Last year was a tough one, not only with homeschooling, but all around. It was definitely my most difficult year yet. Emotionally, I have been all over the place in reflecting on this year. What should I have done differently? What should we do differently? Did anything work? Why in the world am I even doing this? In the end, it came down to months of prayer, of discernment, and I found peace in choosing to homeschool once again (although, I must say the frustration has not ended in certain situations!).
Somehow, last year, I lost sight of why I homeschool. I tied ourselves down to the bare bone basics (because the extra stuff exhausted me), but with it, I threw out the very purpose of exploring and finding God through our daily life. So, new goals this year: God #1, more observation and exploring and hands-on, more creating, more reading, more talking, and more being in the moment for me with the kids.
Now, what exactly did we do last year?
Critter: age 5 (kindergarten)
The main goal for Critter was to learn how to read. It's still a goal we are working on. The boy is a natural at detail, handwriting, and math, but reading has not quite caught on.
For his faith formation, it was your every day, living the liturgical year kind of stuff: going to Mass, talking about God, prayer, feast day celebrations, etc.
For reading, we tried a handful of different things. He did Starfall.com, Hooked on Phonics, Little Stories for Little Folks (Catholic Heritage Curricula). Most of the year was constant review of letter recognition and sounds. Toward the end of the year, he enjoyed the little readers from CHC. We also created a "word ball" for him. Using a cheap beach ball, I would write new words he learned from the lesson on the ball, and every day we would play catch and read the word our thumbs fell on. He liked it.
For math, Critter had no issues. He flew through MCP Mathematics Level K, pretty much on his own. The workbook is fun to look at and mostly do. I had such success with my oldest with Math-U-See that I put Critter on Primer. It was fun at first, but I could see it quickly eating at his natural curiosity and fun with math. Since he did so much already for the year, I simply dropped math, and we spent the rest of the year doing every day math (i.e., calendar, grouping, counting, board games, etc.).
For handwriting, Critter continued with Handwriting Without Tears. My boys really love their workbooks. Critter enjoys the pictures. He flew through this so fast I also purchased CHC's Handwriting Series, Level K.
Skipper: age 7 (2nd grade)
Homeschooling Skipper was an off and on struggle this last year. I felt much conflict over whether I was doing something wrong, or not asking enough, and so on. Some other things cropped up that added to the mix, but overall, looking back, we did have some good moments, and he did learn. ...just maybe not in the way I wanted, and I still worry how to proceed with him.
For faith formation, the biggest focus was on preparation for his First Confession and First Holy Communion. He attended our parish's CCD class, and at home we created a First Holy Communion Notebook. All this I hope to share on the blog soon! And of course he lived the liturgical year right here at home and at church.
Math was an improvement over last year, yay! At his assessor's recommendation, we used Math-U-See, starting from the beginning and working our way through Primer, Alpha, and half-way through Beta. It was still a slow process, but I think he finally grasps what addition and subtraction really is. MUS is great for him because it is mastery based. You don't move on to a new topic until one is mastered (i.e., no mixing up of addition and subtraction for a long while). The book is also very simple and all black and white, which is perfect for him. He did not care too much for the manipulatives, but they did help him grasp place value. Unfortunately, he was burned out at the end of the year and rebelled against MUS. A break has not helped that attitude.
We continued with Handwriting Without Tears, Grade 2, and oh my goodness, the improvement over his first grade year! Yes, at the end, capitalizing and periods were still an annoying issue, but his spacing, neatness, etc. was so much better! HWT really works for him, and I truly believe it's the look and format of their books, along with short lessons. The double line works for him, though he still has trouble with letters that go outside those lines (like the letter "g" going below the line). By year's end, writing in a lined notebook was an actual possibility. Since he also ran out of a writing book, I purchased Catholic Heritage Handwriting Series: Level 2 for him to see how he did, and it was good!
For language, Skipper continued with Language of God, Level A (from CHC). Again, this is a gentle introduction to grammar from CHC. It was clear cut, full of our Catholic faith, and was easily doable in a school year at two lessons per week.
After our success with Apologia's Exploring Creation with Astronomy, we continued, per the kids' request, with Exploring Creation with Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. The book is easy to read and follow. I also create a notebook for the kids to do, which makes for a nice scrapbook of science for the year. I include narration bits, little lapbook type items, coloring pages, and space to record our hands-on activities and experiments. Maybe I can gather a little science highlights to share with you soon. Though I love this book and our format for doing science, my biggest complaint is that it is written from a creationist point of view. So God is in there (yes!) but so is "the earth is only 4,000 years old" (boo...). For the most part, it's easy to skip over these parts - in this book anyway.
This was our first official year including history in the curriculum, and we went back to the beginning - to creation and to the ancient peoples. All the kids were welcome to sit in and listen to books and to join in hands-on activities, but only Skipper was "required" to do all of it. :) Overall, we mostly read, and when able, I tacked on some hands-on activities.
I like the literature based approach to history, the "living history" so to speak so RC History worked for us. At the early elementary levels, it's overkill, but I can reuse the books with each level over time. RC History is first and foremost Catholic, it is literature based, chronological (meaning it takes you from the beginning of time to right now in a 4 year cycle), and is classically based. While I am not a pure classical homeschooler, I certainly lean that way when it comes to history.
For us, the ancient world was a bit dry. The boys loved the Epic of Gilgamesh (we read this children's version - it's a trilogy), and at the end of the year we took longer with the Greeks thanks to interest from all. In between, though, I think the kids could have taken it or left it. It might be fun to create a little History highlight post too.
- Teaching piano is much harder than playing it (kind of like math)!
- All the extras are the first to go when mom doesn't feel well, which makes for crabby kids, and a boring curriculum. What to do???
- Letting the kids choose a real sketchbook with real pens, was such an awesome idea this past spring. Miss Bear loves to scribble, and Miss Z soon followed (you can see her artwork on the paper, the floor, the walls, the furniture, on toys, and on her!!!), but Critter loves it, and even Skipper has confidence to try his hand at sketching. By the way, I led by example since I was the one who first had a sketchbook. They simply wanted to do it too. Some of our best quiet times lately have been while sketching together.
- Reinstating a weekly nature walk was a pretty good idea too. The more kids I have, it seems the more easily I forget about the little things with them. A nature walk helps bring all that slowing down, observing, and just wondering and talking back into our relationships. Sometimes we have notebooks to "record" what we see, sometimes it's a camera, and other times, just ourselves. Mostly we walk around the house, but my plan is to visit more nature parks in my area.
Well, that's about it for the year. Hopefully this new year of schooling goes well!
"If young people are educated properly, we have moral order; if not, vice and disorder prevail. Religion alone can initiate and achieve a true education." ~ St. John Bosco