Although we homeschool year-round, each August we officially start our new school year. It is a fun and exciting time when we dive into our new school supplies and books. This post will detail our curriculum and resources for the 2016-17 school year.
Building Good CharacterOne of the most important aspects of our homeschool curriculum is the focus on building good character. I believe that teaching my children to be honest, responsible, kind people is more important than the acquisition of academic knowledge, so I focus quite a bit of my efforts on character development. My recent post about Core Phase delves deep into this subject and gives lots of examples of how I work to develop good character in my children, so check out that post for more information about how I purposely work on character in our homeschool.
Individual InterestsAn important part of encouraging my children to love learning is in allowing them to pursue their own interests. This is one of the biggest advantages of homeschooling: that my children have as much time as desired to follow their passions. I'm supporting my children's current interests as follows:
9-year-old daughter Alina
Alina is now several years into having her own chicken egg business. As she is getting older, she is getting to take part in more aspects of the business, such as planning the long-term goals for her flock, making decisions about managing the health of the flock, and learning about profit margins (or, in this case, learning about how far we are from actually turning a profit). Having her own business has taught her much about raising and caring for animals, handling and saving money, the value of hard work, and long-term commitments.
Alina has also been highly interested in horses for the last couple years. I support her interest in horses by taking trips to see horses nearby, by paying a portion of the fee for monthly horseback riding lessons (she pays part of the fee with her egg earnings), and by helping her find books, videos, and documentaries about horses.
6-year-old son Ian
Ian is very interested in cars and machines. I am supporting him in this interest by taking him to job sites to observe machines in-action, taking the time to look at classic cars and machines we see around town, and allowing him to explore the innards of old broken machines and gadgets. I help him find books, videos, and documentaries about machines and cars, and I am also supporting his interest by helping him learn how to use different machines in our home. He is immeasurably excited when he gets to use the steam-mop, Cuisinart food processor, and shop-vac.
One curriculum resource that supports Ian's interest in machines is Snap Circuits Jr. Electronics Discovery Kit. Both of my kids love doing the experiments in this kit, and Ian especially loves learning more about how electricity works.
Academic SubjectsI do not push my children academically, but nonetheless I do give them exposure to plenty of academic subjects and pursuits.
I help set the stage for reading proficiency by reading aloud often. We read chapter books and picture books with beautiful language, engaging storylines, and memorable characters. Through reading aloud, I am able to show my children just what a wonderful world is hiding between the pages of books. My children participate in a Read-Aloud Classic Book Club, wherein the children discuss books with their friends once a month. I also make a point of reading on my own frequently; children naturally emulate their parents, so it is important for them to see me engaging in reading and discussing books as part of my own lifelong education.
My 9-year-old daughter is an advanced reader who reads voraciously, so I no longer do anything in particular to help her with reading. She does periodically ask to do a "reading lesson" wherein she reads aloud from a McGuffey Reader.
My 6-year-old son is in the early stages of learning to read. Besides finding opportunities to practice reading in our everyday lives, he also asks to do reading lessons using either Storybook Treasury of Dick and Jane or McGuffey Readers.
We don't use a formal writing curriculum. Instead, I encourage my children to write in the following ways:
- I make sure that my children see me writing in my own notebooks on a regular basis. This makes a huge difference in the amount of writing that they choose to do themselves.
- Since their writing skills lag behind their composition skills, whenever they ask I will write or type poems, stories, or songs for my children.
- When we do Nature Study, my children have the option to write in their Nature Notebooks.
- My children have Pen Pals in Nevada and Canada. My children love receiving letters in the mail, so this has been the biggest motivator for them in practicing their writing frequently. Most often, I will type the letters for them in an appropriately-sized printing font and then print out the letters for my children to trace.
- After seeing me write in my commonplace place book over the last several years, my daughter decided to start her own commonplace book. She uses this book as a place to copy down her favorite poems.
- My children each have their own calendar, which they use to keep track of upcoming events of their choosing.
I am not using a traditional math curriculum for my children. Rather, they are learning math in the context of everyday life, through games, and through math read-alouds. For more details of how I teach math without a formal curriculum, check out this blog post.
In addition to the resources mentioned in that previous blog post, this year we are also using the following new math resources:
- Math and Magic in Wonderland - This delightful book tells the story of two sisters and their magical adventures with math. We've only begun this book recently, and both of my kids were clamoring for more. I love that the language in this book is beautiful, that the storyline is interesting, and that the math problems are designed to elicit curiosity instead of boredom. The math problems thus far have been too advanced for my 6-year-old son to participate much, but my 9-year-old daughter enjoys them.
- Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out - Last year, Bedtime Math replaced Life of Fred as my children's most-requested math read-aloud. Each page includes a short blurb about a random topic, and then there are a few related math problems of varying difficulty-level. After we work through the problems, my kids and I like to watch a few short videos on youtube about the random topic from the book. For instance, last year we watched videos about subjects such as pole vaulting, lego designers, and short-order cooks as supplements to Bedtime Math. We finished the first Bedtime Math, so we will be working our way through the second book in the series this year.
- Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter and Sir Cumference and the Viking's Map are our new Sir Cumference books for this year. These engaging picture books cleverly wind mathematical concepts into the stories. Whenever we read Sir Cimference books, we usually end up spending another 30-60 minutes exploring the concepts from the book. For instance, last year we made paper models of the different geometric shapes used in Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, and we learned how to create paper cones to simulate the cones from Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone.
- 5 Games for Building Logic - This PDF from Math Inspirations details 5 new games that we will be incorporating into our math studies this year. I love that the PDF includes variations for younger players and an emphasis on discovery rather than repetitious arithmetic. The games in this PDF will make use of other math resources we already have, such as Cuisenaire Rods and Uno.
What began as a small idea to take a virtual world trip during the summer has turned into a semester-long project that my children are loving. Each week, we visit a new country through books, art, music, coloring pages, and recipes. So far, we've visited Africa, Europe, and South America. We still have North America, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East to go. Our world trip will last through the rest of the Fall semester.
The following resources are aiding in our exploration of world cultures:
- Hungry Planet: What the World Eats - This large book, filled with full-color photographs, shows what people around the world eat. While it focuses specifically on each family's weekly groceries, it also includes family recipes and a glimpse into the culture in each country.
- Material World: A Global Family Portrait - Like Hungry Planet, this is a large book filled with full-color photographs. Instead of focusing on food, though, this book highlights the possessions and living conditions of people around the world.
- Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time - This book contains a wealth of information about books that give kids global perspective. It includes over 600 children's book recommendations, categorized by different continents or areas of the world.
- Passport on a Plate: A Round-the-World Cookbook for Children - This book contains recipes for many of the countries we are visiting on world tour, including the Caribbean, Mexico, Germany, and the Middle East. The recipes in this book rely on simple ingredients and are a good starting place for our culinary adventures.
- Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World - This large compilation of folktales has an emphasis on strong female characters. I select a few from each region to read aloud, and my daughter has enjoyed reading more on her own.
- Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys - The folktales in this book focus on boys and men whose heroism comes from more than just brute force. Both of my children are enjoying these folktales.
- Rand McNally World Wall Map - This beautiful map adorns one of our living room walls and allows us to easily see where we are traveling on our virtual world trip.
When we finish our world trip, we'll be ready to dive back into our history curriculum. I am using a 4-year cycle for History and Science which originated in The Well-Trained Mind. (I don't recommend following the overall schooling methodology laid out in The Well-Trained Mind as that is what led us to have total school burnout, but I do still like to use some of the ideas from that book.)
The cycle starts with 1st-4th grade, and then gets repeated again from 5th-8th grade and again in 9th-12th grade, with more detail and rigor each time. This school year will be my daughter's second time studying Ancient History, and will be the first time for my son. We will be using the following history resources:
- Story of the World Volume 1: Ancient Times - We are using this book as our history "spine". The audio version of this book offers a great option for turning driving time into learning time. Because we have used this book once before (4 years ago), I know that I prefer to follow a different order for the chapters in the book. Instead of following chronological order as in the book, I prefer to focus on each ancient culture individually. (I'd be happy to share the order of SOTW chapters that I use if anyone is interested.)
- All Through The Ages: History Through Literature Guide - This excellent book is a great resource for me in finding picture and chapter books to supplement Story of the World. Whenever either of my children seems particularly engaged in a topic from SOTW, I use All Through the Ages to find more books on the subject at our local library.
Our science studies for the coming year will be centered around Animal Science, Human Biology, and Nature Study. We'll be using the following science resources:
- Animal Science
- The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth - This book is a feast for the eyes that includes full-color photographs of all sorts of insects and animals. We will use this as a "spine" that can lead to further explorations about specific creatures that pique my children's interest.
- The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia - This intermediate-level book has a detailed section about the animal kingdom that will allow my 9-year-old daughter to go deeper into learning about animal science.
- 7 Specimen Dissection Kit - This kit includes 7 animals and tools for dissecting. The animals are frog, perch, crayfish, grasshopper, earthworm, clam, and starfish. We will be dissecting one animal each month.
- Human Biology
- First Human Body Encyclopedia - This engaging book is loaded with pictures and interesting facts about the human body. It is a great book for helping young children become acquainted with the human body's marvels.
- The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia - This intermediate-level book includes a large section on the human body that will allow my 9-year-old to dig deeper into learning about human biology.
- Ultimate Visual Dictionary - My daughter loves poring over this book which shows detailed pictures of pretty much anything I can think of. The human body section is fabulous.
- Amazing X-Rays: The Human Body -This cool book is fun to look at with the kids and gets them excited to learn about the human body. It includes 16 X-rays which can be looked at with the built-in light box, as well as a small book that includes other information about the human body.
- Nature Study
- There is a detailed post about how we use Nature Study here. It can be as simple as collecting and studying Fall leaves, working on our family garden, or paying close attention to the changes in our yard throughout the seasons. We also take nature walks and hikes, looking at the flora and fauna in our own yard and desert landscape. The following resources aid us in Nature Study:
- Each of us has a Nature Notebook, where we can write about our observations or draw pictures of creatures and plants we encounter.
- We make frequent use of our National Audubon Society Field Guide and Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America in our Nature Study.
- Project Feederwatch is a very enjoyable way to integrate math and science into our home school. To participate, we observe the species and numbers of birds in our backyard about once or twice a month. In addition to reporting the number of birds we see, we are also required to report the weather conditions (low/high temperatures, precipitation, etc). Both kids love participating in this program.
Both of my children have expressed an interest in learning Spanish, which is spoken by many in this part of the country. Rather than using book-based Spanish resources (which have not worked well for us in the past), we are using Pimsleur Spanish CD's.
These CD's focus on teaching Spanish in the same natural way that people learn their first language while they are babies, which is through just listening and speaking. There is no book to accompany the CDs; rather, we just practice speaking Spanish along with the CD. Most often, we listen to the Spanish CD's while we do our morning routine (getting dressed, doing chores, etc.).
Although we don't use specific curricula for many subjects in our homeschool, my children do enjoy having some workbooks to use at their leisure. These are the workbooks they are using for this year:
Workbooks for 9-year-old daughter
- Dry Erase Cursive Letters
- Primary Mathematics Textbook 3A
- Ponies and Horses Sticker Activity Book
- The Greatest Dot to Dot Book in the World
- Big Book of Horses to Color
- The Marvelous Book of Magical Horses
Workbooks for 5-year-old son
- Grand Canyon Plants and Animals Coloring Book
- Learn to Draw Pets and Forest Animals
- Luxury Cars Coloring Book
- The Greatest Dot to Dot Book in the World
Beauty and CreativityI think it is important to focus on beauty and creativity in our home school, so I make time weekly for the following activities.
Once a week, my children and I have Circle Time, where we sing, dance, and read poetry together. Our poetry book is Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls (which is a great compilation of poems about a wide variety of topics including childhood, the seasons, and family). You can read more about our Circle Time here.
Arts and Crafts
I try to make sure that at least once a week my kids have the opportunity to do arts and crafts. Examples include freeform painting, simple sewing projects, and holiday decorations.
Besides the usual construction paper and markers, our arts and crafts supplies for this year include:
- Pelikan Watercolors - These are really vibrant compared to the Crayola watercolors we've used in the past.
- Draw Write Now Book 4: The Polar Regions, Arctic, Antarctic - Both of my kids love the Draw Write Now books and use them to self-teach drawing.
- Sculpey Modeling Clay - My kids love making their own figurines and toys with Sculpey modeling clay.
- Low-temperature hot glue gun - My children use the low-temp hot glue gun for making crafts.
- Crayola Model Magic - This is a great addition to our craft supplies because it requires no heat and is very easy to use. My children make a wide variety of crafts using Model Magic.
For over a year, we've been enjoying an ever-changing art display of 6 pictures in our living room for Art Appreciation. Once a week, I change out one picture, and the children and I study it together, telling about what we see in the picture. Over time, we study the works of different artists and cultures. The kids love this, and I love being able to enjoy so many different styles of art in our living room.
In conjunction with Art Appreciation, my children and I are learning about the lives and music of great classical composers. We are working through the Music Masters CD's, which tell the story of each composer as well as demonstrate some of their music. This is a great way for us to make use of driving time, and we are all gaining a great appreciation for classical music.
Play time is hugely important in brain development. Though we do school work throughout the week, I make sure that there is plenty of time for my children to just play every day. Through their play time, they are able to engage their curiosity, develop their creativity, and learn much about how to interact with each other and their environment.