Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"The Well-Trained Mind" Then vs. Now Pt. I

I first read The Well-Trained Mind when my oldest, Miss Scarlet, was 4 1/2. Being the Type A personality that I was (and still am, albeit to lesser extent), I read the entire 764-page first edition cover-to-cover. That's right, I read not only the "grammar" (elementary) section, but also the "logic" (jr. high) and "rhetoric" (sr. high) ones as well.

In retrospect, that probably wasn't the best idea because I felt rather overwhelmed and intimidated. My oldest wasn't even starting Kindergarten for several months, and I was reading about classical rhetoric; studying the Great Books (only some of which I had read myself); algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; high school science including reading original sources like Hippocrates, Archimedes, Copernicus, Kepler, Gallileo, Harvey, Darwin, Newton, Einstein, etc.; and studying both a classical and a modern foreign language. Yikes! It was akin to a couch potato reading about a training regimen for a double Ironman ultra-triathlon. Very inspiring, but completely intimidating.

It didn't help that in the first edition of TWTM, the authors listed a 6 hour daily schedule for 1st grade. I have since learned that it was the publisher's idea to include the schedule; in the 2nd and 3rd editions of the book, it has been replaced by more general guidelines.

I sat there having just finished TWTM, thinking to myself simultaneously "WOW! What an amazing educational philosophy!" and "How on Earth am I going to be able to pull this off?"

To be continued...

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Journey to "The Well-Trained Mind"

This month marks the 5th anniversary of when our family began homeschooling. Five years ago, we had no plans to homeschool beyond pre-k, and we weren't even sure we'd do that as we were on the waiting list at several preschools. Miss Scarlet's name never did get off the waitlist anywhere, and by February it had become clear that our search for an elementary school was going very poorly while homeschooling was going very well.

One of the books that I read while trying to find a school for Miss Scarlet was former Secretary of Education William Bennett's The Educated Child. I came across it at my local library and found his vision of the "Core Knowledge" model of schooling very inspiring. It had all the elements I wanted in a curriculum for my children- classic literature, phonics, old-school grammar, mastery of math facts & traditional algorithms, real history with an eye towards cultural literacy rather than political correctness, and so on. I came away from the book very much wanting a Core Knowledge school for my child- and feeling dismay at how far short of that the options we had available to us were.

I was seriously considering enrolling Miss Scarlet in the local K12 online school, the California Virtual Academy, for the following year because it offered a Core Knowledge-based curriculum and Mr. Bennett sat on its board. Then a veteran homeschooler I had met at a local park day suggested that I read The Well-Trained Mind. I requested the book through the inter-library loan, and read the whole thing through.

I was both awe-inspired and totally intimidated.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Case for (Ugly) Cursive

I'll admit that I do not have great penmanship. It was one of the few areas in elementary school where I consistently got a "needs improvement" grade. Most of the time these days, I type or print, though I do still use cursive upon occasion when writing a letter or a card.

I do believe that cursive is an important thing to learn, however, since it's faster than printing and even with the widespread use of computers, my kids will still be required to hand-write certain things like the essay portions of standardized tests. The New York Times had an interesting recent article on the subject.

I'm not 100% certain which style of cursive I learned growing up, but the one I've seen that's the closest is Peterson Directed Handwriting. It is a very "pretty" font IMHO with lots of loops but more legible than something like Spencerian (which is gorgeous but harder to read).

Last spring, I got Miss Scarlett the 2nd grade Peterson kit. However, every time I tried to do it with her, it was like pulling teeth. She went into meltdown mode and I ended up shelving it within a few weeks.

Going into the spring semester of 3rd grade and with the 4th grade California STAR writing test looming next year, I decided to resort to bribery. I promised to buy her a game for her Nintendo DS if she learned cursive. I thought that would be incentive enough, but she still resisted. It was getting to the point where I was seriously considering taking her to an occupational therapist for a dysgraphia assessment.

Last week, I had to go to Sacramento on an errand for DH, and while I was there, I stopped by A Brighter Child Homeschool Supply store. They had a copy of the level one workbook of Memoria Press' New American Cursive. Miss Scarlett's biggest complaints about Peterson cursive were "there are too many loops" and "it's too slanty". NAC has only a slight slant and has simplified the letters.

I *DETEST* the look of NAC. But by this point, I was willing to give it a try as an ugly cursive is better than no cursive.

Miss Scarlett loves, loves, *LOVES* NAC. She has cheerfully completed at least 30 minutes penmanship practice per day, and can now write all the letters in her full name (10 different ones) both capital and lowercase. At this rate, she'll have earned the DS game by the end of the month.

I am insisting she learn a more traditional capital F, Q, T, and Z. I can live with the ugliness of NAC but put my foot down on their print-like versions of those particular letters.

Lesson learned- if a student really complains that much about a particular program, it might just be a bad "fit" rather than a "needs more time to mature" thing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring Semester Update

We're now a couple months in to our spring semester, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how things are going. For the most part, we're cruising right along.

In math, I decided to continue on with MEP Yr. 1 for "Rusty", my Kindergartner. He loves the puzzle aspect of MEP but finds all the workbook exercises challenging from a fine motor skills standpoint. So we're going slowly, alternating the formal MEP lessons with "hands-on" activities and lots of "living books" like the Sebastian Pig series from Jill Anderson and Stuart J. Murphy's Math Start series. He just turned 5 in November, so in most places he would be pre-k this year. So I'm fine with taking a longer time to finish a K math program (MEP follows the British system so Yr. 1 is equivalent to U.S. Kindergarten, Yr. 2 would be U.S. 1st, etc).

"Miss Scarlet" has one chapter left in Singapore 4A (area and perimeter) but I've decided to re-arrange the sequence to hit the decimals chapters in 4B prior to her having to take the STAR test in April. I don't put a lot of stock in the STAR as an assessment, but at the same time, I don't want her to score below her potential because of something like not knowing how to properly read decimals. I got her Life of Fred: Decimals, which she loves; however, it does not seem to be enough by itself to get her to answer the practice STAR questions correctly. So I figured it made sense to do the first 2 chapters of 4B before finishing the last chapter of 4A.

In terms of language arts, "Rusty" is making fantastic progress. The biggest relief is that he has finally made a breakthrough in his writing. He went from not being able to print his name to writing multi-page "books" with full sentences. His lower case letters are still hit-or-miss and his legibility could be better, but I'm thrilled with how far he's come over the past couple of months.

He has 4 lessons left in All About Spelling Level 1 and should start Level 2 soon. I wish Marie Rippel would hurry up and complete the higher levels of the new All About Reading program because the first level looks great! Sure would've been nice to have had on hand last summer when "Rusty" was at that stage. I'll definitely be interested in giving it a try when Princess P. is ready. And no, I have no affiliation with the company other than being a satisfied customer :-)

"Rusty" has also started First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind Level 1. It's going okay, but he seems to have better retention with "living books" and watching old Grammar Rock clips on YouTube. C'mon everybody, sing with me: "Conjunction junction, what's your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses."

"Miss Scarlet" is loving Killgallon Grammar for Middle School, Figuratively Speaking, and surprisingly she also likes that Drawing Inferences reading comprehension test prep booklet that looked pretty dull to me. Go figure!

I haven't gotten a handle on how to implement the Adventures in Fantasy book, so I signed her up for a creative writing class about which I've heard raves. Personally, I tend to agree more with Susan Wise Bauer's approach to writing but DH feels strongly about wanting "Miss Scarlet" to do this. He read in either Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers or Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code (I forget which) about the Bronte sisters writing massive amounts as young girls and thinks that starting early is the key to developing the talent he's convinced that DD has. No pressure or anything :-p

In history, we're having fun studying the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. "Rusty" loves that so many of them had red hair like he does (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, etc.) LOL! "Miss Scarlet" loves hearing about the heroines- Margaret "Molly Pitcher" Corbin, Deborah Sampson, Sybil Ludington (known as the "female Paul Revere"), Betsy Zane (who smuggled gunpowder into a fort under siege), Patience Wright (an artist in London who spied on the British and sent her dispatches hidden in her sculptures), Phoebe Fraunces (George Washington's African-American housekeeper who saved him from assassination by discovering a poisoning plot), and Abigail Adams.

In science, we are currently doing a unit on sound, and the kids have been enjoying making musical instruments out of household objects. DH, who has been working from home doing consulting projects and writing a book, is less than thrilled about this particular unit ;-)

The kids are also going to be starting art classes at the end of the month. Art is just one of those subjects that doesn't really get done in any kind of formal way unless we outsource. "Rusty" especially could use the fine motor practice. I signed him up for a clay class since I've heard that is one of the more helpful media for improving hand strength and coordination. "Miss Scarlet" is going to be doing nature art class, which is done in coordination with the local Wildlife museum. She has talked about possibly wanting to be a veterinarian when she grows up (if her first choice of fashion design doesn't pan out), so I thought she might like it.

Princess P. has been diagnosed with a speech and language delay like her big brother had (fortunately he seems to have outgrown it but he spent a year in speech therapy). She just started attending a developmental preschool through Early Intervention 4 morning per week that includes 2 sessions per week of speech therapy. She seems to enjoy it and I've noticed that she has been using more words even after just one week in preschool. She still has a long way to go, but the improvement makes me feel better about putting her into the preschool at only 25 months old. There is a 3:1 student-teacher ratio so that is really isn't that different than being here with her two siblings and me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Build a Stronger Vocabulary with Two Excellent Word Roots Programs

One regret I have about my own schooling growing up is that I didn't begin my study of Latin until my sophomore year of high school. By that point, I was already taking my PSAT's. While I am glad that I decided to study Latin at all (my parents were not particularly gung ho about it), I think I would have benefited from starting earlier had that been an option. My alma mater normally allowed 9th graders & above to enroll; in retrospect, I wish that I had tried to petition my way in as a 7th grader.

While I don't start my kids on Latin as young as some homeschoolers choose to (Miss Scarlet will probably begin in 5th grade), I do start them learning Latin roots by the time they are working at a mid-elementary level. Miss Scarlet has been working her way through Caesar's English 1 from Michael Clay Thompson. It's an excellent book- one that is engaging and intellectually challenging at the same time. One can really tell that Mr. Thompson loves words. The one drawback is that CE does not really have that much in the way of practice exercises. To beef up that aspect of word study, Miss Scarlet has been supplementing with the Red Hot Root Words workbook from Prufrock Press.

Yesterday, our second semester materials arrived. Among those were the second volumes of the Ceasar's English and Red Hot Root Words series. I was a bit disappointed to discover that virtually all of the roots covered in RHRW1 are repeated in RHRW2. The main difference between the two books is that in Vol. 1, each exercise covers only 1-2 roots vs. 3-4 in Vol. 2. Had I known this, I would've skipped the first RHRW book and just purchased the second.

I went through and made up a list of which lessons in CE1 and CE2 correlate with which practice exercises in RHRW2. Of the 101 roots covered in the two CE volumes, 45 are also in RHRW2. There are 125 additional roots in RHRW2 not covered in the CE series. Therefore, a student who completes all 3 books will have learned a grand total of 226 roots. There are 20 chapters in each of the CE volumes (the odd ones cover roots) and 54 lessons in RHRW2. Here are the correlations:

Caesar's English 1/Red Hot Root Words 2
Chapter 1- lesson 12, lesson 1, lesson 15, lesson 3, lesson 2
Chapter 3- lesson 14, lesson 17, lesson 9
Chapter 5- lesson 5, lesson 3
Chapter 7- lesson 27, lesson 33, lesson 20, lesson 39
Chapter 9- lesson 37
Chapter 11- lesson 31, lesson 6, lesson 8
Chapter 13- lesson 33
Chapter 15- lesson 23
Chapter 17- lesson 28, lesson 36, lesson 13
Chapter 19- lesson 27, lesson 11, lesson 16

Caesar's English 2/Red Hot Root Words 2
Chapter 1- lesson 9, lesson 6
Chapter 3- lesson 26, lesson 22, lesson 43
Chapter 5- lesson 2, lesson 11
Chapter 7- lesson 41
Chapter 9- lesson 27, lesson 36
Chapter 11- lesson 30, lesson 1, lesson 39
Chapter 13- lesson 6
Chapter 15- n/a
Chapter 17- lesson 7, lesson 37
Chapter 19- lesson 24, lesson 34

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! :-)