After five years in school, will homeschooling be a fit for our family? Walk with us as we try to find out!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Gift from His Heart

As our book club was drawing to a close last Saturday morning, my sweet friend handed me a book entitled Homeschool Supermom...NOT!  When Grace Meets Homeschooling by Susan Kemmerer.  She said it was a gift (along with an iPhone arm band thingy I wanted for the Couch to 5 K madness she has gotten me wrapped up in, but that's another post entirely.)  I thought it was such a kind gesture- don't you love it when you get a tangible blessing reminding you that someone is thinking of you?

Thursday afternoon, as the kids swam away the afternoon, I sat on our back patio and read Chapter 1 of Homeschool Supermom.  And I quickly realized that the book was not just a gift from my friend's heart to mine but one that was also straight from His heart!  Right from those first few pages, I could see that God was going to use this book to speak to me about several different thoughts/concerns I've been mulling over as of late.

Let me back up to Wednesday and explain.  Wednesday was a bad day here.  A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  I'll spare you the details but by lunchtime I had yelled so much my voice was hoarse and the kids were wide eyed with alarm.  By bedtime, I was ready to join in with the chorus of tears from my overtired kids.  Late Wednesday night, lying awake in bed while the rest of the family slumbered, all I could think was "what was I thinking?  How can I homeschool these children?  Is it too late to call the school and get them signed up for next year?  But what about all the money we've spent on homeschool materials?"  Sleep was slow in coming, needless to say.

Today I read this in Homeschool Supermom:
"If you're feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, ashamed, and burnt out, keep this in mind: putting your kids back in school or hiring a maid might make life easier- for a time- but it will not ultimately make you happier or more righteous before God, nor will it accomplish the changes in your life and family that you really desire... Only a heart focused on Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross on our behalf will ever experience true, lasting joy- even when the house is a wreck and school remains undone."
That encouragement was like water to a dry soul.  And there was plenty more encouragement and wisdom sprinkled throughout the short chapter. 

And speaking of my dry soul, that leads me to the next reason I love this book already.  Each chapter ends with questions to ponder and scriptures on which to meditate.  Since summer began, bringing with it a new routine, my morning prayer/scripture time has become less regular and somewhat stale.  Now I'm planning on using this feature of Homeschool Supermom in my morning Quiet Time and I am already feel excited about it again!

The last wonderful nugget I took away from Chapter 1 was actually a confirmation of concepts  God has been teaching me lately.  Remember that book club I mentioned at the start of this post?  We had been reading and discussing Authentic Relationships: Discover the Lost Art of One Anothering by Wayne Jacobsen and Clay Jacobsen.  One of the themes we discussed was how to be genuine, authentic, transparent in friendships- to allow people to see beyond the image into our real selves.  A favorite quote from this book:
"Our fear of letting people see beyond the image we want to project denies us the friendships for which we hunger."  Authentic Relationships
 And from Homeschool Supermom:
"...behind closed doors, there lurks a secret.  There's another side we seldom let anyone see. It's our messy homes and messy lives being worked out in the messy process of sanctification.  It's called 'our humanity.'"
I was reminded this afternoon, that I want to be genuine and real.  So many sweet friends have encouraged me already in this homeschool journey- sharing how they wish they could do it and how wonderful they think I am for doing this thing called homeschooling.  But the truth is, I am not all that wonderful.  I am not a Supermom by any stretch of the imagination.  Exhibit A- Wednesday at my house.  I'm simply a mom who feels led to give this homeschooling thing a try- willing to offer up my weaknesses as well as my gifts to God and see what He makes of it all.  If we continue on this homeschool journey after a year, it will be only by His grace.  If our journey ends after one year at home, that too then will be only by His grace.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Apologia?

I'm in the midst of sharing the reasoning behind our curriculum choices as promised in this post.  
First post in this series- Why Tapestry of Grace? 
Second post- Why Math-U-See?

Each summer, we  do something to keep learning.  This year, we are working through Volume 1 of Story of the World.  For the past two summers, we worked through Five in a Row.  (If you have kids between the ages of 4 and 8, I highly recommend Five in a Row for a fun and easy way to expose them to great literature tied to fun, learning activities!)   Before I decided on Five in a Row two years ago, I considered working through a science book with the boys in the summer.  Several homeschooling friends I knew were using the Apologia series for science.  I bought the first book in the series, Exploring Creation with Astronomy,  but quickly realized it was too far above the comprehension level of TS2, who was only 5 at the time.  It's been waiting patiently in the attic for such a time as this :)

I did do some research on other science curricula such as the Christian Kids Explore series and NOEO.  It just made sense in the end to at least try what we had already first.  The Apologia series is a beautifully photographed and written curriculum, it is well researched and can span the levels of TS1 and TS2.  It is simple enough to do twice a week- one day for the reading and narration* and the other for a hands on activity or experiment.  The best part?  Dad is going to teach it!  

(* "In simple terms, narration is telling back in your own words what you just read or heard. It’s a wonderful evaluation tool that requires much thinking and assimilating on the student’s part. Narration can be done in many ways..."  For more information about narration and a list of suggestions, visit Simply Charlotte Mason.)

When I purchased the Apologia curriculum two years ago, I also purchased their Notebooking Journal.  It has templates for written narrations and other activities to do in response to the readings.  I still have not decided whether we will use this journal next or simply require the boys to respond to the readings with a written or oral narration.  Tom and I have to sit down with the curriculum and make these decisions in the next few weeks.  Since part of our mission in our homeschool experiment is to give our children more time, I am leaning toward just covering the basics and letting them lead us into deeper exploration of the material, as they are interested.  

So, any thoughts?  Have you used Apologia for science?  Or do you love another curriculum?  Or do you think I'm just plumb crazy for homeschooling at all? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why Math-U-See?

I'm in the midst of sharing the reasoning behind our curriculum choices as promised in this post.  You can find the first post in this series- about our Humanities/History choice- here.

I started my search for a Math curriculum the same way I started the search for all our curricula.  I asked homeschooling friends I respected what curriculum they used for Math, how it worked, whether they would recommend it, etc.  When Math-U-See came up again and again, I put it on the short list.

As I processed their input, I scoured the internet for guidance on how to choose a Math curriculum.  I found a very helpful article which clearly described the two main types of Math curricula available- Mastery and Spiral.  (So sorry I didn't bookmark that article- I would have loved to share it here.)  Essentially, a Mastery Math curriculum requires the student to completely master the concept before moving to another topic.  So, for example, when learning addition, the student would need to master addition up to four digits before moving on to subtraction.  Many nations that are known for producing high achieving Math students use a Mastery Math approach in their schools.  A Spiral Math curriculum introduces a wide variety of topics within a school year without expecting students to master them fully as they will have numerous opportunities to review and master each topic over the course of their school careers.  Most Math curricula in the US are Spiral Math programs.

After reading about the difference between the two main types of Math curricula available, I felt drawn to the Mastery programs.  I want to give my children, especially TS1 who is a strong Math student, the opportunity to delve deeply into a smaller range of topics while developing full mastery rather than exposing them to a shallow knowledge base about great deal of unrelated information.  Once I had our choice narrowed down to a Mastery Math program, I was able to quickly sift through the available curricula and came back to Math-U-See in the end.

Math-U-See is a DVD driven Mastery Math curriculum for homeschoolers.  The student watches the DVD at the start of the week with his/her parent, works through the workbook pages on the topic throughout the week and ends with a test or quiz to determine if mastery has been achieved before moving on.  The curriculum encompasses three modalities in the learning process- visual, auditory and kinesthetic- through the use of the DVD lessons, tutorial approach with the parent throughout the week and the use of manipulatives (i.e., blocks, fraction overlays) to solve the problems presented.

To be honest, I do have one reservation in the back of my mind about our Math curriculum.  Since this is after all, our great homeschool experiment, we will reevaluating our decision at the end of the year.  If we decide to send the boys back to school for the following year- 6th grade for TS1 and 3rd grade for TS2- I worry that a Mastery Math program might leave them unexposed to topics a Spiral program would have covered.  In the end, I did not let this reservation hold me back from choosing what I thought was the best curriculum for the boys.  If we end up back in school, next year or at some point in the future, I am sure I can find someone to help us make sure they are up to speed with their peers in school.

So for next year, TS1 will start at the end of the Delta level of Math-U-See to master multiple digit long division.  Once he accomplishes that he will begin the Epsilon level, which will be the bulk of his math curriculum next year.  TS2 will work through the Beta level next year.  Of course, if Math-U-See is not working for one or both of our boys, we will simply make a change at that time.  

So, tell me, what do you think about the differences between a Mastery and Spiral Math program?  What have you (or would you) choose?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why Tapestry of Grace?

A little over two years ago, my friend Jen invited me to a Tapestry Tea- a gathering at her home during which she was shared about the Tapestry of Grace curriculum.  I was the only person there who was not already homeschooling.  I was not considering homeschooling at the time but since I had always been interested in hearing about how homeschooling worked, I was invited.  I became enamored with the philosophy and design of Tapestry of Grace that night.  This map sealed the deal- I LOVED the visual of time laid out like a road map showing world history as interrelated with art, music, church history, literature, etc.  

Here are some quotes from the TOG website describing the program:
"Tapestry of Grace is a homeschool curriculum: a plan of study that helps parents provide a Christian, classical education using a guided unit study approach, with the history of the world as the core organizational theme. From Grades K–12, all students cycle through world history every four years, with all ages studying the same slice of history each week, each at their own learning level."
"Tapestry covers the humanities: history, church history, literature, geography, fine arts, government, philosophy...  Week to week, Tapestry integrates all subjects: people, events, and movements are studied in the time period in which they were most influential. Lessons are presented from all modalities: visual, auditory, and tactile."
"Tapestry of Grace exists to help parents discern the threads and patterns in the Tapestry of time woven by God in ages past. Through the study and discussion of chronological history, we teach our children the facts, thoughts, and experiences of humankind in the order that they unfolded."  
"All subjects are interrelated (since they all come from the hand of God), but they need not all be studied at the same level at all times. God’s story is simultaneously simple and complex." 
I loved the idea of the whole family (including me!) learning about the same time period at once, each on his or her own level.  I loved how all the subjects Tapestry covered were arranged chronologically so that the student was not learning facts in isolation but instead seeing history unfold throughout the world and across subject areas.  So, when learning about Colonial America, for example, the student would learn about worldwide colonization in that time period as well as church history, art, music, government, geography, literature, etc.  Studying history in this way just made sense to me.  

When we decided to make the leap and embark on our great homeschool experiment, Tapestry of Grace was the top contender for our history program.  I did speak to several other homeschooling moms and researched a few other history curricula (i.e., My Father's World, Story of the World, Mystery of History) but I kept coming back to Tapestry of Grace.  My hope is that it will make what some children (my dear TS1 very much included) consider a boring subject come alive.   And the books- oh the beautiful, captivating books used in the program- are icing on the cake.  No more boring Social Studies textbooks- we have a bookcase full of living books from which we will learn!  The fact that several friends are using the curriculum made the decision even easier as I would have veteran homeschoolers available with ideas, support and help if I need it.  We can also do fun things together like field trips and unit celebrations to enrich the program.  The Art class in Co-op comes out of the TOG program as well.  It also seemed to be a good fit with our homeschool mission statement.  

Since several friends just completed Year 1 of TOG this past school year, I decided to jump into Year 2 with them for the reasons I mentioned above.   (To give the kids a taste of Ancient History, we are going through Story of the World: Volume One this summer.)  Come September, we will be immersed in the Middle Ages and will study world history through the Reformation using Year Two, Units 1 & 2 of TOG.  (Year Two of TOG is actually four units in total but we have elected to split this year into two years of study.)

If you are a homeschooler, please share your thoughts and tips on history curriculum.  I'm still learning so I'd love to glean from your experience.  If you are not a homeschooler, what do you think?  Does this way of studying history appeal to you?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Learning is Fun!

We are a little more than two weeks into summer vacation here!  We've already had the chance to spend the week with lots of cousins at my sister's beach house, attend end of school year gatherings, birthday parties and host and go out for play dates.  We're having lots of fun!    

In the midst of all our fun, we are also spending a little time each weekday learning and reading together.  Don't tell the kids but we are actually doing some "prep work" for next year's history study.  As I shared in this post, we are joining a group of friends who are doing Tapestry of Grace, Year Two next year.  Year Two of World History picks up in the Middle Ages.  A friend suggested we go through Story of the World, Volume 1 over the summer to give the boys an overview of Ancient Times.  Each weekday morning, the four of us spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour reading a chapter of Story of the World and doing a corresponding activity, if we feel the urge.  I love it because the readings are short enough that even our four year old can participate and the Activity Guide gives enough options for corresponding activities that she can always join in.

I also purchased this Baseball Unit Study by Amanda Bennett.  Our boys are truly baseball fanatics!  We have not done much with the study yet except read some of the suggested books simply because our social calendars have been so full :)  I hope to do more with it as the summer progresses.

To supplement both of these studies, I've filled two large bins with library books- one dedicated to history and literature based on Ancient Times and the other dedicated to America's favorite pastime. Our school has an Accelerated Reader program in which the students earn points each time they read, quiz on and pass a quiz on a book. The boys really loved this program so I modified it for use at home and they are busy earning "AR points" here now. I even found a reading log for my four year old where she can color in a portion of a circle for every book read to her.

We started a new Family Devotional for the summer. I must admit that I struggle to continue a consistent Family Devotion during the school year. We've tried doing it in the morning but that soon fades out as we are rushing to get out the door for school. We've tried it after dinner with daddy when he is home early enough but we forget more often than we remember. We are usually pretty consistent in the summer though. And now that we will be homeschooling next year, I have made it a part of our school schedule so I hope it will become a habit for us. This summer we are using Child's Book of Character Building: Growing Up in God's World. The book focuses on 12 character qualities. We are working on one character quality a week- memorizing the corresponding scripture verse and pointing out to one another when we see that quality being displayed.

Our weekday schedule looks something like this- with lots of room for reading, swimming and other spontaneous summer activities:
8 a.m. Breakfast
9 a.m. Devotion and Story of the World
10 a.m. Outing/Play date
4 p.m. Baseball Unit Study/Reading

So, what are you doing this summer?  I'd love to hear how you are making learning so much fun they don't even know they are doing it :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Curricula Fun!

O.k., I admit it. I'm a little weird. Researching home school curricula and planning a year of learning is actually fun for me. As I mentioned in this post, I have many friends who have been homeschooling for many years that offered me support, guidance and wisdom in putting this curricula plan together.

Here is what I have come up with so far. Some of it may change as I continue to learn about homeschooling and maybe even after we start and need to make adjustments. If you are a homeschooler and have any comments about any of these curricula or any others you love, please share!

In the coming weeks, I'll try to share a little about each curriculum and why we choose them.  If you really want to check them out for yourself now, I've linked to each below.  Remember, TS1 refers to our son entering fifth grade and TS2 refers to our son entering second grade.

Humanities Core:
Includes History, Geography, Church History, Music and Art Appreciation
TS1& 2- Tapestry of Grace- Year Two, Units One and Two, Medieval Times

Language Arts
TS1- Growing with Grammar, Level 5 (Grammar)
TS1- Institute for Excellence in Writing: Student Writing Intensive, Level A (Composition)
TS2- Explode the Code Online (Phonics and Spelling)
TS2- A Reason for Handwriting (Handwriting)
TS2- Writing with Ease, Level 2 (Composition)
TS2- First Language Lessons, Level 2 (Grammar)

TS1- Math-U-See Delta Level (for multiple digit long division only) and Epsilon Level
TS2- Math-U-See Beta Level

TS1 & TS2- Apologia: Exploring Creation Through Astronomy

TS1- Precept Ministries How to Study Your Bible
TS2- Studying God’s Word, Book B
TS1 & 2- Apologia: Who is God?

Foreign Language:
TS1 & 2- Rosetta Stone Spanish (Latin America)- Homeschool Edition

TS1- Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

Science Lab/Art/Music/PE:
Activities within Tapestry of Grace
Weekly Homeschool Co-op (Three Group Classes on Fridays with Other Local Homeschoolers)
Community Sports