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.