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


  1. Emma's jewelry is really lovely! I want to buy a pair of her earrings. Seriously!

    1. Hi Dawn, I'm glad you like them! Could you send me an email at amber at vanderpol dot net and I'll get you in touch with her? Thanks!

  2. If you guys lived closer, I would absolutely hire Emma to do handicrafts with my girls -- that is, if you could spare her! Seriously, she really is a superstar. :) I loved Come Rack Come Rope and think it is a perfect Catholic supplement for that time period. I'm very interested in 1491 you mentioned. Going to add that to my list. :)

    1. Thanks! Wouldn't that be fun? Emma would really enjoy doing something like that I think. Ah well!

      I definitely think you'll enjoy 1491 - well written and full of "Wow, that's amazing" sort of moments. And the author does such a good job dispelling all sorts of myths that have developed over the years and creating a much fuller and more interesting picture of the world that was.