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


  1. Such a helpful post full of details and several resources I haven't heard of before! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this all up, Amber.

    1. Thanks, Mystie!

      I've found these posts to be a vital part of my homeschool year post-processing and auditing. And I'm glad I was able to point out a few resources you hadn't heard of before. I hope your son enjoys How to Listen to and Understand Great Music - Emma asked if she could listen to it over the summer too, which I think means it is a winner. :-)

  2. Thank you for this post! We are starting 10th grade and definitely could use some of these resources. I am going to add the Spanish reader to our Rosette Stone study and the music course will be helpful for our fine arts credit!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you were able to find some things that might be helpful for your family.

  3. Amber, How do you use the Catechism in a CM way? I'm sitting here trying to put together something for my 16 year old and it all seems nonliving. I can't seem to figure out what we should be doing to teach the faith to our teens in a Charlotte Mason way. I will most likely do this has a family on Sunday (I also have a 13 year old). They are reading from the Bible and a saint bio during the Bible time slot during morning lessons. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Cassie, Sorry, I've been out of town so I wasn't able to get back to you very quickly.

      We've found the Catechism very readable in small chunks. My daughter would read a small section (maybe 4-10 numbered paragraphs, which is about 2-3 pages or a couple sub-sections) and then she would write a short written narration. She's found it interesting, useful, and engaging, as well as something that has helped with her overall spiritual formation.

      For the upcoming year, we decided that we'd like to up her Bible study time so that she can start reading through the letters with a commentary. So she'll have Bible 5x/week, then we are adding 20 min to her schedule 4 days a week so that she can consistently and more seriously engage in books having to do with the faith. They could very well be Sunday reading, but we both feel like they will get read more consistently and with written narrations if they are done during the week. In those extra 4 20 min sessions, she'll read Catechism, Summa of the Summa, a writing by a saint, and some sort of Church document - generally a encyclical, one on each day. All 4 will have written narrations.