Thursday, January 25, 2007

How We Home-Educate, Part 3A

I started this post months ago and left it as a draft. Sorry! Just realized that I never finished it. So, it's on to a discussion of Language Arts!

Language Arts has been a sticking point for me for years now. I have a BA degree in English and I am a voracious reader. I like to think I am a competent writer as well. So, it stands to reason that I would want an above-average language arts curriculum, doesn't it?

However, despite lots of looking, I could not find an effective curriculum that would accomplish my goals, meet my children's needs, and not be a drag at the same time. Every now and then, I'd find something that looked promising, but upon closer inspection, I'd find something about it that wasn't what I wanted.

So, I've basically pulled together my own curriculum using different components instead of an integrated curriculum. I'll give you a list of the materials and then discuss how we use them.
  • Spelling Power, beginning around age 8-9
  • Grammar workbooks from no particular series, starting in about 5th grade
  • English From the Roots Up, beginning around the same time
  • Rummy Roots, to go with English from the Roots Up
  • Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) for composition, just discovered it, but using as soon as a child's language skills allow them to read comfortably and write 2-3 sentences
  • Handwriting, plain old Zaner-Bloser
  • Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing
  • Journal Writing
  • Reading real books
  • A Beka reading comprehension speed drills
  • Copywork
  • Writing letters to real people
Spelling - When I taught school, I saw way too many of my students get A's on the Friday spelling tests and then misspell the very same words in assignments the following week. I wanted my children to avoid the trap of learning the words just for the test. My goal for spelling is practical application. What good are 100% scores if one cannot spell words when needed? Spelling Power is just what I was looking for. There are no weekly word lists, no weekly tests. Instead students are tested to see where to begin and then work through lists grouped by phonics rule. They are "tested" daily to see which words need to be learned, and then those words are practiced. Rarely does one of my children have a word for more than 2-3 days; usually words are learned by the next day. Review tests and delayed recall tests are periodically scheduled to make sure words are retained. The real strength of Spelling Power, other than the absence of the "weekly spelling list" is the method for studying the words. A step-by-step process is used, and this could be used with any program. I no longer purchase the blank Spelling Power books to test and study in. Now I use a sheet I found on the internet that I feel has improved on the original. (It's HERE on Paula's page; click on Modified Study Sheet.) Of course, Spelling Power isn't perfect - some of the rules are not grouped according to my preference, but we can adapt.

Grammar - I don't think early grammar instruction is useful or beneficial at all, unless the child specifically requests it. I think all the grammar that is generally taught (and retaught and reviewed and retaught) in the elementary grades can easily and more effectively be taught in one junior high school year. In this opinion, I am referring to the mechanics of writing more specifically known as parts of speech, sentence structure, and punctuation. I think all of these concepts are better learned in the elementary years by modeling and practice during actual REAL writing instead of endless boring worksheets and drills. (Sorry, Easy Grammar users!)

So, even though I have an twelve-year-old son, his first study of grammar was last year when we did a short workbook from the teacher store. (Frank Schaffer, I believe) It was a basic introduction, and generally worthless, if I am being truthful. He was in fifth grade. This year, in sixth grade, he is doing another cheap basic workbook, probably because I feel a little insecure in my convictions about this, having never actually used this method all the way through before. He does a page a couple times a week or so, so it's not a major component of our language arts curriculum. We do Mad Libs from time to time also, so this helps with identification and understanding of parts of speech.

I would really like to peruse Analytical Grammar to see if it is workable for us. The philosophy behind the program seems to fit with mine. Anyone have it that I can look at? It's pricy or I would have ordered it by now. Probably next year will be David's Grammar Year.

Ok, this takes forever! lol I'll work on the other components another time. Stay tuned!

How We Home-Educate, Part 3B

Well, this is turning into quite a series, eh? One might actually think I have put some heavy consideration into my curriculum choices!

LATIN? Why would I teach my kids Latin? And if I am going to teach Latin, why am I not using Latina Christiana or some other full Latin curriculum?

Well, I don't want to waste time actually teaching my children to read Latin, unless they feel called to do so. It IS a dead language after all, and I daresay that any important Latin works we might want to read have been translated, and translated well, into English already. Why re-invent the wheel?

But because Latin has had such a great influence on the world's language, including English, I find it important to learn some Latin. And Greek too, for that matter. I think the main benefit to studying these languages will be to increase the understanding of English vocabulary and spelling.

So, I chose English from the Roots Up to study Greek and Latin root words. We study one root word a week, usually, by copying the root word onto a card. On the back of the card, we write the meaning and some examples of English words based on that particular root word. This is not an in-depth study at this time, just an overview, but I have noticed the children integrating these root words into their vocabulary by pointing out places they notice the roots and then stating the meanings.

I cannot give all the credit to English from the Roots Up, however, as we also play Rummy Roots about once a week. This is a rummy (go fish) type card game that helps the children match Latin and Greek roots to their English meanings. They enjoy it, although my oldest is much better at it than his sister 2 years younger, and he does take advantage of his skill. I look forward to my younger son also being able to play in the near future and this changing the dynamics of that game!

Composition - After seeing IEW curriculum at many conventions and ads in many magazines, I still found the purpose and design of the curriculum difficult to discern. I finally got to hear Andrew Pudewa speak at the INCH Convention last May and was so impressed that I decided to order the curriculum anyway, despite having no understanding of how it worked!

A friend and I went to another convention and cornered the IEW rep and asked her some questions to help us figure out exactly WHAT to order. We decided to jointly purchase the Teaching Writing: Style and Substance DVD seminar and work our way through the confusing thing together. We were assured by the rep that as soon as we began to watch that things would become clear, and you know what? She was right!

We soon enlisted some other friends to watch with us, and now we have a small group of moms meeting monthly to watch a section of the DVD, work through the corresponding exercises, and talk about how the curriculum is working out in our homes.

I have started the program with David, age 12, and Emily, age 9. David has shown remarkable ability in keyword outlining paragraphs and rewriting them to make them stronger! Emily is also doing well. As soon as James is able to write a few sentences and read comfortably, I will begin the program with him too.

I may try to purchase the student seminars for next year, as I think that will keep ME more accountable to doing the program, but they are not necessary. These techniques can be used with any available books.

Handwriting - Having had a hard time with handwriting myself, I try not to create too much pressure on my kids for handwriting. However, I realize that I do need to put a little more effort into teaching correct formation. I dislike the "modern" styles of penmanship, such as D'Nealian, and much prefer the traditional ball-stick methods, also known as Zaner-Bloser. I purchased a reproducible handwriting exercise book from the Zaner-Bloser company and make copies for my kids.

I am going to redouble my efforts towards handwriting too, as it has been mostly a time filler exercise here. David and Emily both need some intensive cursive instruction as neither feels comfortable writing cursive as a default handwriting.

Ok, enough for now. I have a few more components to discuss and then I can describe how I put it all together.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Training the Sub

Bob sat with us as we did school today, so I could give him the facts about how I do things, in the event that he would end up taking over if I get a full time job during the day, or more immediately, if I get called to sub.

If I work full time, I will still make the lesson plans and Bob will carry them out. He is home all the time due to a work-related injury. He is applying for disability so the almost 5 years he has spent at home with us so far will likely become permanent.

I explained to him how we do Bible, Science and History. He already knows the Math procedures, as he helps the kids with math most days. The Language Arts is going to be a bit confusing, so I will have to figure out something else, I think.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Co-op Started Yesterday

Our new co-op session began yesterday. We meet every other Friday for 8 sessions. Our day is from 9:30-2:30 at a local church. 146 other children from 62 other families join us in this endeavor. And, oh yeah, I am the coordinator! lol

I am teaching a class called Make Your Own Toys, based on Steven Caney's Toy Book. It's going to be a fun creative class and I have 14 students enrolled.

These are the things my kids are taking this time around. A 25 minute lunch period intervenes between 2nd and 3rd hours.

David - age 12

1 – Lego Robotics 2 (Part 2 of the class he took last time.)

2 – Dodgeball (All Dodgeball all the time!)

3 – Open Gym (Free Play in the gym with sports equipment)

4 – Leathercrafting (His goal is to make a wallet.)

5 – Business & Money for Kids (Equipping kids to start and run their own businesses. David is a little apprehensive about this class still.)

Emily - age 9

1 – Open Gym

2 – Drawing (A talented teen teaches this class.)

3 – Fun with Fabric (Making things from fabric without sewing machines.)

4 – Choir (There are 2 BOYS in the class this time around, shocking all the girls! lol)

5 – Physical Education Girls (Yesterday they did 5 laps around the gym and played clothespin tag.)

James - age 7

1 – Ancient Civilizations (Doing a History Pockets book on, what else, Ancient Civilizations! lol Pockets books are cutting, pasting, coloring)

2 – Ink*redible (learning about rubber stamping)

3 – How to Draw Racecars, Dinos and More (Just what it says!)

4 – PE ages 6-9 (Organized games for the lower el kids)

5 – Caldecott Lit Pockets (Another Pockets book, this time on Caldecott-winning picture books.)

Suzy - age 4

1 – Open Gym

2 – Heroes of the Bible (Bible stories and a craft)

3 – Kings Kids (Learning about character - "My teacher, Shiloh's mom, said, "NO LYING!!!" in my class!"

4 – Crafts for all Seasons (Making crafts)

5 – Playdough (Playing with playdough)

They all love co-op and look forward to it immensely. I love it too. It's great to see so many homeschool families all in one place, to see the moms connecting, to see the kids making friends, to see such creative learning opportunities!