Monday, September 22, 2014

2014-2015 School Year, Part 1

We are several weeks into the 2014-2015 school year.  At the end of our last school year I wanted to review what we had done and how much of it we were keeping for the new year.  That, obviously, didn't happen, so I thought I would give a bit of an long update now.

Since I am not one to leave out details, this has been split into three separate posts.  Today I'll fill you in on what we are doing for language arts.  The following posts will cover the big changes we've made in our approach to arithmetic.  The final post will cover everything else. 

As many of our posts about schoolwork go, it is mostly as a record for our family.  Within a few days years, we are likely to forget what we did in this crazy stage of life.  It's always kind of fun to look back and say, "Oh, yeah!  I remember doing that!"  If it's at all informative or helpful to others that is an added bonus. 

So, without further ado, I will jump right into what the 2014-2015 school year is looking like!


Joshua, 7 years old, Grade 2

Hannah, 6 years old, Grade 1

Abigail, 4 years old, Preschool / Kindergarten 

The kids' grade levels are partly determined by age and partly be capability.  They all have birthdays in the summer or early fall, so if they were going to school they might be a grade behind what they are now just based on their ages.  Like most children, they do not perform at the same grade level in all subject areas.

Joshua probably fits best into a grade level, while Hannah is doing some second grade work, some first grade work, and some work that simply cannot be graded at all.  Abigail is similar in that she is in between grade levels doing some preschool type stuff and a couple of things that are advanced for her age (she just turned 4 last week).


Phonics / Reading
Abigail is on the slow road to reading using the Spell to Write and Read phonics system mentioned below.  This is not actually because of her abilities.  I think she is already reading several words, but we have some issues with following directions.  These challenges generally keep us from finishing our lessons without a tantrum.

We have an unspoken rule now that if she throws a fit or fights with me then I put the books away and we finish for the day.  We are gradually making progress (with the tantrums), but it is painful.  Probably in several months when she is no longer so hard-headed more ready for formal instruction, we will start from the beginning and I suspect it will be a fairly short and smooth road to reading from there.

Abby's spelling list.
Joshua (7) and Hannah (almost 6) learned to read through the Spell to Write and Read phonics program by Wanda Sanseri.  I've written about it before and I have told many people about this extensive program.  Now that they are solid readers, we use the program for spelling alone with The Wise Guide for Spelling.

Joshua currently learns 40 words per week and is slated to finish out the entire program (spelling at a college freshman level) by the end of next school year.  Hannah is now learning 20 words per week and is about half way through the book.  This, I think, is the only curriculum we have used from the beginning of our schooling journey.  And we have no plans to change it in the future.

Previously we were using a Christian handwriting curriculum called A Reason forHandwriting.  I thought it as going well, but both kids were not improving in their handwriting as I had hoped.  Also, one of them has a right-handed hook pencil grip, which I was set on "fixing".  So, in January we switched to Handwriting WithoutTears.

Initially this change seemed to solve our problems - the handwriting was getting better and the pencil grips were also improving.  And, overall, I do like this program better than what we were using.  However, our kids still revert to sloppy handwriting, the hook pencil grip seems to be here for the long-haul, and I generally feel like I am failing my kids in the area of good handwriting.

Oh, well.

They can write legibly.  They are making slow progress in their handwriting skills.  And the strange pencil grips seem quite functional and are not causing any major problems (meaning, they don't keep the kids from writing and drawing for hours and hours every day).  So, for now we're going to leave it.  Handwriting may not be the strongest subject in our homeschool, but I'm learning to accept that.

And if we have some problems that come up, we'll address them as needed.

Writing / Composition
When I started out this official homeschool journey, I started reading a book called The Well-Trained Mind.  You can read about how that shaped our first year of homeschooling in this post.  While we still agree with many of the key principles in the classical method of education, we started running into some practical challenges.

One area has been that of writing and composition.  We were using Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer.  I really like the basic premise of her system.  It's simple and seems like it might be effective.  The problem we had was that I simply could not keep up with finding passages of books to read, make discussion questions for, and provide copy work sentences from.  This could be solved by purchasing a workbook with every assignment included.  The problem with this was that I didn't like many of the literature choices for one reason or another.

So, for now we are not doing any specific writing curriculum.  The kids, do however, write plenty on their own and at this stage I think they are alright.  In a year or two we may need something formalized to work through, but like handwriting, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Unlike the suggested writing curriculum from The Well-Trained Mind, we are having pretty good success with Jessie Wise's First Language Lessons.  Hannah is just about finished with Level 1 and Joshua is somewhere in the middle of Level 2.  I like that the lessons are short and simple - perfect for me to fit into our school days.  And the kids actually look forward to them.  Imagine that!

Unless something changes, we will stick with these through the end of the series at which point we will find something more advanced.  Any suggestions???

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