked it rather because... well, because I liked arguing with it (highly enjoyable and stimulating, if a bit warlike) and enjoyed discussing it with Mom.


Grammar of Poetry (carry over from last year)

Additional Notes - I had scheduled out reading the Divine Comedy over the course of the year, but it was something where I needed to be highly involved.  We were supposed to watch a new lecture at least every other week and read and discuss 2-3 Cantos each week.  And there were some weeks when it just didn't happen like it was supposed to, so we gradually drifted behind.  But we had some wonderful discussions, and I think our study of Dante's Comedia was a highlight of the year.  We really enjoyed the Great Courses lecture series, it added a lot to our reading and study of the work.  (But please buy it on sale!!)  

Reading Dante's Divine Comedy, even though it was written earlier than the historical time period Emma studied this year, was such a wonderful complement to all our reading of schism and reformation.  Dante doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the corruption of the Church - after all, he has popes in hell! - but yet he has a vision of the Church that is greater than the corruption of individuals. And this vision, with the deep repentance Dante models in his poem, is a welcome antidote to all the worldly wars and power struggles that consumed the Western World during this time period.
This is a piece that started as a sketch, then she took a picture of it, imported it into a graphics program on her iPad, traced over it all and cleaned it up, and now has it ready to print or use in other ways.


*+The Story of Art by Gombrich

Additional Notes - I'm so glad I happened to find a new edition of this book at the library book sale, because this new version has all color pictures!  That makes the book even more enjoyable.

Favorites from Emma's Reading

I keep a record of all of Emma's reading, and I asked her to look through the list and select some favorites.  She had lots of favorites this year!  Some of the books are re-reads.  None of these books were assigned, they were all ones she chose because they were on our shelves, were gifts, or were books I had downloaded.  She does check with me before she picks up a new book, but I do not do much more than offer a lot of good books in our home and on our Kindles.

Tunnel in the Sky, Heinlein
Foundation Series, Asimov
Complete Collection of Short Stories, Twain
The Trees of Pride, Chesterton
The Tale of Two Cities, Dickens
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, Clarke
Persuasion, Austen
Emma, Austen
Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Tolkien (a re-read, and an all time favorite)
The Prince and the Pauper, Twain
David Copperfield, Twain
Pride and Prejudice, Austen
The Thurber Collection, Thurber
Laddie, Stratton-Porter
The Phantom of the Opera, Leroux
Moby Dick, Melville
Murder Must Advertise, Sayers
Sillmarilion, Tolkien (a re-read, and an all time favorite)
Strong Poison, Sayers
Have is Carcase, Sayers
The Resurrection, Tolstoy
Gaudy Night, Sayers
Busman's Honeymoon, Sayers
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great, Merkle
Beauty, McKinley 
Anne's House of Dreams, Montgomery
To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee
Once and Future King, White
Along the Shore, Montgomery
Rainbow Valley, Montgomery
Rilla of Ingleside, Montgomery
Kilmeny of the Orchard, Montgomery
Order of the Phoenix, Rowling

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Year In Review: Ambleside Online Y4 (2015-2016)

Before I start planning our new year, I like to spend some 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.

I also don't want to be duplicate or encroach on all the excellent work that Ambleside Online has done over the years.  Their dedication and service to the Charlotte Mason community is astounding, and such an enormous gift.  Please visit their site and take a look at the Year 4 program if you'd like to learn more about what they so generously offer.

This is Gregory's second year using Ambleside Online for the vast majority of his work.  The review of his first year can be found here.  I'm going to follow a similar format as last year.

You can also see what we study as a family here.

Gregory's cannon

Daily and Weekly Subjects


At the beginning of the year, Gregory completed 10 minutes of cursive copywork each day, copying all of Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The poem is assigned for Y4, and I thought it would be a neat exercise and some nice cursive practice for him to copy the entire poem.  I printed the whole poem in a large cursive print, and he copied it into a notebook I made with my Proclick.  He enjoyed the project, and it was a good experience for him.  It took all of Term 1 and into Term 2 to copy the whole poem at that rate, and what a feeling of accomplishment when he finished it!

After finishing this, I wanted Gregory to start practicing copying from print into cursive.  I pulled out some 3x5 cards with various short scripture passages, quotes, and sayings printed on them that I had used with Emma ages ago and had him copy those into a notebook in cursive.  I also included his writing for grammar as copywork (more below) so his copywork practice was a mixture of the print to cursive and print to print.  I probably should be giving him more writing to do, but he tends to get pencil fatigue quickly so I try to keep that sort of work light for him.

Reading Practice 

Gregory reads extremely fluently and was able to read all of his own school books by himself this year (hooray!)  However, I still had him sit with me for about 10 minutes 3-4 times a to read aloud.  I particularly wanted to work on his enunciation when reading aloud as well as to help him to understand better how to read punctuation.  He read California Stepping Stones (a California history book that is interesting, but written a little more simply than the typical Y4 book) and Toliver's Secret.  I like reading books that are a little more simple than his typical school reading so that we can really focus on what it takes to read aloud well.


Gregory continued with MEP, and finished Level 3 a few days before the end of the school year.  We work on math for 30 minutes each day, and I did not end up using the teacher's plans much at all.  I don't think this is a good thing, and I hope to include more activities from the teacher's plans next year.  I also started having him do the Calculadder drills in Term 3 to give him a little more basic math facts practice.  I recently started doing these drills orally rather than in writing because I felt that the time pressure was causing his handwriting to deteriorate.  I'm not sure I like this, but I do think he'd find his math a lot easier if he had the math facts a little more readily available.


In Term I I had Gregory look up the locations of his readings on our wall map and globe, but I found after an abysmal result in the geography portion of his first term exams that he wasn't retaining much of it.  In Term 2 I started having him do map drills with the maps I have from Classically Catholic Memory, and this was a big improvement.  I wouldn't recommend their program, but their large laminated maps are beautiful, sturdy, and nice to work with.  I don't use the stickers though, I made and laminated little name cards for Nathan and Gregory to use in their map drills.  Gregory worked on Europe with these maps, and I also had Gregory reviewing US Geography using the Stack the States and TapQuiz Maps apps.


This year I had Gregory start a timeline in his binder, much like Celeste describes here.  This went reasonably well, although we ended up adding extra flaps to give him a little more space.  His handwriting can still be a little on the large size, and I was having him write the date as well as the name or event.  This wasn't for any particular reason, it just seemed like a good idea in the moment, although looking back on it I don't think I should have had him do that!

We were also much more consistent with our nature journals this year.  We did at least one entry almost every week, and while it got easier for him, it was not exactly a favorite activity.  In each journal entry I had him do a label, date, sketch and a sentence.

Nature journaling in the little meadow below our house


Gregory started Latin this year, using Classical Academic Press' Latin for Children Primer A program.  We didn't get that far in the program, because I wanted to make sure he knew the vocabulary and understood the concepts before moving to the next section.  We plugged away regularly at it, but it took awhile before he really started getting the concepts.  I ended up creating a lot more worksheets for him for practice because the workbook was no where near enough review.  I also set up a Quizlet deck with the vocabulary so he could review that.  The audio didn't end up being all that helpful and was quite time consuming, so we stopped using that after the first term.  I also tried for review, but found that it entertaining, but not particularly effective.  The additional worksheets, vocab review with Quizlet, and reviewing the declensions and conjugations quickly during our morning time recitation worked a lot better.  At this point he's getting the hang of it and we're starting to move faster.

Foreign Language

I grouped Nathan and Gregory together to study Spanish, and this worked well.  I used Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and François, and while we didn't get all the far in the book, we made steady and enjoyable progress.  In Term 3 I set up a binder much like Simply Charlotte Mason's Scripture Memory box and spent the first part of the lesson reviewing the different sections.  I have the book as a PDF, so it was easy to print out the pages individually and stick them in different sections of the binder.  This made our review process so much easier and more fruitful!  I also added our Spanish poems to the binder, as well as some of the additional memory work from the book.  We then ended the lesson with a song in Spanish.  By far their favorite was El Baile de Las Manos by Wistlefritz, probably because it has exuberant full body motions.  But we also played and sang some of the other songs from the Whistlefritz CD too.


I tried origami in the fall, but between a bad time slot and not enough individual attention for learning it, it was a fail.  I really didn't do much more with Gregory this year, because I saw how much building and creating he was doing outside with his rafts, weapons, forts, and other projects and decided that I'd let that "count" as handicrafts.  He does have some interest in sewing, however, and we did a few small things over the year here and there.  We're planning on making some beach bags this summer which should be a fun project.


Gregory and Nathan both started piano this year using the online lessons from Hoffman Academy lessons.  I love that it is taught by a male teacher and that he has a real gift for teaching piano and making these video lessons work.  I am so impressed by what he has done to try and make piano lessons more affordable and accessible.  The boys have responded really well to the lessons and while we have moved slowly (in part my fault for not being consistent in introducing new lessons but also because I want them to be really solid in a lesson before moving on) they are learning and they are definitely enjoying it.


Grammar started out as a total fail in Term 1.  We were using KISS Grammar and it wasn't making much sense to either of us once we got to the part about complements.  I didn't like that the terminology that this program used was different from what I've encountered when studying Latin.  After Term 1 I regrouped, remembered I had Winston Grammar on my shelf, and off we went.  The physical act of laying cards on the table to build out the sentence works extremely well for Gregory, and he finally started getting the hang of the basics of Grammar.  I also had him copying some of the sentences he had already built with the cards into his binder and marking them up as directed by the program.  I counted this as copywork and grammar.  The sentences aren't exactly what I'm looking for when doing copywork, but again I was trying to keep the amount of pencil work down for Gregory and it seemed like a good compromise.


Gregory is not one of those natural spellers at all.  Even though he reads very well, spelling the simplest words was an extreme challenge for him.  I really wasn't sure dictation was going to be enough for him, and I was just about ready to buy a fancy spelling curriculum for him when I decided that I should at least give Miss Mason the benefit of the doubt.  I decided to use Spelling Wisdom Book 1 from Simply Charlotte Mason for our dictation this year and that was a very helpful resource.  I really appreciated not having to find my own dictation sentences and using something that was an open and go resource.  In working with Gregory, I noticed very quickly that while he could read extremely well, he had no idea about letter sequencing in a word.  I found it worked extremely well for him to study the sentence with our movable alphabet, pulling the letters out of the tray in the order they appear in the word.  After he had built the words and considered them, then I read the sentence word by word and watched him spell it out with the movable alphabet.  After he was comfortable with this, then we would write it.  It was rare that he would ever misspell a word after this process.  And he retained the spelling of words quite well, and started being able to figure out the sequencing of letters on simpler words on his own too, which was very exciting.  I am so thrilled with his progress in this area, because this approach has really worked wonders.

Studying the words in preparation for writing them as dictation

Other Subjects

Other subjects, such as recitation (memory work), music appreciation, artist and composer study happened (or not) in the context of our family time.  Plutarch also happened as part of our family time during lunch, and Shakespeare was studied with a group of other families.  Directed art was pretty much non-existent this year, except for our evening drawing practice.

The Booklist

Most of these books are from Ambleside Online's Y4 program.  Please see their site for the full schedule, extremely helpful weekly breakdown of readings, and lots of other helpful information.

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.

This Country of Ours
Poor Richard
Abigail Adams
George Washington’s World
California Stepping Stones - Read Aloud
*Rare Catholic Stories
A Little Book About Confession for Children - w/ Nathan
King of the Golden City
*Little Apostle on Crutches - w/ Nathan
The Cross in the West
The Storybook of Science
Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding
Madam How and Lady Why
D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths
Bullfinch’s Age of Fables
Robinson Crusoe
*The Incredible Journey
Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Paul Revere’s Ride - copywork
Rip Van Winkle

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

Trial and Triumph - I decided I would rather focus on men who brought the faith to the Western United States like St. Junipero Serra and the noble men discussed in The Cross in the West.  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.  I'm growing less and less happy with this solution, and I will probably change it for next year.

Minn of the Mississippi - We read this as a family the year before last, and I decided to have a more western US focus to our geography this year.  I used The Cross in the West as both a faith reading and geography, and this worked reasonably well.  

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas - Um, I overlooked this one.  Oops.

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

Rare Catholic Stories - Honestly, I'm not sure why I scheduled this book for this year.  We read it last year, finishing it in the fall of the 2014-2015 school year.  I'm wondering if I actually meant another book, but picked up this one when it came time to read by mistake.  Gregory really likes the stories in this collection though, and didn't mind hearing it again.  it didn't get finished because the Confession book went long, and it is a longer book than what I had put in my schedule.  (Like I said, I think I meant to pick up a different book!)

BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding) - I'm coming to the conclusion that this book is more trouble than it is worth.  There are some good ideas for demonstrations in there, but the can require an awful lot of me.  I am glad I did some of them, like the section about the seasons...  but on the whole I'm not sure it is really the right way to go.

Madame How and Lady Why - This book drives me slightly crazy.  Some of the science in the book is atrociously wrong, and some of the things Kingsley says about people in other countries make me want to scream.  However, I think the distinction he makes between how and why are incredibly vital to the study of science, and I get why this book is part of AO's curriculum.  It is a book that requires censoring and paraphrasing, and once I came to terms with that, as well as the the purpose of the book, I felt a lot better about it.  We started it late though, and only ended up reading the first three chapters.

Age of Fable - I read the Preface to this book and thought, "there is no way this is going to work for Gregory!" so I decided we would read D'Aulaire's Greek Myths first before diving into Age of Fable. Had I read a little further and realized that the introductory material is much stiffer than the actual fables, I'm not sure I would have bothered.  We are about a term behind in this book.

Practicing turning wood on a lathe

Favorites From Gregory's Reading

I keep a list of everything the kids read (they have to put their finished books on my desk and then I log them and shelve them weekly) and I had Gregory look over the list and select his favorites.  Some of these books are re-reads, and some he read multiple times this year.

Books with a + before them were on his free reading shelf.

Harry Potter Series (He's only read books 1-5)
Redwall Series
Buried Treasure of the South by W.C. Jameson
A Smijj of Danger and Telmaja by Erin Manning
St. Katherine Drexel by Ellen Tarry
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
A Nose for Trouble by Jim Kjelgaard
+ Johnny Tremain by Ester Forbes
Wyatt Earp: US Marshal by Steward H Holbrook
+ John Paul Jones, Soldier of the Sea by Donald Worchester
+ Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit
+ Pocahontas and Captain John Smith by Marie Lawson
They Flew to Glory by Robert Sidney Bowen
+ Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel C. Brill
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
The Secret of the Indian by Lynne Reid Banks
+ Stowaway by Karen Hesse
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
+ Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham