Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homeschool Series: Kindergarten

We are continuing on in our homeschool series - the nuts and bolts of how we home educate.  You can read about our reasons for homeschooling here.  Last time I wrote about the toddler and preschool years and today I'm moving on to what we're doing now - Kindergarten.

Joshua (5.5 years old) and Hannah (4 years old) are both in kindergarten right now.  Their abilities range from kindergarten level to above grade level.  One great thing about home education is that we can gauge what the children are capable of and go from there.  All of that said, let's dig into what we're doing now in kindergarten.

*A note about Preschool: You will notice that I have skipped schooling for 4-year-olds.  This is partly because I can never really find the dividing line between toddlers and preschoolers.  Much of what we posted here is applicable to 4-year-olds.  But the other reason I don't have anything specific for the preschool years is that we haven't homeschooled a 4-year-old until this year (Joshua went to a Christian preschool when he was 4 and Hannah is already doing Kindergarten level work so we kind of skipped the preschool thing for her).

Goals for Kindergarten
Primary Goals (to be accomplished by the end of the Kindergarten year)
1. Reading - able to read independently at or above first grade reading level.
2. Handwriting - correct letter formation, able to dictate spelling lists and other copy work with ease.
3. Math - complete Kindergarten math curriculum.

Other Goals
1. Bible memory verses.
2. Memory work (with weekly activities) - science and geography/history.
3. Music - piano and violin, introduction to music theory and ear training.

Preschool Thrown In
1. Calendar - days of the week, months of the year.
2. Weather - daily weather chart.
3. Art - various crafts and time to practice with scissors, glue, etc.

How We're Reaching Our Goals
When we started on the kindergarten journey, my main goal for Joshua was that he learn how to read.  To that end, I found a reading program that has shaped our school time and even, to some extent, how we approach other subjects.  There were a few things I considered when choosing a reading program, and in the end we have been extremely happy with the results of the one we are using.  Here's what we chose and how we decided on this particular program.

"Spell to Write and Read" by Wanda Sanseri
I wanted something that taught reading through phonics and did not use whole-word recognition or sight words, something that was thorough, and that was also logical in its approach.  The kids started teaching themselves to read by spelling things out (they had already learned the alphabet phonetically) so I tried to find a program that would work with how they were already starting to read.  I found this and I couldn't give it a higher recommendation!  According to their latest diagnostic spelling tests, Joshua is spelling at a third grade level and Hannah at a first grade level.  It's pretty in-depth, which makes for some interesting moments when I'm teaching something that I'm also learning, but it has been fantastic and the kids soak it all up like sponges!  They are definitely better than I am at remember all of the spelling rules.

I thought we could just work on handwriting during spelling time, doing copy work, and just generally writing.  That hasn't really happened and we have several issues of letter reversals (these are working themselves out with a lot of practice) and a number of formation errors.  Because my original plan didn't work, in a few weeks (once the workbooks arrive) we will start a Christian handwriting program called "A Reason for Handwriting"I looked at two other very popular handwriting programs but I wanted something simple (no frills, no nonsense, and very little lesson preparation).  Since they are both writing and can dictate lengthy spelling lists, they don't need any introductions.  They do need to go back to basics to make sure each letter is properly formed.  This program looks simple and easy to use.  We'll see how it works out once we start get started with it.

A friend recommended the A Beka homeschool curriculum to usHer children have graduated high school and gone on to college and medical school so we figured that it must be pretty good.  It is also very well-tested, having been used in private schools and homeschools for quite a long time.  We have been working through the K5 Numbers Skills Curriculum and have found it to provide a very solid foundation.  Hannah loves the colorful worksheets and I like that the lessons are pre-planned, easy to read, and even have a script for introducing new concepts.  We don't use any of the manipulatives or visuals.  We don't even use the flashcards that they recommend, but the kids are learning the material very well sans teddy bear.  :)

Bible Memory Verses
Each day we practice reciting our newest memory verse, complete with hand motions.  It has been fun to see just how much the kids can keep in their heads!  We started with some review verses and have worked our way up to a couple of longer passages.  We don't have a rhyme or reason to the specific verses we choose, but have used some ideas from this blog to guide us in our memorization.  We are currently memorizing Psalm 19 and, even though it's been a rough week and the passage is long, this morning Joshua and Hannah were able to recite the first seven verses on their own.  It's been great for me, too!  I wouldn't be committing scripture to memory like this if I didn't do it with the kids!

Memory Work - Science and Geography/History
When we began homeschooling last fall I wasn't sure how we would cover everything from reading to social studies to physical education.  It was actually overwhelming to me to think of more than reading and math lessons each day.  I'm glad that we started when Jeremiah was only a few weeks old because it forced me to keep things simple and establish a routine before adding on secondary subjects.  We started out with some calendar time, a Bible lesson, and Joshua did phonics.  Then we added a math lesson.  Now we have added a bit of science and geography/history, and Hannah is now in full-fledged school.

We are moving in the direction of a classical education.  I'll probably talk more about why we like the method in the next homeschool series post, but for now it's important to know that we are loosely following the memory work outlined in Classical Conversations.

We work each week on a new memorization for science (The Five Kingdoms of Living Things, The Classifications of Living Things, Parts of a Plant Cell, etc.) and also for geography (The Fertile Crescent, The Assyrian Empire, The Babylonian Empire, etc.).  Each week we also do an activity related to the week's memorization.  This helps the kids put what they are learning into an appropriate context.  I also mix in a bit of history with our weekly geography activities.

For now I'm not fussed about how much science and geography we cover this year.  My main goal is to familiarize the kids with some terminology and a few concepts, but mostly my aim is to build the subjects into our daily and weekly schedules.  So far we are succeeding on both fronts and having fun while we're at it.  You can't beat that!  :)

Finally, I am putting my music background to work in our home!  Joshua and Hannah have started piano and violin lessons in earnest this winter and they are both loving it.  We have chosen to use the Sassmannshaus method for violin and on piano they are working through the Bastien Primer A book.

Several years ago I taught violin to three children (ages 14, 10, and 6) from Germany.  All of them had an excellent start, especially the 6-year-old who could play a two octave G-Major scale as fast as lightning.  Well...he really needed to slow down and think about what he was doing, but the fact that he had the coordination to play like that really was something!  I discovered that they started with the Sassmannshaus method, so when our kids were getting ready to start learning violin, I bought the first book.  We're only a few weeks in, so we'll see how it works out in the long run.  I am also using a series of posts from this blog to help me sort out the most efficient way to teach the basics of violin.  Abby (2 years old) is also tagging along and although her progress is much slower than the others, she is having fun and learning as she goes.

As for piano, I'm in uncharted territory (not unlike teaching Silent Final E's in the phonics program), but the kids are doing well despite my lack of piano playing expertise.  I like that the Bastien books have simple practice tips and routines that are easy to follow.  I think I can take them through a couple of the books before they will need an actual piano teacher.  In the mean time, I'm having fun and feeling thankful for those two years of class piano in college - thank you Dr. Williamson!

The kids are also learning to read music.  This is new for them, and it's actually the first time I've taught anyone (besides teaching myself as an 11-year-old) how to read music.  I'm teaching it just like they have learned phonics and so far they can read two notes.  Not bad for a bunch of novices!  I incorporate some ear training by playing on the piano the pitch we are learning to read.  I always add the triad and we sing all three pitches in Fixed Do.  I do this several times throughout the day.

So, that's what we're doing in our homeschool this year.  I'm excited about what's in the works for next school year, so be on the look out for another post with our plans for first grade.

What curriculum choices, methods, and resources have you found helpful in educating your children?



  1. Hey, did you end up buying the entire Classical Conversations curriculum? I am still trying to figure out how it works. Before today I thought it was a book!

    1. I was confused by CC for a while as well, and I still don't know all that it is. From what I do know, it's not a full curriculum. We bought the Foundations Curriculum book and that includes three cycles (three years) of weekly memory work in History, Latin, English, Science, Math, and Geography. It also includes a science experiment (either from a specified book or a general project) and a fine arts activity (art-drawing, studying great artists; music-theory, studying great composers).
      The basic premise of the Foundations (elementary) level is to teach children how to commit important information to memory. Then when they are in the upper grades, they are actually familiar with much of the material they are studying because they learned it when they were young.
      Many families join an official CC co-op which is taught by trained tutors (usually parents from the local homeschool community). The tutors not only lead the science and fine arts activities for the day, but they also have a lot of techniques, games, and activities to help students and parents learn to reinforce the memory work. Students also learn to recite their memory work in front of their tutor and their peers. It seems like they have a lot of fun and that parents find it helpful to be able to learn from the tutors so they can work more effectively with their kids at home.
      There are a lot of "rogue" CC communities out there as well. These are families who either don't have a CC co-op in their area or don't want to pay to register their kids. They work together or as individual families through the CC material.
      For families who are not a part of an official CC group, there are a lot of resources online (from blogs to pinterest boards) that have all kinds of supplemental activities to flesh out the memory work.
      The CC curriculum does NOT include a phonics, handwriting, reading, English grammar, or writing. It also does NOT include math. These subjects need to be supplemented through a different curriculum/publisher. I think that a person could fairly easily pull together the secondary subjects (science, history, geography) from the outlined memory work in CC by finding supplemental activities and resources to be able to put the memorization into context.
      Anyway...we are using CC solely for the memory work and even then we're not using it in the order in which it is given. We will be using the history, geography, science, and math memory work for first grade but following the sequence outlined in Story of the World.
      The CC website may be able to explain more of what the program is like - it definitely outlines the benefits which, from talking with families who do it, are quite good.
      If you are considering the classical method, another good resource is "The Well-Trained Mind". You can read the first section of the book and then skim the outlines of how to actually "do school" for the grade school years and up. I found it to be a great resource (the only homeschool book that I thought was worth buying after I read the library's copy).
      I hope that's helpful for you! There are certainly a lot of options when it comes to homeschooling. It's a big job to wade through all of the possibilities and start deciding what might be a good fit for your family.
      Will you guys be doing kindergarten preschool with S this coming year? Have fun on the journey! :)