Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Year In Review: Y3 (2016 - 2017)

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.

This year was a significant departure from the last two years, where we largely used AmblesideOnline (Y1 review, Y2 review).  I’ve been listening to the Delectable Education podcasts just about from the beginning, and I’ve found them extremely helpful, encouraging, and useful.  They have vastly improved our homeschool and I have grown significantly as a homeschooling educator and mother.

In planning the 2016-2017 school year, I decided to use the scheduling cards from the ladies at Delectable Education and designed my schedule using them.  I treated each card as a bucket that I need to fill with some resource and pulled from a variety of places to fill my buckets.

Some areas are studied as a family, including composer study, nature study, and picture study.  You can read more about our selections and our year of family studies in my previous post.

Checkers are always better with an audience, don't you think?

Subject Areas

These subject areas are from the scheduling cards I used to plan our year, not including the subjects we did as a family.


For a number of years I’ve considered our time spent reading, narrating and discussing the daily Mass readings as our Bible study time, particularly for the younger kids.  However, over time I could see that while the younger children knew individuals and certain events in the Bible and the Gospels reasonably well, they lacked a coherent overview of the Bible.  So in the second term I added 15 minutes a day to Nathan and Gregory’s where we read systematically through the Old Testament (Joshua, Judges, Ruth and part of First Samuel this year) and the Gospel of Luke (we’re about half-way through)  We’ve really enjoyed this time together, and I can see how their knowledge and appreciation for the story of the Old Testament has grown dramatically, as well as their knowledge of Biblical locations.

Student Bible Atlas
Sacred Art Series:  The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John (Beautiful book!)


Copywork was sort of a hodgepodge this year, a combination of pages from Classical Copywork, the Simply Charlotte Mason print to cursive book, and copywork assigned from his recitation work.  I continued to make copywork books with my ProClick, which worked well.

Classical Copywork
Simply Charlotte Mason Print to Cursive Proverbs


I read all of these out loud, except for the Uncle Tom’s Cabin for Young Folks.

D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children
American Tall Tales
Uncle Tom's Cabin: Young Folks' Edition
Jungle Book

American History

This year I decided to switch Nathan’s history to an American focus and I lined up his historical period with his older brother’s.  We used to study the same historical time period as a family, and that’s one of the things I’ve missed in the two years we spent largely following AmblesideOnline. I don’t think it has to be this way, but it is definitely our family’s preference.  This was scheduled twice a week, and once a week he would read from the spine, and the other from one of the other books listed (in succession).  Each history block also included narration, mapwork as appropriate, and occasionally a drawn narration.

This is the second time I've used American History Stories as a spine, and while there are some things I like about it, namely the quality of the writing and the variety of stories included, I feel like it also can be a little long-winded and it definitely contains some inappropriate references to people of other races.  Like last time I skipped some chapters and it worked out reasonably well.

I read aloud American History Stories in the first and second terms, then let Nathan read it to himself in term 3.  He read all the other ones himself.  It was a little challenging to find good books at his reading level, particularly since his reading level changed so dramatically over the course of the year.

American History Stories, Vol. 3 (partial) & Vol. 4 - spine
Walking the Road to Freedom
Riding the Pony Express
Abraham Lincoln:  For the People
Gettysburg: Tad Lincoln's Story by F.N. Monjo
Stonewall Jackson


This was scheduled twice a week, and for the first two terms I read from Elementary Geography in one session and we did hands-on geography activities in the other.  In our hands on session, we explored local maps, political maps, terrain maps, and the globe through discussion and exercises.  In the third term, we finished Elementary Geography and I had him read, narrate and do mapwork with Paddle to the Sea.

Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason
Illustrated Atlas for Young America
Various maps and a globe

Cataloguing everything he could see within a circle of string in his nature journal

Natural History

This year Nathan read through A Drop of Water and did the experiments in the first half of the year and then focused on astronomy in the second half of the year.  In his astronomy study, he made drawn narrations as well as oral narrations, and towards the end of the year I had him add a sentence, either copied or composed, to his drawn narrations.

Nathan also read several nature lore books over the course of the year as well.

A Drop of Water
Fun with Astronomy by Mae and Ira Freeman 
Our Solar System by Seymour Simon (not my favorite planets book, but the best of what I had - I’d like to find a better one though!)
Trees and Shrubs
Plant Life in Field and Garden
Secrets of the Woods

Working on Logic Links with our shop receipts in the foreground


This is another area where I made significant changes.  Over the summer I heard Sonya Schafer speak about Richele Baburina’s book, Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching and demonstrate what living math instruction can look like.  I was incredibly impressed and decided that this is what I needed to do with Nathan and Gregory.  I had been using MEP, but I found it difficult to break away from the worksheet mentality of it.  Nathan was largely plodding along, not really stimulated or engaged because the material was too easy for him.  But I didn’t really know how to jump him forward in MEP or how to make that program work for him.

We spent the first part of the year solidifying our math foundations using techniques in Baburina’s book and running a store where the boys were practicing with a variety of math operations as well as writing receipts and keeping financial records.  After the first term, it became obvious that I needed to separate the boys for math, because my 5th grader made a huge leap forward (more on that in his post!) and I started doing that subject individually.

In the third term I started using the Strayer-Upton book to make it easier to come up with practice problems and such.  Pregnancy was taking a toll on my on-the-fly creativity, and I really appreciated having a straight-forward resource that I could easily pick and choose problems from as needed.

We also included some logic work a few times a week using a couple different resources.

Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching
Play Money
Coins (including lots of pennies)
Strayer-Upton, Book 1
Logic Links


As I mentioned in my family studies post, we added recitation into the boys’ schedule about halfway through the school year.

Lucy Gray by Willam Wordsworth
Bivouac on a Mountain Side by Walt Whitman
Psalm 67
Psalm 33
John 15:1-11
John 10:1-16

Reading with his beloved guinea pigs, Portia and Bianca


Nathan made the jump into reading fluency this year (hooray!!) and went from moping around in November, complaining, “why does Gregory want to read all the time?  Why won’t he play?” to by March being so deeply immersed in whatever he was reading that he could tune out everything around him.  At this point I’m having to set limits on how much time he reads, otherwise he’d barely put the book down!

Modern Language (Spanish)

This is an area where we’ve had a lot of transition over the course of the year.  We started with just using Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Fran├žois, Volume 1 and including a song, a poem, and prayers in Spanish and then added in other activities such as building dictated sentences with picture cards, calendar work, vocabulary games like Simon Says, rhymes and increasing the number of songs we learned.  I’ve learned a lot from Celeste Cruz, particularly from her talk at the Conference in the Redwoods in February, and I’m looking forward to continuing to improve in this area.

Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Fran├žois, Volume 1
De Colores and Other Latin-American Folk Songs for Children
Pio Peep!


This is another area that has seen a lot of growth.  I have been focusing on developing the boys’ sense of rhythm and beat using a variety of means.  I have done a little Sol-fa with them, but largely trying to reinforce what they are learning through the Hoffman Academy.  As an aside, Hoffman Academy has been wonderful for the boys!  We signed up for their subscription service and it is well worth the expense.  They are learning a lot, enjoying the lessons, and the scripted practice sessions are so helpful.  They have a great ear training game as well which has been a very helpful addition to their music studies.

Music at Home
Hoffman Academy

Physical Education/Drill

This was going to be the year I learned about Swedish Drill through Dawn Duran’s series…  and, then, well, it didn’t happen.  This is definitely an area that needs improvement.

Working on making an insulated sleeve for his backpacking mug


We started doing Sloyd this year, which has been a great success.  I am coming to appreciate the importance of Sloyd in the curriculum, so much so that I’ll be speaking about Sloyd at the CMI Western Conference in July.

Nathan was also introduced to crochet and whittling, and we spent some time improving his sewing skills as well.  Even though handicrafts is supposed to be in the morning schedule for a Form 1 student, I found it easier to do this in the afternoon with his older brother.  I have also started to include more dry brush work in Nathan’s work, assigning that as the medium for a drawn narration or a nature journal entry.

Paper Sloyd for Primary Grades - if you are going to use this book, I highly recommend printing the PDF.  The book isn't that long, and if you print the PDF the illustrations in the book will not be stretched.

Getting ready to start a paper sloyd project

Drawing Practice

I started the year using Bruce McIntyre’s Drawing Textbook as we were using that last year, but Nathan really disliked it. I finally decided to switch to some other drawing books we owned, because it didn’t seem like that book was worth making him dread drawing practice time.  Since we switched this has been a much more successful and happier experience for both of us.

Nathan reading to his two younger siblings

Favorite Free Reads

I also like to include a few favorites from the year's reading.  I try to record all the books the kids read throughout the year by having them place completed books on my desk.  I also try and capture ebooks and audiobooks, but without that physical place to put the books they sometimes slip through the cracks.

This has been a big year for series for Nathan, as he's gained reading fluency.  Some favorites:

  • Happy Hollisters
  • Boxcar Children
  • Bobbsey Twins
  • Harry Potter (Books 1-4)
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  • Cleary's Ralph books
  • Enright's Melendy books
  • And in May he fell into a Redwall hole and read very little else since then!
Some non-series favorites
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • Frankel Mouse
  • Civil War Spies
  • The Monitor and the Merrimac
  • Black Ships Before Troy
  • The Green Ember & Ember Falls
  • Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye
  • Babe: The Gallant Pig

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Year In Review: Family Studies (2016 - 2017)

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.

So, with that in mind, here's my synopsis of our Family Studies.

(Previous Years' Write-ups can be found here)

Subjects We Study as a Family

In our family studies, we tackle subjects together at set times during the day.  Some of my children will have additional readings or work in these areas, and some will do all their work in this area with the family.  Our family studies include:

Natural History and Nature Lore
California History
Lives of Saints
Picture Study
Folk Songs
Shakespeare (we studied Shakespeare with a group of other families in the fall and spring)
Memory Work **
Nature Study and Journaling
Composer Study

Morning Time

We decided to move our Morning Time to 8 am this year, which was definitely more 8-ish than I would have liked.  However, we still managed to keep to that fairly well, even through my first trimester.  In our Morning Time we would:

  • Pray the Morning Offering
  • Chant a psalm
  • Sing a hymn
  • Read something about the day's saint (if there was one) and discuss
  • Read, narrate, and sometimes look up maps or commentary for the Mass Readings of the day
  • Take turns praying for various intentions
  • Sing another hymn
  • Read a poem
  • Do our memory work for the day **
  • Do an additional activity, such as Picture Study or Composer Study.  I did these on the days when we started (closer to) on time, usually doing something with Composer Study a couple times a week and Picture Study once a week (although I accidentally dropped Picture Study for part of the year).
  • Sing a folk song or two


For poetry this year we read Hiawatha by Longfellow, and selected poems from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth.  Robert Service is our summer poet.

Memory Work (**)

We stopped doing memory work this year and switched to individual recitation instead.  I have been very frustrated for awhile with how our memory work was going.  I had one student who did an excellent job, one who generally mumbled along and sort of knew the material, and one that barely participated at all.  It was too time consuming to try and have each child say the material individually, and taking turns didn’t seem to give enough review to make progress on the work, particularly for the mumbler and non-participant.  I also tried setting and reminding them of the expectations for participation but it didn’t amount to any sort of longer term improvement.  It really didn’t seem like our memory work time was cultivating good habits, and I spent some time considering what I was trying to do with this time, and what my goals were, as well as what this sort of work looked like in Charlotte Mason's schedule.

After a lot of consideration, I decided to add a period of recitation to my younger students’ schedule, and assign a particular type of recitation to each work session.  It was a little tricky getting them to understand what they were supposed to be doing during this time, but after couple months it started to go fairly well and I think it has been a positive change.  However, recitation has not become a regular part of my oldest student's afternoon or evening, unless she has a particular piece she wants to memorize.  I think she misses this memory work time and laments that the pieces she once had memorized are slowly drifting away.

Picture Study

Term 1 - Peter Paul Rubens
Term 2 - Winslow Homer (started mid-way through the term)
Term 3 - Winslow Homer (finished mid-way through the term)

After finishing our picture study of Winslow Homer, I neglected to move to the next artist.  We continue our Morning Time through the summer though, and I think I’ll go ahead and do that picture study over the summer.  I had planned on studying Monet, and I have one set of the images from Simply Charlotte Mason on hand, but I need to either order more copies or set up the images on the iPads so everyone can have their own.  I’ve found it works so much better that way, but it also creates an obstacle for actually doing it, because I have to remember to set it up!

Composer Study

Term 1 - Dvorak
Term 2 - None
Term 3 - Wagner, Ring Cycle and The Book of Great Musicians: A Course in Appreciation for Young Readers

I dropped Composer Study in the second term, as that was the term that overlapped with my first trimester and I needed to do less.  In the third term I started an ambitious study of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which we are still working through.  We are alternating between reading a bit from a retelling of the opera and listening to a few tracks from Wagner’s Ring Motifs.

Nature Study

This year we had a couple new things happen in our nature study.  We started doing nature study as a family on Sundays and we also started a monthly nature study group that meets about an hour away from where we live.

Weekly nature study as a family has been very rewarding.  On most Sundays, we go to Mass, have a little down time while my husband enjoys his morning coffee, then we take a walk.  We either journal as part of our walk, or we will do an activity from John Muir Laws once we get home.  Having the whole family involved and journaling has been a lot of fun, and a great family activity.

Our monthly nature study group has been a great addition as well.  The previous year I had tried to get one started closer to where I live, but with no success.  Driving an hour isn’t the greatest, but if it means we actually can meet up with other families - CM families, no less! - it is definitely worth it.

Lunch Time Reading

I either eat beforehand (if I was particularly on top of things that day - this didn't happen often!) or I eat a bit while the kids recapped the last reading and then more while they narrated.  An unexpected bonus of this was that it encouraged my older kids to be more helpful with the youngers.  If there was a problem, they were expected to hop up and clean up a spill, get a refill or seconds, or help clean up a younger child so I could keep reading.  Previously that had always been my job, and I think practicing this sort of responsiveness to other people's needs has been good for them.

I allow the child of the day to pick what we're reading off of whatever is currently available on the list.  A book cannot be picked again until a selection from all the books have been read.  With five kids, it works very nicely to delegate a child per day.  This child gets to light the prayer candle, pick the lunch reading, lead the Divine Mercy chaplet (if old enough) and do other little things on their day.  And it is extremely cute to hear my three year old pick Plutarch for the read aloud!

In our rotation this year, we had five books and this which worked out well.  Some weeks we would read all five, but sometimes we would only get to three or four.  But since there weren’t as many as there were last year, we were generally able to keep moving along in each book often enough that we didn’t forget what was happening when we read last.

Books in Our Rotation

Plutarch - Titus Flamininus and Phyrrus, both using Anne White's Plutarch Project Guide
Natural History - The Wild Muir, One Day On Beetle Rock (still reading)
California History - Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer, The Shirley Letters (still reading)
Faith - The Royal Road (finishing from last year), First Communion by Mother Mary Loyola (still reading)
Music/Art - The Well Tempered Listener (still reading)

Evening Time

Once I was pregnant, our rather robust evening time that we enjoyed together went by the wayside.  We moved our read aloud to after dinner which worked really well until allergy season started and my husband couldn’t real aloud anymore.  That, coupled with the lengthening day and the prospect of playing outside a bit after dinner too, has made this read aloud time pretty spotty.

We still read poetry, picture books, and a Bible story to the two little ones (5 and 3, at this point) and we all seven pray together before putting the two younger ones to bed.  After the littles are in bed, the bigger kids read and I tackle my pre-reading for the next day.  If it isn’t a school day the next day, sometimes some of us will play a game together.  I miss the Great Courses lectures and drawing time, but trying to do those things and the pre-reading and getting to bed early enough for my pregnant self was more than I could handle.

This Year's Family Studies Favorites

The Wild Muir
Old Squire’s Farm
Johnny Reb
My Side of the Mountain
Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer
The Well Tempered Listener  (the older two in particular)
One Day On Beetle Rock

(Amazon Affiliate links are used in this post, benefiting Charlotte Mason West)