Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Y9 Year In Review (2016-2017 School Year)

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.

I have definitely benefited from the Delectable Education podcasts in planning this school year, but as of last summer, there wasn't all that much there for the high school age students.  They have since recorded several podcasts that were quite helpful during this last school year, and I'm glad to see them sharing information that is helpful for the older children as well as the younger ones.

The two most helpful things for planning this school year were 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.  I also was able to attend Nicole William's science immersion at the CMI Western Conference last summer and that was very useful.

Emma still joins us for our whole morning time, and we study a number of areas 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.

In case you're curious, here's my write-ups for Y7 and Y8.

From Emma: After Mom wrote this post, she let me look it over.  I did this, and asked if I could retake the notebook-entry photos.  She said yes, so all the photos here (except the one of me drawing) are ones that I took.

General Remarks

This was our first high school year for our first high schooler, and on the whole I am very pleased with how it went.  It seems a little hard to believe that we're already in the high school years, but I'm also finding that they really are a joy.  It feels very fulfilling to be assigning books that I had been looking forward to reading with her since we started our homeschooling journey 10 years ago!

Emma is still expected to narrate all her readings, and these may be in the form of a science notebook entry, a written narration, an oral narration to me or an oral narration recorded into Evernote.  Most of her narrations are either written or in her science notebook, although I tried to have her do one oral narration to me each day.  She would also narrate into an audio recording in Evernote if she had a lot of readings on a particular day.

All of Emma's written narrations get published to a private blog that is password protected.  I get an email notification when there is a new written narration, and this is a great help in keeping on top of reviewing her narrations.  She also publishes any of her digital science notebook entries there as well.

I've shared a small sampling of her science and nature notebook entries, as I thought they might be of interest.

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.


In addition to hearing and narrating the daily Mass readings, Emma was reading through the book of Genesis using the Ignatius Study Guide.  I tried a different commentary at the beginning of the year, which we both didn't like at all (Haydock), so we didn't get quite all the way through Genesis.  I gave her the option of using an Ignatius Study Guide for the New Testament or contining with the New Testament portion of A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture, and she chose the latter.  She should also have been using our Bible Atlas, but in the little she looked at maps she relied more on the maps in the study guide.


Experimenting with a digital science notebook entry for a Physics lesson


In Mason's programmes, this category I think would be called Sunday Reading.  We do have a period of Sunday reading, but that is for lighter devotional books.  I decided to borrow some time from Bible to build a more robust faith component during the week.  What it came down to was that I wanted Emma to write narrations about her faith readings, but I was not comfortable assigning written narrations on Sunday.  Also, I wasn't sure that our Sundays would be stable enough because of other family commitments to allow for regular and systematic reading of more challenging texts.


English Language

This, along with Citizenship, are categories I used rather liberally, including some things which perhaps were a bit of a stretch for the definition of the category.


Science Notebook entry


Frankly, I floundered in this area this year.  Emma writes extremely well, and seldom has mechanical errors to correct.  I sometimes had her expand a piece of writing or improve the structure of a written narration, but really, it was hard to know what to do in this area.  We also sometimes used this slot for dictation, but again that was generally done so well it seemed rather pointless, like we were going through the motions just because we were supposed to.


This is an area where we didn't make as much progress in our readings as I had hoped, which was entirely my fault.  Last year we were reading through Dante's Divine Comedy, discussing two cantos at a time and watching the Great Courses lectures when appropriate.  If we had continued doing this as regularly this school year, we would have finished Paradiso in the first term, moved onto The Epic of Gilgamesh, then read Paradise Lost.  In the end we *ahem* are still around eight cantos from the end of Paradiso.  Again, all my fault for not making the time for the discussions and lectures on a consistent basis or being willing to step aside to let her move forward without me.


History (American, European and Ancient)

European history got off to a rough start because I ended up really disliking the spine I had chosen.  Europe: A History is an example of what can go wrong in a modern history text, where they focus too much on the individual's foibles and sins and not enough on his accomplishments.  And then there were all these strange full page sidebars that gave lists of famous figures with high intellects (including scores - how did they figure that out??), who was sexually deviant, and all sort of other speculative and useless trivia.

I switched to Dawn to Decadence about midway through the first term, and while we enjoyed the book, I forgot to adjust my page counts which caused some problems in the third term.  The other drawback to Dawn to Decadence is that it is much more of a cultural history than a history of events, although events are certainly mentioned.  All the discussion of ideas in the book led to many great conversations, though.

I was very pleased with the American History book, A History of the American People, although I scheduled it incorrectly and we finished what we were supposed to be reading at the end of Term 2.  Not sure what happened there...  but it gave me room to add in a book that just came out last fall which I think is excellent.  Continental Ambitions weaves together happenings in the Old World and the New in a very engaging and fascinating way, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.  It brought a whole new light to New World events, and I ended up assigning chapters about the Spanish and French efforts in the New World.  This made for some good conversation (and term exam questions!) where we were exploring the differences between the two countries' efforts.


Science Notebook entry


Again, I used this category rather broadly.



This area had a couple bad picks too - I had planned to use Kipling's From Sea to Sea, but we found it boring and not all that useful as a geography read.  We also started Chevalier de La Salle, but the anti-Catholic bias was annoying, and the target audience was younger than what was appropriate for my daughter.


Science notebook entry and experiment record

Natural History

This area went well.  I used Nicole William's guides for Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy and was pleased with them.  I thought the Astronomy one was perhaps a little young for her, but workable.  I also had a Biology track, as Williams recommends, and she spent two terms studying Botany and one term on Intelligent Design, taking a class offered in the evening once a week our community.  I had her use the time slot during the day to write a detailed narration.

In Botany in a Day, I had her read through and narrate the first section, then do a detailed science journal entry on each of the major families.  Each week in the third term, I had her find a local wildflower and create a science journal entry where she described the family the flower belongs to and show the features of the flower that helped her to identify the family.


Nature notebook entry


This year Emma finished Life of Fred Algebra and started Algebra 2.  I had some angst about using a book that is not widely used in the CM community, but in the end we decided that it is working well for her and we wouldn't change simply for the sake of conformity.  I did change the Algebra 2 to 4x/week and add a one day a week geometry lesson to her schedule.  I like the idea of the multi-stream approach to math, and this has been a reasonable way for us to incorporate it.  The book I'm using is too easy though, although there are concepts in there that she has not encountered yet.


Modern Language (Spanish)

This is another area that could use some work.  This is complicated by the fact that she's surpassed me in Spanish, which makes it difficult for me to figure out a course of work or to correct what she's writing.  Celeste suggested contracting with a translator through a translation service to do corrections which I think is absolutely brilliant, but I haven't done the work to set it up.

At this point her Spanish consists of reading through a Spanish grammar and writing narrations (in English), reviewing conjugations and grammar concepts, and copying short stories and poems from a Spanish reader and either translating or writing narrations.  I can handle correcting translations, but the written narrations are a lot trickier!


Botany in a Day entry where she used a local plant and identified it using the family information in the book.


This is another subject where she has surpassed me.  Ideally I'd like to find an online class that only requires one - two hours of class/work a week, but they all seem to require quite a bit more than that.  In the meantime, she continues to do the exercises in Henle and I have to hope she doesn't have any questions, because I can't answer them!


Music Appreciation

We used Robert Greenberg's fantastic Great Courses lecture series called How to Listen to and Understand Great Music.  We didn't make as much progress in this as I would have liked, again because I wasn't making the time to always listen with her.  But since I have listened to this course before, I eventually gave up and let her listen without me.


Afternoon Work


Emma has been doing some piano study with Pianophonics.  I am glad she's getting the opportunity to gain some familiarity with the piano, but I also realize that she can only go so far with a resource like this.  But since familiarity is a reasonable goal for her and for our family, this fits nicely.


Science Notebook entry from Botany in a Day


We haven't done much formal work here this year.  But she does sketch on her own (on paper and on the iPad), and her nature and science journal sketches are getting consistently better.


Emma didn't have any particular instruction in handicrafts this year, but she has continued to knit, crochet, and has also started working on calligraphy using instructions from The Postman's Knock. She's also been exploring mapmaking, at first to get a better idea of the geography of the country she was writing about, and then in a more general way as she grew more interested in the subject.


Current Events

Hmm.  Yes.  This area needs work.  Current events are mainly in the context of things my husband or I bring up over the breakfast or dinner table - and since neither one of us are news hounds, that doesn't happen daily.  


Emma spent a huge amount of time and effort working on a novel this school year.  She started it in April of 2016 and finished it about a year later.  She's now in the editing process with the book and is brainstorming and writing scenes for a second novel.  I'm obviously biased, but I think it is an excellent effort and I'm proud of what she's written and also proud of her diligence and perseverance in the project, particularly when she realized in the fall that she needed to re-write significant portions of the book.


Favorite Reads

I keep a record of all of Emma's reading, and I asked her to look through the list and select some favorites.  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.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers
  • Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  • Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery
  • Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Younge
  • Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card
  • The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  • Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton
  • The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Some links are Amazon Affiliate links which benefit Charlotte Mason West

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Y5 Year in Review (2016-2017 School Year)

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 (Y3 reviewY4 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.

Describing the boat he recently made

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!)


Gregory continued to work on copywork in print and cursive.  I largely pulled from poetry and psalms for the first two terms of the year, but in the third term I realized he needed more practice with punctuation.  I started assigning passages from Kim, particularly ones with a lot of dialogue, to help with this.

Dictation Lesson


Spelling is an area where Gregory struggles.  Dictation has worked well for him, but it is a slow process.  I've been using the Simply Charlotte Mason's Spelling Wisdom, which as worked well for us and is very easy to use.

In practicing the words, for most of the year I had him build the words using a movable alphabet.  This worked extremely well in getting him to slow down and to think about the sequence of the letters in the word he was studying.  Towards the end of the year we were able to graduate to having him write the words on a small whiteboard, as he had improved so much in his sequencing that the movable alphabet was starting to feel like an impediment rather than a helpful tool.

Spelling Wisdom, Book 1
Moveable Alphabet
Small Whiteboard and markers


I've continued to use Winston Grammar with Gregory, and it has been a useful and successful program for him.  This is the only grammar program that I've actually been able to implement in our homeschool, and this is my second time through it.  I appreciate how it has lots of practice sentences for the student, and builds the concepts gradually through the lessons.  When I use it with him, I usually have him build the sentences and not mark up the sentences in the workbook.  Then we go through each word and phrase.  I would also sometimes have him copy a sentence and mark the it up using the directions in the program. At this point he's only about three lessons from the end of the first level.



Thankfully Gregory is at the point where he's reading all his assignments to himself, except for Shakespeare, Plutarch and Bible.

Age of Fable (not a favorite, and did not lead to good narrations or retention - I'm not that impressed with it either even though it is a classic...  but I'm not sure what I would replace it with)
King Arthur by Howard Pyle

Mapwork and narration, using a battlefield map

American History

Each history block also included narration and mapwork as appropriate.  I also had him look up the various battles as he read about them if he had additional time, sometimes tracing or drawing battle maps for particularly important battles.

In the first term I used America Grows Up and while I liked the quality of the writing and how the author encouraged the reader to consider some of the ideas behind the events of American History, I felt like it was really short on details.  As were were going into the second term and starting our study of the Civil War, I looked ahead in the book and found that the book covers the Civil War in 22 pages, 4 of them full page illustrations.  There's almost no details about battles of the Civil War, and little about the figures of the Civil War except Lincoln.  I thought the discussion of the ideas surrounding and influencing the Civil War was good, but I was puzzled in how to actually use the book since there were so few pages.  Did it really make sense to assign a page or two page each week?  And what else would I assign during his American history work period?

Even though the book is highly regarded in some circles, in the end I decided to put it aside and return to This Country of Ours, which we had been reading the previous two years.

America Grows Up (which I bought last June for under $10 - can't believe how much it costs now!!)
This Country of Ours
Of Courage Undaunted
Uncle Tom's Cabin for Young People
Civil War Battlefields
Lots of Historical Free Reads (see list at the end for favorites)

British History

The number of chapters in Our Island Story was a little light (15 chapters) for this time period, so I spread them out through the year and alternated with readings from three historical books and one book of historical fiction.  This worked reasonably well, and I think we liked alternating better than trying to do a little of each in the time slot.  These readings were all narrated orally and mapwork was done when appropriate.


Ancient History

This was an area of history that Gregory hasn't studied at all, but enjoyed quite a bit.  Each weekly reading was joined with mapwork, oral narration, and often a drawn narration as well.  Rather than having Gregory draw the maps freehand, I had him trace the maps using a light box then label them using a reference.  It was an excellent compromise between just labeling a printed map and having to do it all from scratch.  He was much happier with the results and much more confident in his mapmaking.


Making a topographic map of an island he created out of clay


This was scheduled twice a week, and in one session Gregory read from Halliburton's Book of Marvels and in the other we did hands-on geography activities.  In our hands on session, we explored local maps, political maps, terrain maps, and the globe through discussion and exercises.

Halliburton's Book of Marvels, The Occident
Illustrated Atlas for Young America
Various maps and a globe

Exploring with Snap Circuits

Natural History

Gregory had three natural history slots in his schedule, and each slot had a different focus.  In one he read Great Inventors and Their Inventions, narrating and drawing something from what he read.  In the third term I also had him start writing some narrations from this book as well.  This was one of his favorite books this year.

In the second slot, he read through the Christian Liberty Reader, Book 5, about the human body.  This book was not a favorite for either of us, but we made it through.  He also narrated this, both orally and in diagrams or sketches.

The third slot changed each term.  In the first Gregory read Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth and did most of the suggested experiments in the book.  This was another favorite of his.  In the second we sort of used Nicole William's Astronomy guide, but between me being in my first trimester of this pregnancy and an incredibly stormy winter, we didn't really do a very good job of it.  In the third term Gregory studied electricty, which was also a favorite.  He read from the Junior Science book of Electricity, did experiments from that book, built with Snap Circuits, drew diagrams and had a grand time.

Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth
Find the Constellations
Astronomy Study Guide
Junior Science Book of Electricity
Snap Circuits


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.  Gregory was going through the mechanics of what MEP was asking of him, but I could tell he didn't fully understand what he was doing.  He also seemed to be lacking in some foundational understanding of numeracy, and this was hindering him as he grappled with multi-digit multiplication and long division.

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 something happened in Gregory's math understanding and he leaped ahead of his brother.  I shuffled the schedule and figured out how to make the time to teach them separately.  I was so thrilled to see this happen, it is one of the biggest successes of this school year.

In the second term I started to use a geometry book one day a week, which was a nice addition to his math studies.  I really like the multi-stream approach to math.

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 2
Logic Links
Practical Exercises in Geometry

Installing the new wheels for the garden cart


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

The Tables Turned by William Wordsworth
O Captain, My Captain! by Walt Whitman
Psalm 67
Psalm 33
Psalm 19
Gettysburg Address
Taming of the Shrew, Act 2, Scene 1 (about half of the scene)
John 15:1-11
John 10:1-16


I had used Latin for Children Primer A last year, and wasn't all that happy with it.  I wrestled with what to do quite a bit last summer, and decided I would go ahead and teach from what I know well, which is Henle.  This worked reasonably well, as we took it slow and plodded along, making progress.  However, Latin became Gregory's most dreaded subject in the process, which started to impede his learning.  In term 3 I decided that we needed to mix things up a bit and grabbed Minimus off the shelf.  This was a very welcome change, and while I didn't completely cast Henle aside, using the combination of the two books worked well and became much more effective and enjoyable (although more teacher intensive!).

Henle, Book 1

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 François, 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 François, 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.

A goat he whittled for his aunt's birthday


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.

Gregory has really taken off with whittling, and one of his favorite pastimes is tinkering down in the shed with this idea or that.  He's retrofited a garden cart with wooden wheels, built several catapults, a wagon or two, and innumerable muskets and rifles.  We have also done some sewing together here and there, and Gregory tackled the lap loom to make some Christmas gifts as well.

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.

Amazing what he can make out of stuff that is laying around...  this is his wheelbarrow

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.  As I'm doing this review, I print out the list and have the child mark their favorites.  I ask them to be discriminating and to not choose too many... but as you can see from this list, there were a lot of favorites!

Gregory has a particular fondness for historical books, but reads quite a lot of fiction as well.

  • White Fang
  • Little House Series
  • Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone
  • Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, Return of the King
  • A Nose for Trouble (his favorite Kjelgaard book)
  • Clipper Ship Days
  • The Battle of Lake Erie
  • The Swamp Fox of the Revolution (he's read this a number of times)
  • Daniel Boone by John Mason
  • The Story of Andrew Jackson
  • Captain Cook Explores the South Seas
  • The Golden Goblet
  • Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo
  • Tarzan of the Apes
  • Casting the Gods Adrift
  • Of Courage Undaunted
  • Raccoons are the Brightest People
  • Riders of the Pony Express
  • Harry Potter series (books 1-6)
  • John Paul Jones, Soldier of the Sea (I'm not sure I can count how many times he's read this book)
  • The Cave by the Beech Ford
  • St. Philip of the Joyous Heart
  • The Story of King Arthur
  • Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth
  • They Flew to Glory
  • Invincible Louisa
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • Florence Nightingale's Nuns
  • Rifles for Watie
  • Across Five Aprils
  • The Story of D-Day
  • Lee and Grant at Appomattox
  • Saint John Bosco
  • Bull Run
  • Stonewall Jackson
  • Clara Barton
  • Into the Ice
  • Hero of Trafalgar: The Story of Lord Nelson
  • Wyatt Earp: U.S. Marshal
  • Chaplain in Gray: Father Abram Ryan
  • Stormy
  • The Black Pearl
  • The 290
  • St. Louis and the Last Crusade
  • Girl of the Shining Mountains
  • Geronimo: Wolf of the Warpath
  • Sailing on the Ice
  • Messenger from K'Itai
  • Rascal
  • The Story of Thomas Edison
  • Roald Amundsen
  • Leonardo Da Vinci (which he read in Y3, but picked up again this year)
  • Simon Bruté and the Western Adventure
  • Great Inventors and Their Inventions
  • The Book of the Ancient World
  • Commander of the Flying Tigers
  • Kim
(Phew, I can't believe I just typed all that - and no, this wasn't every book he read this year!)

Some links are Amazon Affiliate links which benefit Charlotte Mason West