Saturday, September 15, 2012

Expecting More of the Kids

   I am constantly expecting too little of my children and they are constantly proving that I can safely expect a lot more from them.

   Catherine is reading ancient great books this year. She whipped through Gilgamesh (she thought the bit where Gilgamesh and Enkidu behead and disembowel the Bull of Heaven was hilarious) and then moved on to a good slice of the Old Testament. I gave her a choice between the Good News Bibles and my huge Oxford Annotated NRSV. I thought the Good News Bible was a better choice for a first read because it's written in plain language and the Oxford one is dense and filled to the brim with even denser foot notes.

   After a quick review Catherine choose the Oxford.

   Turns out she found the plain language of the Good News Bible flat and uninspiring. I let her know she could skip the foot notes and off she went to read.

   A couple of hours later I went to check on her progress. She said it had gone really well and her eyes lit up as she told me that she loved the foot notes. They had made the stories much richer and given her connections between Genesis and Gilgamesh that she might not have noticed otherwise. She was also greatly surprised to learn details like the fact that, absent a Christian lens, the serpent was likely more of a mischief character then an evil one.

   So lesson learned yet again. I should never limit my children by what I think they might be able to handle. I should never hesitate to push of offer materials even if I think they might be a bit beyond my children.

Monday, September 10, 2012

And Now For the Grade Five Line Up

   Yesterday I outlined the programs and resources my daughter is using for Grade Nine. Planning for my son has been a little easier as we're simply continuing with many of the things we had success with last year. I've finally learned what I think is probably one of the most important lessons in homeschooling, it's not the curriculum, it's the commitment. I can be swayed by all the fun and fancy programs out there but ultimately the ones that bring the most success are those I simply keep puttering away at and refuse to give up on even when they get boring and hard for Harry and I.

   English is finally starting to feel like a real subject. Harry is finished the Dancing Bears reading series and is now a confident and capable reader. He's still working through Apples and Pears spelling from the same publisher and will likely finish the last two levels during this school year. For grammar it's back to KISS. Yes, the site is hard to navigate and yes, there's a lot of printing but it's free and probably one of the best grammar programs out there. So far he's enjoying it. For writing It's Writing With Ease which he definitely isn't enjoying right now but I don't care. I've learned the virtue of pushing him through things he's not found of because he eventually reaps and enjoys the reward.

   Math became a bit of an issue because I was skipping back and forth between Singapore Primary Mathematics and Math Mammoth. Harry liked both but I kept running into issues where one would work for one concept but another was better for something else. I solved it this year by going with the Key to...Series. Since Harry understands arithmetic we'll keep it fresh with drills and occasional worksheets but otherwise he needs a more specific and in depth program for each of the concepts that are starting to pop up in math.

   History may finally get done this year. I'm back to Gombrich's Little History of the World. It's a magical book that seems to work well for Harry. Bringing Up Learners offers it's Mosaic World History program for free and LHotW is one of the two spines you can use. I'm modifying it quite a bit as it's a bit young for Harry but it's still a great outline for us to follow.

   Science is, as always, the toughest subject for me. There's nothing out there that is really written for homeschoolers from a secular perspective. With Harry I'm simply going to read lots and have him do some notebooking.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Grade Nine Line Up for This Year

   Another year, another lineup of programs to use with the kids. So far this school year has been a doozy because on top of the planning I had to do for my two older children I also have a 10 month old on the verge of walking who I have to chase and a husband who's incapacitated and out of work until sometime in the new year due to a shoulder injury. I am busier then I've ever been at any other point in my marriage but despite that, or more probably because of that, I'm more focused and productive then ever. So on to the show...

   Catherine is in Grade 9 this year and we've simplified English a great deal to cope with the increasing workload (hers and mine). Instead of the multi-year writing program she was doing last year, Writing With Skill, she'll be going through The Lively Art of Writing. After that her writing will simply be the reports and essays she'll have to produce for other subjects. Later in the year she'll also complete Jensen's Grammar to put the finishing touches on her grammar skills and any practice after that will come from editing her work and possibly her brother's. She's still doing Jensen's Vocabulary and the MCT 4 Practice book but those are ten minute a day things that will have to fit in around the more fundamental work. She's reading ancient literature as well (just finished Gilgamesh) a la The Well Trained Mind.

    For math we're working with Foerster's Algebra 1. In Canada, as with most of the world, our math is integrated and not portioned out into sections like pre-algebra and geometry, but Foerster's fit so well with the no-nosense, clear, sidebarless texts that Catherine likes that I choose to use it and follow the American math sequence. There will be no fun add-ons, no supplementation. Foester's is it and it seems to be working well so for.

    History will consist of Catherine reading The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer. She will learn to take proper notes and finally keep an honest-to-goodness timeline. We've tried them before but never found a method that really worked. Either we were dealing with a Book of Centuries that would get put up and forgotten or something along the wall that was hard to access and inevitably fell down. I've got a new method now that works like a charm and I'll give details in a further post. She'll likely also be listening to Teaching Company lectures, I haven't got the details around those sorted out quite yet.

    Science will be Hewitt's Conceptual Physical Science. It's a college level texts that should provide a good introduction to some of the science she will be studying in later grades. I decided to keep it as simple as possible, have her read a chapter and take notes, discuss it and go over the review questions. I could do all sorts of neat labs and supplementary activities but science is one of those subjects that always seems to slip away on me to I've reverted to a Keep It Simple Stupid strategy for this year.

    Latin is Lingua Latina which I've owned for awhile now and has turned out to be perfect for Catherine. It's a program which, aside from the College Companion book, is written completely in Latin. The goal is to have her be able to read Latin as if it's her first language rather then to have her translate as she goes

    That's the core of her year. Beyond that she'll have her violin practice and lessons and she wants to continue learning how to program in Python but beyond scheduling a bit of time for violin I'm not going to be pressuring her on those two subjects. With those, she can start to learn to set aside some of her leisure time to pursue those interests.

    Simple and straightforward work best with Catherine. She doesn't appreciate too many rabbit trails in a program (in discussion afterwards is another matter) and all of my picks this year seem to match with that preference and provide her with a good fit. I am really hoping that this will be the year that we end with everything we started with. Tommorrow...Harry's Grade 5 line up.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Homeschooling When Your Kids Surpass You in Grammar...

One problem I have in homeschooling these days is what to do when my children start surpassing me in subjects. In math, this has meant passing teaching off to my husband. I held to the idea for a very long time that I would simply learn alongside my daughter, but I recently had to face the reality that I was holding my daughter back. We learn at the same pace, but it is hard to pass on an understanding of something when you have only just tackled it yourself. Grammar has been another challenge. Although I spent many year believing my kids could learn it by osmosis, we have tackled it as a formal subject in the last few years. It has been good for Catherine but has emphasized my limitations; however, I am not passing grammar off to the husband. Partly because as tenuous as my grip on it is, his is worse and partly because there are excellent resources out there for people in just my position.

First let me go on a bit why I don't hold to the idea that grammar is something you can pick up by simply immersing yourself in good books. The simple fact is that you don't know what you don't know. Often I will write something that sounds wrong but I won't have the knowledge to strip it apart and analyze exactly what is wrong. While reading good literature will give you a sense of good grammar, that's a very limited tool. Imagine walking down a forest path with a general sense of danger but not the specific knowledge to discover if you are, in fact, being followed by a hungry mountain lion.

Another great reason for formal grammar study is to develop style. How you use wording, phrases and punctuation all affects how exactly you communicate your message. The more familiarity you have with the tools required to write clearly, the more flexibility you have when it comes time to construct something with those tools. Whether my children pursue writing as a career or simply need to write a clear and intelligent letter to the editor of a local paper, their formal grammar training is going to come in handy.

So how do I assure they get a firm grounding in grammar when my own grasp of grammar is shaky?

Good direct instruction grammar programs with answer keys are a great start. I have tried more informal approaches but I find that when you aren't intimately familiar with a topic then generally the best approach is a scripted program. No surprises. No struggles to find out how to describe something.

When kids are old enough there are a lot of good programs that are self-directed. I have no qualms at all about being taken completely out of the loop. The bulk of my daughter's work in foreign languages and English is independent now (I sometimes suspect that's why those are also her favourite subjects).

Of course, I can't completely get away from having to check grammar and style and that's where I'm often a little lost. When my daughter completes a writing assignment, how do I give her specific and accurate critiques when I'm operating with just a sense of good grammar? Thankfully, I was recently told about an online grammar checker,, that looks like it might be a huge help in this area. All I have to do is enter text (copy and paste does the trick) and it gives me a run down of mistakes and issues to address. I copy and pasted this post and was thoroughly embarrassed by just how much work Grammarly suggested it needed. Embarrassed and amazed. Grammar seems like a rather loosey-goosey thing at times but here's a website telling me I need a comma there and that sentence isn't properly balanced. It's not free (between twelve to thirty dollars a months depending on the length of your subscription) but if you're heading into middle school or high school with your kids and find that your lack of knowledge is holding their grammar and writing back, I think it's probably well worth it.

None of this is to say I'm going to give up on learning grammar myself. I already know much more then I did just a year ago (go ahead, ask me what a gerund is), but I can't hold the kids to my pace. Especially not my daughter who, when it comes to writing, seems to exceed me not just in skill but also in talent.

Note: I was compensated by for this post. They probably didn't need to though - the site is so darn nifty I would have been raving about it anyway and likely will again as I discover more ways to incorporate it into our homeschooling.