Sunday, August 28, 2016

Back to School (2016 curriculum)

I love blogging about our homeschool curriculum choices. I wish I had written an update at the end of our school year about how it all went. It was fine...we didn't crash and burn overall.
We just completed our 9th year of homeschooling. I have to count...that can't be right! And now we start the 10th year. An entire decade spent homeschooling. Wowzers. When you take things one day at a time, it really adds up fast! I am so thankful that we have the opportunity and freedom to shape our children's education. I am more committed to our family's mission statement than ever before. My philosophy of education is continually being shaped and rebuilt. I know that homeschooling isn't for everyone, nor should it be. But I think that somewhere deep within this model of education lies the secret to the reform that the United States Department of Education needs to adopt for public schools. I hope they find it some day. In the meantime, we are still far from perfect here, but we arm ourselves with the resources that we have available and we strive always to move forward with clear goals.

I have a couple new goals for this coming school year. The first one is challenging enough, but the second one may just be completely out of reach for me. First, I have stumbled across Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go...," too many times recently for it to be ignored anymore. Years ago when Micah was still a toddler I read a book that unpacked this verse, and it left a deep impression on me. A better literal translation goes something akin to "train up a child according to his bent." The idea is that you train a child according to how he naturally learns and understands things. So we can study this verse and read books and sermons and be convinced that "bent" is a good way to translate the verse, but I need some real practical application. And just as each of my children is unique, the approach for each child will be unique. This doesn't break down nicely into four personality types or five love languages...although those things may be helpful. But that is goal number 1--begin to identify and understand each child's "bent," and capitalize their educational path based on what I discover.
My second goal is to upgrade my career and college counseling abilities. Micah has graduated and Eden is hot on his heels. Caleb will be only 2 years behind her. None of them know what they want to do with their lives--where they want to work, live, etc. They have dreams, sure, but no goals. I feel like I missed a huge important step in training them. It isn't for lack of trying--we have tried to instill a hard work ethic, present different opportunities to them, and give them a strong educational background to build on. And to some degree we have succeeded in those goals. But the future looms like a giant unknown and something is missing. Since we are homeschoolers, I think that we should have better opportunities to explore different careers and possibly even do some internships. I need to get on that. But it's a lofty goal and may be beyond my resources at this time.
I have some short-term goals too. We will start school's a little jump start in order to build in some extra days for us. I plan to do LOTS of training and shepherding. The kids cop attitudes and it's usually pretty rough. I need to tighten up on follow-through so that I'm not constantly repeating myself. Mitch will still be home for a couple days, so I hope to have some "back up." ;) My second goal is to try to get through as much of the kids' checklists as possible, seeing how it will all fit together in the day. After we try and fail a few times, I hope to be able to come up with a routine or pattern that will work best for us (a schedule unfortunately does not work well for me but instead feeds negative anxiety or perfectionism). Since we have a lot of things to squeeze into the day, and I have a lot of children that need direct (one-on-one, one-on-two) instruction, I expect that I will be giving my full attention to school all day long. So another short-term goal for me is to quickly find a time in the middle of the day where I can escape for even 15 minutes for some quiet time.
Alrighty, so here's the run-down!
Eden, 12th grade
Eden is starting her 3rd semester of PSEO classes. She has 31 credits under her belt in the "general ed" requirements category. She is on track to receive an Associate of Arts degree by the end of the school year. She is currently taking her 3rd semester of Spanish. She said she was surprised at how much Spanish she was able to understand when she was in Nicaragua this summer. She said she was doing pretty well with speaking it until the translators were around, then she relied on them. Another fun class she is taking is Photography. I haven't seen my camera all weekend. We have to have a talk about that. Eden has a dream to get a degree in Biblical Theology, but from a really good school. If she follows that dream, the classes she takes now may not transfer. Funding such an education may also be out of reach for her. I know virtually nothing about where to start with scholarship applications. :( I don't want her to feel like her time and effort now is wasted if she ends up still needing four years of school later. And if she does realize her dream, she is unsure what she would do with that degree. All I can do is pray that God leads her and opens doors before her.
Caleb, 10th grade
Caleb is continuing to finish Saxon Algebra 2 at his own pace, then he will move on to Saxon Advanced Math. The two courses combined carry 3 full years' credits, including Geometry. So I told him if it actually takes 3 years to complete both courses, that makes total sense. He loves math.
He is taking Exploring Creation with Chemistry, 2nd edition, by Dr. Jay Wile. I have loved the Apologia courses by Dr. Wile. He is no longer with Apologia and they have released a new update by a different author. Meanwhile, Dr. Wile has released his own new chemistry course, which you can read about directly from him at his blog. If I wasn't such a penny-pincher and had the funds, I would buy the new course. I purchased the DVD that accompanies the 2nd edition a couple years ago, when Micah and Eden were already a few modules into the course and struggling to grasp it. I spent hours this week typing out lesson plans--telling Caleb what part of the DVD to watch, what part of the book to read, questions to answer, experiments to conduct, etc. It was ROUGH, and even then my plans are far from perfect (one day's lesson may take him 20 minutes, and another day's lesson might take over an isn't always evenly or logically broken up). Hats off to those people who do this all the time and manage to do it well. ;)
Notgrass History just released an updated edition of their Exploring Government curriculum and I gleefully sprung for it. The more I read by Ray and Charlene Notgrass, the more I appreciate them. Perfect? Close. My ideal history curriculum incorporates video and web links, flying maps, and so much more, all the while committed to accuracy and honesty, but created by people who love Jesus and esteem the Bible above all books. I haven't read all of the lessons in the books we own, but everything I have read so far aligns well with our worldview (especially when compared to Eden's textbook for Intro to Politics). Aside from the multimedia I mentioned, I feel that Notgrass's curriculum meets all my other ideals. If Caleb paces himself well, he will complete this government course in one semester. By then, the updated edition of Exploring Economics will be released and that is on my wishlist for the next semester.
We are rounding out Caleb's school year with a semester of The Elegant Essay and a semester of Advanced Communication Series, both from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). While TEE is course that needs to be taught once per week, ACS has DVD's and can be completed independently. I taught TEE to Micah and Eden a couple years ago. I am counting on Caleb's ability to work independently through both courses to complete this year successfully!
Zeke, 7th grade
I feel like I get a little room to breathe here with an extra year between Caleb and Zeke. It will be interesting to see if Zeke is able to tackle more of his work independently this year. But he is unique.
Zeke is finishing up the last little bit of Math-U-See Zeta and will begin Pre-Algebra. I was/am nervous about this step for him. I asked him if he wanted to try a different (7th grade level) curriculum. He struggles with the "mastery" part of Math-U-See. Some days he flies through his math and totally "gets it." And other days he makes so many mistakes that it just crushes him. If this pattern continues, we will have to find a different path for him that will give him an extra year to review the basics. This goes back to my goal #1 up at the beginning.
Zeke needs to keep working hard on spelling. We are using the All About Spelling curriculum to teach him where he is at (and this is a sensitive subject, so I will keep that between us). I love All About Learning Press and their curriculum. I love their blog. I love how they teach. I love the resources that we have at our disposal. I love the simplicity and the focus. I get so excited about it all!
Josh, 6th grade
The boys will be doing some subjects together, so I'll only focus on the individual ones, then I'll get to the combined courses.
Josh is ready to begin Math-U-See Zeta. He will be learning all about decimals. He is pretty good at math, but really bad at handwriting. So he will be working extra hard at making his numbers legible. ;)
He has some pages left in his handwriting book from last year that I will let him finish off, then (much to his chagrin--and he doesn't know it yet) I am going to continue handwriting instruction by building some practice sheets myself.
Josh is also continuing to move through the All About Spelling levels. They go up through Level 7, by the way, and I own them all now. I just wanted to put that out there. ;) Just so you know that I really do love it. I have never found time to continue studying spelling or vocabulary in high school, but with this group of boys I may be able to do that.
Zeke and Josh together
Together Zeke and Josh will be taking IEW's Bible-based Writing Lessons. This was a last minute change for us. I was going to have them do Finding Narnia...but it doesn't really fit well with everything else we are doing (it sort of sticks out like a sore thumb)...and Zeke confessed he isn't really that interested in the Narnia books (yes, I cried a little inside). I'm a little sore about this...since I changed my mind so late in the game, I felt forced to pay full price PLUS shipping in order to get it here in time. I didn't get a "good deal" on something? Oh, the horror. Just least I did check for several days first.
Malachi, 4th grade
Malachi is in Math-U-See Delta, so he has mastered multiple-digit multiplication (for the most part) and will now learn division.
Like Josh, Malachi has some handwriting pages left over. I don't know why I have this desire for my boys to have better handwriting, but I do. So I hope that I can encourage and inspire them to keep improving.
And of course, Malachi is also doing All About Spelling.
Zeke, Josh, and Malachi together
These three boys will do IEW's Fix-it! Grammar: Robin Hood this year. Last year we did The Nose Tree and enjoyed it very much.
Tirzah, 2nd grade
Tirzah is moving on to Math-U-See Beta and will be taking addition and subtraction to whole new levels. As a side note, I was on the Math-U-See website and noticed that they now have free shipping on homeschool orders over $30. That's fantastic!
Tirzah will pick up All About Reading Level 2 where we left off at the beginning of summer. She has stretched and improved her reading skills over the summer, so I have a feeling that we will be aiming for any gaps in learning but otherwise flying right through. I purchased Level 3 for her to continue. Normally I wouldn't do this. Normally I would say that once a child is reading, just keep giving them things to read. But I want to make sure her phonics base is least more solid than it is now. She is also using All About Spelling Level 2, and as she completes that course we can just keep right on going.
Tirzah asked if she could learn to write in cursive this year. Absolutely! I purchased the Zaner-Bloser Grade 2C to try. This will be our first experience with Zaner-Bloser. So far I haven't found a handwriting curriculum that both the student and I love.
Malachi and Tirzah together
Together Malachi and Tirzah will do IEW's Bible Heroes course. Malachi did the Ancient History Based Writing Lessons last year along with Zeke and Josh. Technically speaking, he is a little too old for the Bible Heroes course (per the grade levels on the front of the book) and could do the other Bible one that Zeke and Josh are doing. But I felt that Malachi really struggled to learn on their heels. He will have many years of practice to master the IEW structure and style of writing. I don't want him to feel like he is always needing help. So I decided to pair him up with Tirzah. And with IEW that is how things are supposed to work!
Obi, Kindergarten
The little man is starting school--yay!
Obi is doing Math-U-See Primer this year. He probably could have started with Alpha, but just because he could doesn't mean he should. Math will be easy for him this year, he will like it, and he will still get to Algebra I some day.
Obi is also starting off with All About Reading Pre-Reading. This is more likely a preschool course than a kindergarten course. But I didn't have the motivation to do it with him earlier, and I feel there are benefits to doing it now. It will build a good foundation and he will also enjoy these easy and fun lessons. Later in the year he will move on to Level 1 and I am confident he will be fully ready for it.
Obi is also using a Zaner-Bloser Handwriting curriculum to learn how to write. We shall see...
Zeke, Josh, Malachi, Tirzah, and Obi together
Ok, so Tirzah and Obi aren't really going to "get" History and Science. But I hope that they will learn to sit still and listen for a little while. So these courses are mostly for Zeke, Josh, and Malachi, and my expectations are different for each of them.
Notgrass History From Adam to Us. This world history course is designed for middle schoolers in grades 5-8. My biggest goal with this course is to read every lesson. I want to establish a regular pattern of doing history and science every day so that Zeke and Josh will be prepared for the rigors of high school. I timed myself reading two different lessons aloud and each was read in under 10 minutes, even with an interruption. To make it easier on me, I didn't purchase the optional student workbook or lesson review book. I did buy each child (Zeke, Josh, and Malachi) their own timeline book and map book and I am committed to having my students complete them. I did not purchase the literature package because I didn't want to overwhelm myself. The first book doesn't start until 3 weeks into the school year. If I'm feeling up to the challenge (or if the older boys seem able to read on their own), then I will go in search of the books. I did make myself a note somewhere of what is available at the library, and what is available as an audiobook. ;)
We will continue reading Science in the Ancient World by Dr. Jay Wile. When we are finished we will keep going with Science in the Age of Reason. We love the daily science experiments. I like the way the books tie in with a historical timeline but at the same time group topics in a logical format.
I think that is everything. It sure is a long list! I don't know yet how it is all going to go down. How will I teach 5 different levels of Math-U-See? How will I have time for all the reading aloud? How will I teach two different writing classes plus stay on top of Caleb's? I have some lofty goals, and with the Lord's help, I'll tackle them.


  1. Hi, Steph. Thanks for mentioning Notgrass. We hope you enjoy your studies this year!

    What is a flying map?

    1. Sweet, that made me laugh out loud. I really struggle with geography. I would love to have an interactive map...sort of like Google Earth I suppose...linked to my history curriculum. Hmmm...maybe we could do something like that with Notgrass History. I really, truly enjoy the curriculum and I am so appreciative of the work that has gone into it. We are only 4 lessons in From Adam to Us, and I already love it tremendously. When I read Psalm 8 at the end of lesson 4, I couldn't resist pulling up a YouTube video of "The Majesty and Glory."
      Thanks for stopping by, John! I should have written that I also had the privilege of meeting Ray Notgrass at the MACHE convention this year. :)