Monday, December 20, 2010

Fall Semester Recap and Looking Ahead to Spring Semester

I have been very neglectful of this blog and have no idea if anybody is still reading it. I'm probably just rambling to myself at this point, LOL! Having a very active toddler in the house plus starting formal homeschooling with my 2nd child kept me very busy in 2010 and regular posting fell by the wayside. But if I want to keep Google from considering this blog "abandoned" and at risk of deletion, I do need to occasionally post. So here goes :-)

As California has a kindergarten cutoff of 12/2 and my DS "Rusty" has a birthday at the beginning of November, I had been unsure whether to start him this year or wait until fall 2011. Then in July, he started showing readiness for and a strong motivation to learn to read. So I decided to go ahead and start K5 this year. As his fine motor skills are lagging (can't even write his name yet), he'll most likely need a "transition" year next year between K & 1st but I won't need to make a decision on that for a while.

I had used Romalda Spalding's The Writing Road to Reading with my oldest mostly because we were flat-broke at the time and it was the most appealing-looking option that our local library had. WRTR worked well but it wasn't all that user-friendly so this time around I decided to give Hooked on Phonics a try. I got a great closeout deal on the older version and the whole K-2 kit cost me about $30. Good thing I didn't pay the regular price as he flew through the entire HOP program in 3 months. He went from S-L-O-W-L-Y sounding out BOB books word by word in August to fluently reading Henry and Mudge type books now. I started him in the All About Spelling program at the beginning of November after he finished HOP, and he's flying through Level 1. Next semester, he'll do Level 2 and possibly start Level 3.

In math, I tried starting Rusty on Right Start A. However, while he seemed to like the secondary topics, he experienced difficulty with the main thing of visualizing numbers as 5 + some quantity. He could say the words to the "Yellow is the Sun" rhyme but it was clear that he didn't grasp the underlying concept. So after a month, I decided to shelve RS A and switch to MEP Reception. It's a pre-k program and much of it is a bit on the easy side for Rusty but he absolutely *LOVES* it. I think he's a visual learner and does much better with all the colorful pictures in MEP than he did with the minimal black & white ones of RS. He's just about done with MEP Reception so I have to decide what to do for the spring semester. Rusty seems to be doing great with MEP but I have heard from other homeschoolers that Yr. 1 gets pretty advanced. I also really love the RS program plus DH paid a good chunk of money last summer to buy level A (my oldest had started RS at level B). Decisions, decisions.

The other things I'll be doing with Rusty in the spring semester are:
  • Handwriting Without Tears Pre-K. I'm hoping to get him started on HWOT K by the end but we'll have to see.
  • Start First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind minus the copywork/dictation exercises.
  • Follow along with his big sister in her unit studies in American History and physics.
Miss Scarlett is now in 3rd grade and is cruising along. She participated in an online literature class through Johns Hopkins' CTY program this fall, which was a fantastic opportunity. She's always been a very strong reader and writer and I've struggled to challenge her appropriately. This class did just that and it really helped her grow as a student. I hope that we will have the financial resources to do another one this spring but that's a bit TBD at the moment. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll be in a position to afford the pricey tuition ><

She has completed the "town" level of the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts program with the exception of Caesar's English. She'll complete that next semester and start the sequel, Caesar's English II. The rest of the "voyage" level books I'm going to wait on until she's ready to handle the writing in Essay Voyage. In the interim, she'll use Grammar for Middle School, the next book in Don Killgallon's applied grammar/sentence-writing series. She'll also be using Figuratively Speaking to learn about literary terms, Evan-Moor Daily Paragraph Editing Grade 4 for practice on grammar/usage/mechanics, Curriculum Associates Drawing Conclusions & Making Inferences workbook for reading comprehension (since this is the area where she tends to have the most difficulty on the Iowa and similar standardized tests), and the Adventures in Fantasy creative-writing curriculum.

The last one is at DH's insistence. He has delusions of grandeur about Miss Scarlett's writing (cue visions of her being the next Christopher Paolini). He really wanted her to use the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum but as that's high school level not to mention $200, I convinced him to have her work through the Adventures in Fantasy program first.

In math, she's continuing on with Singapore Primary Math with the Intensive Practice and Challenging Word Problems books supplemented in places with the Math Mammoth single-topic "blue" worktexts. She's 2/5 of the way through 4A, which is great progress considering she only started 3A last January. My goal is to have her finish 4A and 4B plus Life of Fred: Fractions by the time she starts 4th grade this coming August. Ideally, I'd like to have her finish up the Singapore Primary Math series by the end of 5th grade so that she can do pre-algebra in 6th (probably online through Stanford's EPGY) and Algebra I in 7th.

In history, I made the decision to switch our focus from world history to American history. As we got to the Reformation era last spring, I decided that world history was getting rather darker and more complex than I'd prefer in the elementary years. Also, I feel that whereas my own history education was far too-U.S. centric (basically the entire thing except for 6th grade when we studied ancient & medieval times; 7th grade when my teacher decided that the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the first Persian Gulf war, and other then-current events were much more interesting than whatever was normally covered; and 10th grade when we studied world geography), the Well-Trained Mind/Story of the World cycle IMHO doesn't have enough American History. So we'll be doing 2 years of U.S. history before starting the next time through the cycle.

As "spine" for American History, I decided to go with From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America from the Catholic Schools Textbook Project. It's a textbook but is written like a narrative and I like how it is generally optimistic without glossing over the areas where America has fallen short of our ideals. The one complaint I have about it is that since it has a Catholic focus, it spends too much time discussing the Spanish and French colonies in North America and not enough time talking about the English ones. Jamestown and Plymouth get short shrift IMHO while the book goes on and on about Mexico and Canada. Fortunately, I was able to find plenty of library resources to beef up our study of early Virginia and the Pilgrims.

In science, we are at physics in the 4 year WTM cycle. We're doing a "unit studies" approach, with Miss Scarlett using relevant chapters from the Prentice Hall Science Explorer and Singapore My Pals are Here Science 5/6 series as her "spine" and Rusty using Singapore Earlybird Start Up Science Vol. 2. They're both loving the Young Scientist Club experiment kits, watching DVD's of Bill Nye the Science Guy and other documentaries, and reading library books including the Max Axiom, Super Scientist graphic novels, Let's Read and Find Out Science series, and The Magic School Bus series.

Even though I am somewhat following The Well-Trained Mind, I have decided to hold off for now on Latin. My plan is to have Miss Scarlett get a thorough grounding in English grammar first and then use The Latin Road to English Grammar in lieu of further English grammar study. I know that many homeschoolers don't feel that LRtEG is enough for both English and Latin but Miss Scarlett is the type of kid for whom I believe it could probably suffice. After completing Michael Clay Thompson's elementary LA series, the Killgallon series, and the Warriner's book I have on my shelf, she ought to have the basics down. I personally learned more about the English language through studying French and Latin in high school than I did in my "English" courses (which were mostly literature). If it turns out that LRtEG isn't enough, I can easily add back in formal English grammar. Perhaps something with a "structural"/linguistics approach like Rhetorical Grammar by Martha Kolln & Loretta Gray.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Good Site for Free Language Arts Worksheets

When my DD took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills this spring, one of the sections where she scored a bit lower (though still very respectably) was on capitalization. The grammar programs we've used haven't really gotten into this topic all that much beyond the basics (i.e. proper nouns, the pronoun "I", the first word of a sentence, etc). So I went looking on the 'net for some capitalization worksheets. I came across a great site with lots of different free Language Arts worksheets. Be forewarned that the answer keys are NOT included, but I personally found I didn't really need a key for the worksheets I have used so far.

Thanks Mrs. Hatzigeorgiou, whoever you are! :-)

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Salute to Those Who've Paid the Ultimate Price for our Freedom

I heard the following at the county Memorial Day observance we attended today, and thought it was a great reminder for all of us:

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

by Charles M. Province

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Brief Update

We've been on the East Coast visiting DH's and my relatives for the past few weeks. It's been fun but a bit chaotic, hence the lack of blog updates.

Miss Scarlett's 25 year old uncle, who makes a good living as an IT administrator, has helped her to create her own blog. She blogs at "Balderdash and Things Like That". I tried to set her up as a separate author but got an error message (and this was after my brother had left so I didn't have the tech support, LOL!) So if you see my name on a post that appears to have been written by a 7 1/2 year old girl, that's why :-)

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Thinking Through Grammar" by Dr. Arthur Whimbey

I mentioned earlier that I've made some changes for the 2nd semester in our homeschool. One area where I've made some changes is in Language Arts. Miss Scarlet has finished Story Grammar for Elementary Students and has started the "town" level of the Michael Clay Thompson (MCT) program. We're loving the vocabulary and poetry components of the program but the jury is still out on the grammar & writing portions. That's a post for another day, however.

As Miss Scarlet was doing an exercise in one of her MCT books today, I noticed she was struggling with a prepositional phrase. So I decided to have her work through a chapter in Thinking Through Grammar: 5th and 6th Grade by Dr. Arthur Whimbey. This is the book I'm planning on having her do once she's done with MCT. I had taken a chance on ordering it sight unseen as I wasn't able to find any samples on the web of the middle school level book.

Thinking Through Grammar is a solid, no-nonsense consumable work-text. It is designed to be self-teaching. Because Miss Scarlet is much further ahead cognitively than her physical writing skills, I allowed her to dictate the answers orally while I transcribed. You can see one of the pages she did today here.

Sample page from "Thinking Through Grammar" -

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Required Reading for Toyota Owners!

My mom owns a Prius so you can imagine how nervous the story of the runaway Prius in San Diego made me :-0

We also own a Toyota and while it hasn't shown up on any of the recall lists so far, we keep hearing rumors that the true problem may date back well before 2004 when we bought our car.

If you or anybody you know drive a Toyota, make sure you read this article on how to stop your car in the event the throttle gets stuck.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Are the Doubters Right about Homeschooling for High School?

Critics of homeschooling often question the ability of parents to effectively teach their high school aged children: "It's one thing to be teaching addition and subtraction but what about Algebra II and Trigonometry?"

I've never really worried about this issue since I'm familiar with the multitude of options for teaching high school level math. Everything from DVD/CD-ROM courses like Teaching Textbooks or Chalk Dust to online courses through Stanford EPGY or Johns Hopkins CTY to enrolling in classes at the community college, etc.

But today I came across some numbers that gave me pause & made me wonder if perhaps the doubters might actually have a point. For various reasons that are outside the scope of this blog post, I was looking at the CA Dept. of Ed's Standardized Testing and Reporting website for a local virtual charter school. What leaped out at me was how poorly the high school students did on the state tests relative to the performance in earlier grades. While few of the elementary and middle school students in the charter scored in the "below basic" or "far below basic" categories, a large percentage of the high school students did- and the percentage increased dramatically from 9th to 10th to 11th.

I wondered if this was a problem at the other virtual charter schools in the area so I checked the results for those. Here's what I found:
English % Below Basic or Far Below Basic

Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11
School A 21% 37% 52%
School B 20% 28% 31%
School C 14% 25% 45%
School D 12% 12% 35%
Average 17% 26% 41%

Math % Below Basic or Far Below Basic

Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11
School A 54% 80% 94%
School B 61% 78% 71%
School C 74% 94% 92%
School D 47% 63% *
Average 59% 79% 86%

*Too few students to report.

At first glance, I found these numbers pretty disturbing. It appeared that the longer the children homeschooled, the worse they did, especially in math. By the time they reached 11th grade, between roughly a third and half were scoring low in English and the overwhelming majority were scoring low in math.

When I came across the asterisk in the results for the 4th school, I suddenly realized that the numbers of students enrolled in the charter school decreased pretty significantly each grade from 8th-onward:

Number of Students 8th 9th 10th 11th
School A 711 497 299 136
School B 197 161 138 122
School C 111 102 72 63
School D 93 58 46 23
Average 278 205 139 86

Suddenly it all made sense- there is adverse selection going on. In the area where I live, it is common for homeschooling families to enroll their teens in either a brick-and-mortar high school or to just go straight to community college. I was aware of this, but didn't make the connection with the lower test scores at first.

It makes sense that the higher-achieving students are the ones more likely to move on from homeschooling to another option. The ones left behind in the charter are disproportionately the ones who are either behind academically or just from families with different educational priorities than standardized tests & Ivy League admissions.

Should we as a society worry about these kids? That's a tough question. To me, it depends on the reason for the low score. If the student just has different priorities I'm not really concerned. After all, not every kid is destined for college. A teen who wants to be a mechanic may be perfectly successful in life even if he never manages to pass the CA state algebra test.

The homeschooled children I worry about are those whose parents are failing in their responsibility to provide an adequate education. Is this a widespread problem? Probably not as much as critics of homeschooling fear. And it is almost certainly dwarfed by the number of children failed by government-run schools. Still, those of us who support homeschooling need to acknowledge that it isn't always the best option for every single child.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Spring Semester Update Pt. 1

It's been forever since I did an update on how our homeschooling is going, so I figured now would be a good time. We've made some curriculum changes for the new semester, which I'll be detailing in a series of posts.

The biggest change has been switching Miss Scarlett's math curriculum from Right Start to Singapore. Both programs are based on the Asian way of teaching math, to which I've always been drawn because of the combo of stressing both the underlying concepts AND mastering traditional algorithms. I'd originally been a bit intimidated by Singapore as a new home educator who didn't have a strong background in the subject. By contrast, I found the scripted lessons of RS very appealing. Also, Miss Scarlett was only 4 yrs 10 mos. when we started and I thought the "hands-on" nature of RS would be a better "fit" than the workbook-heavy Singapore.

I loved, loved, loved RS Level B. I think it laid an excellent foundation for Miss Scarlett in math. The challenge level was good, too. It did take her 13 months to get through it because we had to "sit" on certain concepts for a while. But on the whole, I felt the pace was appropriate.

When we finished RS B midway through the fall semester of 1st grade, I was in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy. So rather than starting up Level C right away, I took a relaxed approach to math for a few months. Not exactly "unschooling" since I did require Miss Scarlett to do math every day, but I allowed her to choose what she wanted to do from among the various supplementary workbooks & games we had on our shelf.

We started RS C last March. It was just okay. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I noticed Miss Scarlett had started to prefer pencil-and-paper work to using the manipulatives. Her eyes lit up when she learned the algorithm to do subtraction with borrowing rather than physically trading the beads on the abacus. When we took a break from RS to do Hands-on Equations, she figured out all on her own how to solve the algebraic equations on paper rather than using the little pawns, dice, and "scale".

She also seemed like she would benefit for a greater challenge level than what RS C was offering. I found myself compacting the RS lessons and using the extra time to work on more challenging problems related to the topic studied from the Singapore Challenging Word Problems series and Edward Zaccaro's Primary Grade Challenge Math book.

I looked over the final 2 levels in the RS elementary series and it just seemed like there was too much review and not enough new material for her. It struck me as having about a year's worth of material spread out over the 2 books. I understand that many students do need lots of repetition and a gentler pace, but she's not one of them.

So after Miss Scarlett finished RS C, I switched her to Singapore. She's using the 3A textbook with the Intensive Practice book rather than the regular workbook. She'll also complete the portions of the CWP books that she has not already done.

I've been fairly impressed by what I've seen of Singapore so far. For example, here's a problem from the Intensive Practice 3A book that I suspect many adults in this country would have difficulty solving: The sum of A & B is 4215 greater than C. C is 1833 less than A. What is B? I don't think I saw problems like that until my jr. high algebra class!

I do think that Miss Scarlett may need a more thorough explanation of multi-digit multiplication & division than what's in the Singapore textbook and my Home Instructor's Guide. So I downloaded the Math Mammoth single-topic workbooks on those. I like the way Maria Miller walks the student through the concepts explicitly step-by-step-by-step whereas Singapore assumes the child can make the leaps in logic. Even if Miss Scarlett doesn't turn out to need the extra explanation, she may benefit from having additional practice problems on those particular topics. The MM downloads were cheaper than buying the regular Singapore workbook and focused exclusively on only the areas where I suspect she may need the extra help.

I'm planning to start "Rusty" in RS, probably with Level A some time next year. I really do like the program for the primary grades. If that turns out not to be a good "fit" for him, I'll try Singapore or possibly the full Math Mammoth curriculum. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tell CBS You Support Focus on the Family Tim Tebow Ad!

As you probably already know, CBS has come under fire from pro-abortion groups for agreeing to run a Focus on the Family ad during next week's Super Bowl featuring the story of homeschool graduate and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Tebow's mother had received pressure from her doctor to abort but her Christian faith led her to continue her pregnancy. It's a heartwarming story, and one so compelling that it's really frightened the pro-abortion lobby.

The folks over at have put together a petition to CBS in support of their decision to run the ad. Please consider signing it to let the network know you stand with the Tebows and Focus on the Family in defense of those innocent unborn babies whose very lives are at stake.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prayers for the People of Haiti

A bit late I know, but I just wanted to throw my appeal out there to pray for the people of Haiti. If you haven't already heard the news, Archbishop Serge Miot was among the tens of thousands killed in Tuesday's devastating earthquake. I know that January is a lean month financially for many families, but please donate as generously as you can to Catholic Relief Services or another disaster relief agency. A list of some of the earthquake relief efforts can be found here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thank Goodness for Blogging

I'm a voracious reader and typically read 2-3 dozen books per year. It can be difficult at times for me to remember exactly which books I have read vs. which ones I've only heard about. On occasion, I've requested a book through the inter-library loan program only to discover I've already read it.

I almost did this again just now, but then I had this nagging suspicion I'd read the book in question. Sure enough, a quick check of my blog revealed that I had. Not even 6 months ago!

Is this a sign of getting old(er) or just that all this homebuying & moving nonsense has taken its toll on me?