Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homeschool Update: All the Other Stuff We're Trying This Year

It's another new year and once again, I'm changing some things up. But we're keeping some things the same, too. Earlier, I wrote about how outsourcing math by using Teaching Textbooks has changed our homeschool for the better. If you missed that, you can read all about it here. Not teaching and grading everything for all four kids has been a lifesaver so far, even though we're only a month in. I actually have time to do the laundry, keep the house reasonably clean and if I'm lucky, catch up on an episode or two of my favorites on Netflix.

Another thing I've passed off this year is writing for my two oldest. I've been struggling to be effective in teaching writing for several years now. This summer my husband and I were discussing how and what we could do to change that. About that time, a friend, who just happens to make a living as a professional writer, posted on Facebook that she was wanting to teach a writing class for middle and/or high school kids. This was honestly an answer to prayer. For a minimal fee (at least, compared to what I spent on TT!) she would teach them about thesis statements and paragraphs and punctuation and all that jazz. We signed up immediately. There are just four kids in the class, so it still has a very "homeschool" feel. They enjoy lots of discussion, a little silliness and tons of individual feedback from a professional writer. It's a total win for us. My son still hasn't fallen in love with writing but at least he's trying now. Truth is, he has great voice and his stuff is fun to read. Hopefully, after this class, he'll know that and realize that he can be good at this, even if it's not as natural to him as throwing a baseball.

One thing we DIDN'T change was our history. Last year we started Notgrass Publishing's America the Beautiful. It's American history, geography and literature. It can be done in a single year, but we decided to stretch it out over two. All four kids gather around the table, listen to me read the lesson and then do age appropriate assignments. Sometimes that means map exercises, creative writing paragraphs, looking up definitions of new vocabulary or completing a crossword puzzle. The older two kids have five daily comprehension questions. All of this is done without complaint. The kids like the lessons and so do I. I am really liking the chronological approach they use. It's brought to light a few things that hadn't clicked for me with my random bits and pieces of history taught in random years. The continual struggle over slavery from the earliest moments of American history, in particular, has stood out to me. They also give a short biography of each president and the kids and I are enjoying learning about them. Did you know that Johnson once beat a man with his cane after a failed assassination attempt, where both men's guns failed to fire? Neither did I. But now we all do!

The littles are continuing their phonics workbooks. Tigger uses a book I had left over from my public school teaching days and AJ uses one I pulled out of a bin at the recycling center. It's probably my very best find out there to date. You never know where you're going to find the good stuff, momma. I'm so NOT above dumpster diving when it comes to otherwise expensive curriculum stuff!

With my bigs, I'm finding we have a few holes. When they were the littles, all of this homeschooling stuff was so new and scary and overwhelming for me. There are some things that we did really well and a few things, not so much. Some things worked really well for one kid and not at all for another. But one area that all of my kids have struggled with is spelling. So, this year we're trying out All About Spelling. The littles are on Step 1, so we have a really long way to go and I can't give much of an opinion on it yet. I do really like that they are learning ALL of the sounds each phoneme makes, not just the long and short vowel sounds. It makes more sense to start off saying that "C" can have a hard sound like in "cat" but also a soft sound like in "circus," as opposed to just saying "the c says /k/." I can already see the difference that is making with AJ reading.

I'm waiting to save up a bit so I can buy All About Reading because I have this feeling that it's going to prove to be more effective than Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for my boys and their learning styles. Since I only have one left who is learning to read, I'm finding it harder to bite the bullet and spend the money, but well....I'll let you know. For now, we're taking it one phonics page at a time.

Next week we start a new co-op with some of our old co-op friends. I'll be teaching Apologia's Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics while the other moms teach art/music appreciation, creative writing, and PE. I've spent the day collecting materials and making lesson plans and I think it's fairly safe to say that I'm pumped about how fun this is going to be! Not to mention, I will get to see a couple of my favorite homeschool moms on a regular basis again! Their kids are pretty great, too, it's going to be a blast to teach. (Chemistry pun intended. My kids keep asking me if we're going to blow things up. I keep answering with, "I hope not!")

This isn't all that fills our days, but it's the majority. We throw in some Typing Instructor, DuoLingo, Tynker,, Stack the States or other app on most days. The kids read - a lot. To me, to each  other and to themselves. Next month they'll read to the residents at our local assisted living facility once a month. They'll also hear the librarians read at the bi-monthly homeschool story times our local library will be hosting. No one ever meant homeschooling to be staying home all day anyway, right? After all, the world is our school and we can (and do!) learn everywhere!

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