Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Homeschool Curriculum Review, part 2

Note: this is the second in a two part article reviewing the homeschooling material I'm using this year.  For part one, click here.

We cover basic subjects (like reading, spelling, phonics and math) everyday.  We also mix in several other subjects at least once or twice a week.

I find that my daughter can only do school for about 3.5 hours (which includes short snack and exercise breaks) before she really can't handle any other school work.  We usually finish by lunch time.  Sometimes, if we haven't finished all our subjects, I try to extend past lunch but she really isn't focused in the afternoon and gets easily frustrated. So for now, we're ending at lunch time (about 11:30 or noon).  I hope to gradually extend into the afternoon, at least to do some fun hands-on projects.

We're using Seton's English 2, which covers subjects such as using the dictionary, ABC order, writing different types of sentences (like commanding and asking sentences), punctuation and more.  I originally started the year by doing English five days per year, as suggested in the Seton lesson plan.  But since she's been so enthusiastic about learning phonics, I decided to cut back on English for right now so we can reinforce phonics.  So we do English once or twice a week.  I like the fact that Seton's book includes poems and stories about saints, although some of them are rather challenging for my daughter.  Hoping this will get easier as she progresses in phonics.

We generally do handwriting two times a week.  I'm using Seton's Handwriting 2 course, but we skipped most of the printing practice in the front of the book and went to cursive writing.  I did this for two reasons: 1) my daughter already prints very nicely (one of the areas she excels in!); 2) since last summer, she's been trying to copy words written in cursive and has been asking to learn how to write cursive.  I don't have a strong opinion either way on this handwriting program.  It's a basic "copy the letter formation" program that seems to get the job done.

I used Handwriting Without Tears to teach her manuscript writing, and she really liked all the songs and manipulatives in that program, so I would recommend that program to kids who aren't interested in doing a lot of copywork in a workbook.

Map Skills 
I love teaching geography! When my son was in preschool and kindergarten, we spent a lot of time reading books about other countries and doing a variety of activities to learn about geography.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that yet with my daughter.  So I was delighted when I saw that Kolbe's second grade lesson plan includes Continental Press' Map Skills C.  The workbook includes lessons on understanding map keys, compass directions, distinguishing between different types of maps (e.g., political and physical maps) and more.

It recommends memorizing the state and capital city names, which are slowly doing with a couple of coloring books I picked up from Target's Dollar Spot and our local Dollar Tree store.

I'll also supplement this by reading several picture books about the states, including Marjorie Priceman's How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.SA. and Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride: America's First Cross-Country Automobile Trip by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.

Last year we did a lapbook based on Priceman's How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.  We may also do that for Cherry Pie, using some of the free printables found on the Homeschool Share website.

We're using Apologia's  Exploring Creation with Astronomy by Jeannie Fulbright.  I also purchased the Astronomy Notebooking Journal rather than using a 3-ring binder or blank spiral notebook.

The 176-page textbook helps elementary students define astronomy, learn about the planets, explore stars and galaxies and discover space travel.  We are doing it as a read-aloud, although stronger readers could probably read the text themselves with a little help from an adult.  The lessons include hands-on activities and experiments, too, like making a solar system with balloons and creating a pinhole viewing box with a cardboard box and aluminum foil.

I like the way Fulbright brings God into the subject of astronomy. For example, she includes chapters like "Why Did God Create the Universe?" and refers to the chapter of Genesis in the Bible. 

The notebook is very helpful, too.  It's a great place for a student to jot down notes or drawings.  For reluctant writers, there are plenty of creative frames and graphics to encourage a child to pick up a pencil and draw or write. There are also copywork pages where a student can print or cursive write a Bible verse.  My daughter enjoys the vocabulary crossword puzzles.  Each chapter includes a "What Do You Remember" page filled with review questions.

We are slowly working our way through this book.  Perhaps a bit too slowly for my liking!  It is mainly because we don't get to science until after lunch, and then my daughter has a hard time focusing on it. I may put the book aside and do it as a unit study in January/February.  If I do that, I'll build all of our subjects around the book.  For example, our spelling words would be astronomy terms or planet names, our copywork would be taken from the journal, our read-aloud would be the textbook and other picture books on the planets, our math work would include using planet shaped manipulatives, etc.  I'm still toying with this idea since we seem to do science best when we integrate it into all of our subjects.

Throughout the summer, I was researching a history program that would integrate Catholic church history with world history. I was intrigued when I read about Connecting with History on Cathy Duffy's Review website, so I ordered the Volume I of the program.  I like the fact that the program is implemented over four years, spanning history from creation to modern times.  I also like the fact that it can be adapted to various ages. In Volume I, we're studying creation through 63 B.C. and learning about the Israelites, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. It also fits nicely with what my son is learning at his Catholic school this year, and ties in with the salvation history lessons I teach as part of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

The syllabus is full of ideas on how to implement the program, additional projects, etc.  I like the fact that we also utilize a variety of multimedia resources, including CDs of Old Testament stories, paper dolls of historical figures, etc. The only downfall is that I really was looking for a program that would lay out the readings, projects, etc. on a day-by-day basis.  This program is really for those who want to do the scheduling themselves. In the past, I've preferred programs that allow me to set the learning agenda, but this year I don't have the time to do it.  So unfortunately, the program hasn't been used as much as I would like.  I may make it a theme unit and work exclusively on it for several months this winter, using their suggestions for copywork, vocabulary, etc.   It is a great program, but one has to plan some time to work out the schedule.

Faith and Religion
We go to Mass on Fridays and do an hour of adoration on Tuesdays.  I also plan to periodically doing short studies on the saints, but decided not to do an actual religion textbook every day since so much of Seton and Kolbe's materials incorporate our Catholic faith.  However, since I am teaching catechism, my daughter attends class with me every Wednesday after. The parish uses RCL Benziger's Blest Are We program.   Truthfully, I'm not much of a "workbook/textbook" person, especially when it comes to teaching children about our faith.  So  I'm following it rather loosely, instead trying to emphasize some of the basics of our faith while incorporating alot of the hands on materials from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

I'll be sharing some of the things we are doing on this blog throughout the year.  Many can be used either at home, with a homeschool co-op, or in a catechism class.

So, that's our curriculum this year, subject to many adaptations as we go along!

I'm also trying to make Friday a "fun day" to work on Girl Scout Try-Its, art appreciation, drawing, music appreciation.  So far, I haven't been very good at this, as we usually attend Mass on Friday mornings (with my son's school) and then I try to do a few errands (like grocery shopping) which I have been putting off all week.  Also, if she's had a rough day during the week and we haven't finished everything, I try to add it in on Friday.


  1. My son is doing the same astronomy too (first grade) and he LOVES it. We actually just switched up his science because what we were using was so boring. I save it for the last subject of the day and we've been reading short sections each day, following up with lapbook work the next day, and doing an experiment or fun thing once a week. We're roughly taking 2 weeks for one lesson. So slow but not overwhelming either with the rest of the school work. Oh, if his lapbook work includes something like handwriting, I take out his usual copywork assignment (unlike your daughter, my son is not fond of writing!).

    That map book sounds like fun and right up my son's alley. I was thinking of adding that next year or even doing something fun in the summer with it. Thanks for the review!

  2. Nicole,

    Like your ideas on how you incorporate the astronomy course into your day. I think I'll try some of it!