Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mid-Year School Report (2014-2015)

We're starting the second half of the school year, teaching second grade and Kindergarten (and my poor three-and-a-half year-old who isn't getting any preschool like her older siblings did).

School time behavior had gotten a little out of control, so during the month before Christmas, we cut down by half to the core subjects and got discipline back on track: such a short sentence for so much effort! School went really well that month, but I felt troubled that we were doing only half the schoolwork I'd like to see. Of course, my husband was nothing but encouraging.

After Christmas break and the Plague of the 2014 Holidays, we got back to school and I'm beginning to add back in the missing subjects, perhaps one per week, watching how it goes. I really, really want us to be done with formal teaching by noon each day, which is quite a feat, when achieved, and makes the mornings intense.

Changes I've made . . . 

1. The biggest change I made was geographic. For two and a half years--really three and a half years counting a year of preschool--we'd done school in the Bonus Room with all four kids in the room with me. It helped me supervise the other ones while I worked with one child at a time. But as of this year, the noise and activity levels were becoming very distracting ("why does she get to play?"). Every time I had to change a diaper or switch over laundry, I had to leave the room (up and down stairs), and the kids would stop their schoolwork to become engrossed in play.

So, two months ago I moved my base of operations to the kitchen table. I work with one child at the kitchen table while the other works independently at the dining table or does music practice in the den--all adjoining rooms. Meanwhile, the 2- and 3.5-year-olds move about at will, playing in the Bonus Room, or any other room downstairs, or in the Sun Room if the weather is fine. They're close enough that I keep fairly good supervision. I can wash dishes, make snacks, change laundry, or change diapers without losing supervision of the schooling children.

2. I drew up a new tracking sheet that is working well for us for now. (When will I find a tracking system that I stick to for years, or even for just one whole year?)

3. I instituted folders for the kids, with all photocopies for the week on the To Do side and the completed pages on the Completed side.

4. I've been promoting more independent learning, wherever I can, which doesn't feel "ideal," but does feel necessary given that I have a preschooler and a toddler in the mix too. It has been a consistent theme from successful homeschooling mothers that one must turn those kids into independent learners so that one can teach the up-and-comers.

5. I stopped having us do our daily family chores in the morning before school (which worked great) because we simply needed more time, needing to start school by about eight o'clock. Well, two months into it and I still haven't found a new anchor point for our daily chores, which means the kids aren't doing them, I am, at random times in the cracks. This is bad and I'm actively trying to figure out a fix. Score one for school accomplishments, score zero for contributing chores to the family.

What the kids are doing . . . 

MATH . . . We switched to Singapore and I am still getting my sea legs with this program. I also instituted daily practice with flash cards because I got a clue about why it's important to have the math facts memorized with fast access.

CATECHISM . . . Chugging along! I now have the second grader reading his own catechism chapters and coming to me for a short discussion about what he learned.

PHONICS . . . Going great! I don't assign additional reading time formally right now because both kids read at night for longer than the 30 minutes I would assign.

SPELLING . . . Going great!

MUSIC . . . Our music education is gaining a life of its own. The second grader has 20-30 minutes of piano daily, the Kindergartner has that much piano plus 20-30 minutes of violin, and they each have 3-5 pages of Theory homework daily (which is about another 30 minutes). I have a blog post being drafted about motivating music practice--not that I'm an expert! This has been a year of a steep learning curve in this regard.

PENMANSHIP . . . I bought new copybooks for the new semester, including a Thankfulness Journal to practice the second grader's handwriting.

GRAMMAR . . . for the second grader only and I have him doing it independently now.

HISTORY and GRAMMAR . . . After some fits and starts, we're back to a good clip at Connecting with History and associated MapQuest maps. I've now joined in the Kindergarten formally. Obviously, History does not need to be taught in Kindergarten, but this particular Kindergartner can follow along and enjoys the read alouds.

Enthusiastic about their Latin lesson
LATIN . . . We're getting back on that equus! For two years in a row, I tried to start my oldest in Prima Latina. He could follow along fine, but I'd drop the subject within the first trimester because I couldn't handle teaching one more thing. Well, I just discovered that Prima Latina comes with DVD instruction that I simply never purchased! I purchased it and began it this week (with the Kindergartner begging to be included, so I am allowing her). The children followed along with the teacher on screen much better than with me because, you know, she actually knows Latin and how to teach! (I'm trying to follow the Memoria Press suggested path for learning Latin, which is Prima Latina in second grade, Latina Christiana I in third grade, then First Form through Fourth Form Latin from fourth to eighth grade, then Henle Latin in ninth grade and beyond.) Why study Latin? Read here and here.

LITERATURE . . . I'm still not following a formal literature program, nor requiring comprehension questions or writing. I am typically reading aloud two chapter books at a time and we spend nearly an hour reading them most nights before bed . . . and I count that!

Since August, I have read aloud eight chapter books to the children (not counting several books per month within the History curriculum), Mary has read 19 chapter books, and John has read 20 chapter books.

ART . . . I just began the DVD program "How Great Thou Art" and I hope we can stick with it, perhaps on Friday mornings, and I think the kids will enjoy it a lot.

SCIENCE . . . None introduced back into the routine yet. It was quite informal anyway.

MEMORY WORK (memorizing poetry) . . . Not yet reintroduced.

EXTRACURRICULAR . . . Paused on swimming, started on ice skating. Continuing in Younger Art Class, Chess Class, Boys' Club, and altar serving.

I find homeschooling the adventure of a lifetime--and a daily dose of irony given that throughout my entire college career, I said I didn't know what I was going to do with my English literature degree, but I was not going to teach. I am frequently reminded of the U.S. Marines' motto to improvise, adapt, and overcome! (And then hide in the pantry and cry a little bit when days are tough.)


  1. This is really impressive, Katherine. Keep up the good work!

  2. Love it! You can do it! :) -Emiliann W.

  3. Love seeing what other people are doing at school!! WE started Singapore this year for Ben (we did Abeka for K and 1) and at first I hated it but now that we are in the swing of it I really like it and he likes it and his math is solid. He just started the 2B book. So I think we are actually a bit behind being that we are in wk 20 of school. Did you switch mid-year?

    Excellent tip about prima Latina....we plan to start it next year. I will get the DVD!

  4. Thanks, ladies!

    Jamie: I don't think you're behind at all! Because we were doing Right Start Math, which doesn't even begin teaching subtraction till Level C, I've had to fill in the gaps in Level 1A and 1B to teach John subtraction and multiplication so far, division still to come. So, we're in the second half of second grade in Level 1B. (Yes, we switched mid-year, just about two months ago.)

  5. This is actually what made me not like Singapore at first. How it jumped right into subtraction with borrowing. Ben slogged through that a bit and I was about to freak out. Then I talked to a teacher friend of mine I used to work with. She taught 2nd grade and she said they didn't even cover that until the end of 2nd grade. Anyway we got through it and he has been breezing through the rest and with the Practice and REview pages has finally really gotten the borrowing down. He is doing mult. and div. now. By being behind I meant that if the school year is 32wks we should have started book 2 about 4wks ago! Not stressing about it though.

    What made you switch?

  6. Jamie: I have been trying to simplify school and make it less teacher-intensive. I felt that RightStart Math was teacher-intensive, required manipulatives for every lesson, and there were no worksheets I could just hand off to the child. But I love the Montessori-based method. I'd always heard good things about Singapore and it looked like workbooks to me, so I switched. But I find it much more unwieldy. The instructions haven't been clear to me, seems like manipulatives still need to be used but now I'm supposed to figure them out myself and provide them! RightStart is totally scripted, every single manipulative is provided, and the instructions are very clear. I open Singapore and it's a bunch of pictures without words. I realize there is a Home Instructors' Guide, but it isn't the same as the scripting of RightStart. So, I am rather regretting the switch, but I just spent a lot of money on two levels of Singapore, so I am trying to at least get us through them both before I make another decision.

  7. If you have a minute to write a bit more, I would love to hear more about your phonics curriculum - I checked out the link but I would be very interested in hearing more of a personal anecdote. I have a strong reader (a son just seven a few weeks ago) who is an atrocious speller and at times can't seem to sound out certain words but is a very comfortable reader (aloud or silently) of chapter books (e.g., Boxcar Children and sundry others). It is a strange contradiction and leads to frustration for both of us at times. I am wondering if a bit more concentration on phonics would help. I didn't explore a phonics curriculum at all since reading wasn't a problem but now I wonder if it will be difficult to go back....

    We use Singapore math (Standards ed.) and it seems the right fit but I can see how it might not be for all. I highly recommend a daily warm up of some sort of "mental math" - if you have the Singapore teacher's manuals they offer those mental math strips in the back (which I photocopy) and this daily practice has been extremely helpful. If you don't have the manuals or if their problems advance too quickly in difficulty, I just write down 10-20 math facts on a piece of notebook paper (including a couple each about time and money).

    Thanks for the timely second term topic!

  8. Before I seem an unreasonable slave driver (or am I?)! I should caveat my comment to add that I do not think that a 6/7 year old should be a proficient speller! I think in the context of being a confident and fluid reader I thought spelling a bit more obvious. Also, in conjunction with spelling curriculum (we use Spelling Workout) and ease of other memorization (poetry and otherwise) I am seeing a gap that I do not want to grow much wider.


  9. Katherine, do you use Memoria Press copy books or something else? Thanks!

  10. Sharon: I have used various copybooks, but, yes, the two I just bought are from Memoria Press. The Scripture in the copybook is from the King James Bible.

  11. Dear A.,

    I use and love All About Reading for phonics and All About Spelling for spelling.


    This phonics program was founded by a woman with a severely disabled son; she was told he would never learn to read or write and that, in fact, she should institutionalize him. So, she decided to teach him herself and designed this program which simultaneously teaches through all learning styles: visual, aural, and kinisthetic. He became perfectly literate and now holds a job and everything.

    AAR/AAS has fabulous customer service. One can log on to their forums to post questions. Every time I've posted a question, I've received answers from their professional counselors, as well as parents sharing their experiences.

    The All About Spelling program is a complete phonics program in itself. One could use it independently without AAR. AAS teaches encoding words and AAR teaches decoding words.

    Something I love about AAR/AAS is that it is truly a phonics program. Many self-labeled phonics programs today are actually a high percentage of whole language teaching with phonics painted on top. AAR/AAS teaches that 97% of English words are based on phonetic rules. If the program teaches what would typically be called "sight words," they are classified either as "rule breakers" (true sight words) or "leap ahead words," which do follow phonics rules, but the student isn't learning those phonics rules until a later level: yet the word is of such frequency that the student should memorize it now.

    It sounds like AAS could be a really good fit for your son and the timing is right. The counselors typically suggest starting All About Reading in Kindergarten, then beginning All About Spelling in first grade, letting the reading skills build up before expecting to learn spelling. Your son is already a strong reader, so could launch right into Spelling without necessarily adopting any other pure phonics-reading program. And the AAS program would teach him all the phonics rules anyway, just in an encoding way.

    The program is expensive, but I think absolutely well worth it. Buying the magnetic tiles for the program is worth it and needful.

    I hope this helps!