Wednesday, October 23, 2013

School Tweaking!

I like to start each school year the first week of August and most of our school year has nice breaks dispersed throughout it. But the longest span of school for us is from the start of school until Thanksgiving. Now, last year, I made it until the end of October/beginning of November before I began to count down to a break. Not bad really. This year I only made it until mid September. I knew then I was in trouble and needed to rethink my school plans. 

This is my 3rd or 4th year homeschooling depending on how you look at it. But, since I generally keep Kindergarden very casual, this is my first year teaching two more serious grades at one time: Cecilia being in 3rd grade and Felicity being in 1st. When I asked around to veteran homeschooling moms how they handled more than one grade at a time, I got great advice about staggering what you need to do one on one and what you can do as a group. I also was advised to do as many subjects as possible with both kids at the same time. 

Now Art and Music I had planned to do together and, for the most part, those have gone well. I'm still unsure if I'm trying to do too much in music and I think our art program is big, well, messy for my taste, but overall those subjects have been fine. I was, however, advised to do science, religion and history as a group. And I oh so bravely balked at such a suggestion. Cecilia has had two more years than Felicity in all three of those subjects. How on earth would I do them together? I simply couldn't see how it could work and I figured, hey, I'm experienced at this, so I can handle it. 

It is funny how the impossible becomes possible when you need it to. By mid September I was reaching back out to other homeschooling moms asking, "Just how do you do that now?" I spent four weeks reading, researching and rethinking my approach. I didn't want to throw everything we were doing out. But I also knew I had to find a better way. At the end of those four weeks, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to do and how, but I wanted the girls to agree so we could transition as easily as possible. After all, we were a quarter of the way through out school year and they had gotten used to do it a certain way, albeit an exhausting way. 

At first the girls refused any changes. They each wanted to keep the books they had. To drop any book was to somehow favor one girl over another. But every time they complained about school, I would say, "Well, I wanted to make school shorter and easier, but you won't let me." The following week they both wanted a shorter school week. The more exhaustive way we were doing things was not lost on them either and through the whining and the tears, they both conceded. 


For History we are simply going to continue with Cecilia's history book, The Story of the World, volume 3. Yes this does mean that, after 10 weeks on the ancient world, Felicity is leaping into the 17th century but, provided there are coloring pages, she doesn't seem to mind. We will finish the Story of the World series next year with volume 4 and then start over with volume 1 by the time Felicity is in 3rd grade. She will still get all four volumes though she is not starting at the beginning. I will cycle through the series as the girls work through their grades so everyone gets every volume and I will supplement picture and chapter books as appropriate for each girl's level. So the Story of the World will function as a spine for the course and the supplemental books fill in the details, the characters, the dynamic of history, etc.

Unfortunately a lot of the chapters we have left before Christmas are very disjointed bouncing all over the place from India to China to Europe. But Cecilia loves Science and there is a chapter on Galileo and Newton, so I've reserved about a dozen books at the library on Galileo, Newton and the ancient Greek astronomers. After the Christmas break we will really dive into the Revolutionary War, which I'm really looking forward to. 

For Science, I'd become very frustrated with Cecilia's Science book. I loved Seton's 1st grade Science book and it worked fine for 2nd grade but the 3rd grade one irks me to no end. It is dry, dull and wants to do experiments for every chapter even if the best experiment they can come up with is filling different sized pitchers of water to represent how much of the earth's water is fresh vs. salt water. I don't have everything for some of the experiments and Felicity would get upset that Cecilia's book had experiments and hers didn't. Frankly, it was a mess. So I've pulled both Science books and divided the year into sections. I'm devoting 2 weeks to getting both girls started making nature journals. I've always wanted to do it and never have. Then we will devote 5 weeks to learning about space. I've bought a DK book on Space and a Magic Schoolbus book on space and we will go loony with the library once we get there. I want us to make a model of the solar system and use my dad's telescope. (Last winter the girls were able to see Jupiter!) I want to watch videos of the landing on the moon and learn about the craters on its surface. It would also be great if we could get to a museum either with exhibits on space travel or a planetarium. 

Sections I've planned for the rest of the year after Christmas include the Planet Earth (Magic School Bus: Inside the Earth, The Librarian Who Measured the Earth, Planet Earth, and other library books about the structure of the earth, the different environments on the earth, etc. We own the Planet Earth series I'm hoping we can watch as well), Microbes (books include What Makes You Ill?, Pasteur's Fight Against Microbes, other books I can get at the library and our first experiences using a microscope), Animals (books including Usborne World of Animals, Night Animals and library books and a trip to the zoo and possibly the aquarium; I'm also hoping to get a bird feeder up during the winter so we can start a more proper bird watching study), Plants (DK Eye Wonder: Plants, growing our own plants, and perhaps a trip to garden; proper tree, flower and plant IDs) and Insects (DK Eye Wonder: Bugs, insect IDs from outside (we did quite a bit of this last summer), raising ladybugs and butterflies).

I think this will make our science year a lot more fun and a lot easier at the same time while going over a nice variety of science subjects. 

Finally Religion. I've been using Ignatius' Faith and Life Series, which I do like. There is repetition year after year as the series begins pretty basic and adds each year. So I'm going to be using the 3rd grade volume, similar to History, as a spine and reading Scripture as it pertains to the chapter. I am also going to introduce them to the Catechism as a reference source. We've had books about the Saints and we learn about them on their feasts throughout the year or for AHG badges or through picture books, but I want to add read aloud chapter books that we can discuss together and delve a bit deeper into some saints. 

It might sounds like a lot but it is less than I was doing when you consider I was doing 2 Religion lessons, 2 Science lessons and 2 History lessons every. single. week. Cutting that in half means more time and more energy. Another advantage I am finding to this approach that I hadn't even anticipated is that it lends itself to more discussion. It is like switching from 6 classes of lectures to 3 seminars. 

I am still mulling over the idea of combining spelling, vocabulary, poetry and handwriting but I haven't done it yet. I like the idea of it, but the fact is that both girls still need basic practice with their handwriting from a text that shows them the correct way to write and spelling, vocabulary and handwriting are all subjects the girls do almost entirely on their own. I like the fact it gives them practice working on their own while they practice proper spelling and handwriting and Cecilia learns new words. However, since Cecilia began to get bored with her typing program (it worked very well, but she now knows where the keys are and how to hold her hands and just needs practice) I've had her start typing up her poems as practice. It keeps it different each week while giving her practice and it is something she is supposed to be learning anyway. 

I think that is all the adjustments I'm making for the moment. I want to see how things develop over the next few weeks. Maybe more improvements will be made later but I think things will fall into place much better now. 


  1. We're in our first year of homeschooling and I can tell you that the Seton books for science and history are some of the most painfully boring books I've ever encountered. I have to switch things up a bit with those subjects before my 7th grader decides that history and science are to be avoided at all costs.

  2. How you keep up with homeschooling two children, while caring for three others is beyond me. Good heavens! I think you are a magician! A very committed, diligent one!

  3. A comment about scheduling the school year . . . we are in our 16th year of homeschooling, now with just three teenagers left (grades 8,9,11). For years I struggled with our school calendar, always running behind, always trying to catch up, then always tossing the calendar in the trash by October. Around year 10 I finally hit on a schedule/calendar that works which is to plan a week-long break ("catch-up" week) after every six weeks of school. We have 32 weeks of school (I know Seton uses 36 which I found too much; I've followed MODG's 32-week calendar which is much more sensible to me) with 6 weeks of breaks, giving us a 38-week school calendar. Our school, lives and home run much more easily and happier now.

  4. Karen, I thought the grade 1 book was okay but the grade 3 book is just intolerable for me as well as her. Perhaps me even more than her. lol.
    Liz, thank you. Good to see you!
    Fiat, are those 4 day weeks or 5 day weeks? We aim for a 4 day week and, though we do begin in August, I schedule 40 weeks year round. I love the idea of catch up weeks though! How do you block off those weeks for catch-up without making the other 32 or 34 weeks overloaded? I'll definitely have to try to work that in next year!