Homeschool Curricula Extravaganza

Posted on September 29, 2011 by

I am a mother of six kids. Yes, I said six, and yes, I know what causes that. On top of that weirdness blessing, we decided to homeschool our six kids. Currently just four, but six of them eventually. We have kids in 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades, and one in pre-K. They are Gazelle (10), Bear (8), Lion (6) and Tiger (4).  I have two other kids – Banana (2.) and Iceman (1) – to contend with while I’m schooling, which is a different post. This post is about curriculum.

I plan and work from a Classical school-view, also known as the Trivium. A Classical approach to schooling includes three phases of learning: grammar, logic and rhetoric. When you relate it to the American public school model, the grammar stage is 1st- 4th grades, the logic stage is 5th-8th grades, and the rhetoric stage is 9th-12th grades. The grammar stage is easy because it’s all copy work and memorizing poems and reading fun stories from history; learning the mechanics of language. The basic point is to model good writing and thinking for four years, so when they get to the logic stage the student can start asking questions that are actually meaningful and will be able to answer those questions in a logical manner. The rhetoric stage is learning to use language and logic to be able to persuade.

History – We use The Story of the World series of history books. The series is broken up into four basic historical periods: Ancient Times, Middle Ages, Early Modern and Modern Times. This year Bear is in book 3 (Middle Ages) and Gazelle and Lion are in book 1 (Ancients). Gazelle is starting the series over, just with the logic stage intensity of study. I read the chapter to the kids while they are coloring a picture that is related to what we are studying – King Tut’s face, the Taj Majal, the Defenestration of Prague. After I read, I ask questions and have them label a map and sometimes a timeline. With Gazelle and Bear, they each have copy books and the goal is to have them copy good, interesting sentences or short paragraphs into their copy books. Also, Gazelle has to summarize what we’ve read and write a paragraph about it. All the kids are encouraged to read further about history. We have a large stash of books related to the countries or times that we are currently studying. We also do projects related to the lesson. They are often cooking projects – yum.

Grammar – Lion started part 1 of First LanguageLessons (FLL), and Bear is on part 3  We settled on Rod & Staff’s 5th grade grammar for Gazelle, and she will also be doing lessons on diagramming sentences with The First Whole Book of Diagrams. I really like FLL because it tells me exactly what to say during the lesson. I’m pretty good at language arts myself, but I’m not a very natural or creative “teacher”, so having a guide to what I should be saying is very helpful to me. Several people I know that were teachers in a former life really dislike it because they feel it’s too restrictive. I’ve been doing the lessons so long that I’m starting to get to know it like I wrote it, so being creative about teaching it is getting easier. For someone that is unsure about how to teach grammar, this is a really good choice. In 1st grade, the lessons are short and fun and they get more involved as the kids age, with extensive sentence diagramming, and poem and word list memorization. The Rod & Staff grammar is very detailed. The lessons are written to the student, so if you have an independent learner, this is a great curriculum.

Science – In the past we’ve studied a smorgasbord of science including biology, physics, and earth in a single year. This year are focused solely on studying biology. The plan is to spend 10 weeks on the human body and then 26 weeks on cells, classification, ecology, birds, insects, reptiles, etc.  Some of the books I have obtained to help us study biology are the Usborne Science Encyclopedia, Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method, How Nature Works, How the Body Works, Biology for Every Kid, and Slime, Molds and Fungi. I am using Christian Kids Explore Biology, How Nature Works and How the Body Works as my main books for teaching lessons and the others are for reference and experiments.

Logic – Gazelle is doing puzzles from Red Herrings, and Mind Benders. She is also reading The Thinking Toolbox, by brothers Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn. We tried to have her read The Fallacy Detective, but it was a bit too complex for her at this time. I’ve read The Fallacy Detective myself and I thought it was excellent.

Latin – We started over from scratch with Prima Latina, which I had tried to do with Gazelle when she was in 3rd grade.

Art & music – I broke up art and music up into two semesters. This fall we are studying music. Understanding Music and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra are the two main books I am referencing for these lessons. If we can manage it, we’d like to take a field trip to the orchestra. I also have a coloring book of classical composers that I copy for them to color and put in their notebook. For art in the spring, I plan to use Drawing with Children which is an actual how-to book on drawing. For a study of artists and art styles I am going to use The Children’s Book of Art, which is an Usborne Internet-linked book; it has a broad range of different painting genres, an explanation of the styles, and a brief history of the artist.

Writing – I finally settled on Classical Writing, using Aesop, books A and B; both books are 18 weeks; book A is a tad easier than book B. We do one week of writing study and one week of actual writing, for a total of 36 weeks of study. I’m not sure how prepared Gazelle is for writing, so I’m doing Gazelle and Bear together on Aesop, book A. If eventually Gazelle thinks it’s too easy, then I’ll move on to book B for her. If that’s too easy then I’ll move her on to Homer, book A, but so far they are having fun doing writing together and they tend to naturally work at their own level.

Mathematics – We have been using Right Start Math since Gazelle was in 1st grade. I really like their logical approach to arithmetic. I can recall struggling to memorize the times tables and never really getting it. Right Start Math doesn’t do memorizing times tables; they teach skip counting and then relate that to multiplication. WHOA! What a revelation. My own math skills have greatly improved since starting on this curriculum and I highly recommend it for everyone. This year, Gazelle is doing geometry, Bear and Lion are on levels D and B, respectively. The geometry is written to the student. I help Gazelle if she gets stuck, but for the most part, she can read and understand the instructions without my help. My husband is teaching math to Bear and Lion, since his math skills should actually be described as math skillZ (with a Z).

Geography – We all really enjoyed Galloping the Globe last year and if time permits, we’ll continue with that. We managed to complete Asia and some of Europe last year so we’ll just pick up where we left off. Basically we use the book as a jumping off point for studying each country briefly. We use the CIA’s World Fact Book to  look at their position on the world map, the type of government they have, their population, major religion and language, and the name of their currency.

Handwriting – I have decided to let Gazelle off the hook for a formal handwriting program this year and get her typing. Bear, Lion and Tiger will all be doing the Handwriting without Tears books. I may be getting a bit disillusioned with these handwriting books and am looking for something more fun.

Spelling – Gazelle, Bear and Lion are all doing Spelling Workout. I like Spelling Workout because each lesson begins with basic rules for English spelling and then there are generally three sections that give the student practice in writing words with the same meaning, words with the similar spelling, words the rhyme, etc. The practice is fun, with riddles weaved in the lesson and a short writing practice at the end. I skipped the writing practice for the most part, because we have so much other writing in the rest of our school. Another  resource that I wish I would use more for spelling is Spelling City. My kids really enjoy “playing” on that website. It’s free, you can store spelling lists, the kids are able to practice their spelling words and can even take quizzes.

For teaching reading to Tiger, I am using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, which I can’t recommend enough.

I get many of my book recommendations from The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. What curricula are you using that I should know about?

Posted in: Education