We are one week away from our big finish!
Last year I designed a unit study-type curriculum based on Torchlight Level 1 (for history and geography), Blossom & Root 3 (study of the animal kingdom), and The Good and the Beautiful for math, language arts, and handwriting. We also did typing at Typetastic and Nessy Fingers, cursive from various resources, and Brave Writer Dart series plus a flex class on Outschool. As usual, we kept changing things, and in the end I am pleased with how the girls are finishing. That is to say: strong!
The biggest challenge? That’s easy. Two little boys aged 2. They are impossible to do anything around, as they are loud and rough and just plain wild. What really helped the most this year was sending them to a friend’s house once a week for several hours. Also helpful was when they went to bed. This coming year they will be at preschool and we are SO. GLAD. Homeschooling should feel like a total breeze compared to what we went through this year!
Our fourth grader started the year truly struggling in math. She hated it and had a lot of anxiety and mental block in the beginning, to the point where we were actually becoming concerned. We had her tested by the school district after the holidays, and strangely… she stopped fighting math right after. She even started saying it wasn’t so hard anymore! Huge turn around there! For math, we used The Good and the Beautiful level 4 math (old version) but we had lost the 2nd book of level 4… so we switched to the new version which is only one book. I thought she she would be able to start about halfway through the book, but NO. We ended up doing a lot of the beginning of the book because she didn’t seem to be clear on most of it. The backtracking worked, I guess, because she has finished very strong. We have not had a meltdown at all over math for more than two months!
My active strong-willed child, she often becomes frustrated when she can’t catch on to something right away. She really hates instruction, preferring to figure everything out on her own. Even so, she claims that math is her favorite subject. She finished The Good and the Beautiful level 2 books (the old version) after the holidays, and is plowing right through level 3! We are still using the old versions, because I find them to be slower paced with more opportunity for games and activities, like the pentaminos and soduko, which she really enjoys.
Mom rating for our math curriculum choices this year: A.
We have liked The Good and the Beautiful math because it is all in one book and has lots of variety and colors. The spiral approach is reassuring to me, as well, and prevents us having to “re-teach” everything over and over. It does mention God or the bible once in a while, but those parts are easily skipped over or left out or even changed into a discussion about religion and different schools of thought. Both girls advanced a year’s grade level, and both seemed to have solid understanding of what they learned. Most importantly, they are both finishing the year saying that math is one of their favorite subjects. That’s a win!
For next year, I would like to have more math games, math books, and hands-on math just to get us away from book work more often.
I didn’t intend to use just The Good and the Beautiful for Language Arts, but it really worked so well for us to have such an open-and-go curriculum. I started out the year having our 4th grader reading one novel, a chapter or so a week, and doing various activities from the novel’s Dart from the Brave Writer program. She read The Rickshaw Girl, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, The Peacemaker, The Year of the Dog, and maybe another I’m forgetting in this way. It was good, but then I got bored with doing a Dart every time. We switched it up a bit with Heartwood Hotel, Ways to Make Sunshine, and a few more books, just printing some activities from TeachersPayTeachers to go with the reading. Finally, she read Kensuke’s Kingdom and did a Flex class on Outschool which had some quizzes and writing assignments. Honestly there wasn’t much to do with the Flex class so I wouldn’t do that again, most likely.
Our biggest goal for the 4th grader was to get sentences down and then paragraphs. She really felt daunted by paragraphs for most of the year, but the last month something seems to have clicked. Her grammar skills are really very good. She worked her way through TGTB level 3 without any problem, and we started skipping the readers and all of the dictating because it got dry and boring. She then started level 4, which was actually much better in my opinion. The grammar seems pretty easy for her, so she has pretty much mastered 4th grade grammar concepts in my opinion. More importantly, she is finally writing paragraphs without crying. She has learned ‘The Writing Process’ sucessfully and is just now writing multiple paragraphs without tears, editing/proofreading and making her final drafts. We’re super proud of how far she’s come! She’s also reading for fun a lot, too, and quite thick novels. Reading was a big struggle for this one earlier in her elementary years, so boy am I glad we started homeschooling and she could slow down and go at her own pace. It’s a joy to see her interested in a good book!
Speaking of struggling reader… the difference here is that she never realized she was “behind”. She has been homeschooled since first grade and usually a solid two years behind “grade level”. But who cares! Because this year something has clicked, and she began plowing through The Good and The Beautiful Level K like it was child’s play, and now has almost finished level 1 (which is about 2nd grade level in most schools). Much much more importantly, she enjoys reading and feels very proud that she can now decipher signs and other text. She has never gotten an A, a C, or any other grade for reading. It now seems ridiculous, like grading someone for how they grow in height! They just… do when they do. And you just… support them as they go! We provided phonics lessons, we provided lots of reading and books, we never told her where she “should be” or that other kids her age were “already” reading other things. She’s going to be reading novels in no time now… the important thing being that she can get information and enjoy it! She particularly likes to learn about animals, so reading will be her best tool into gaining the knowledge she’s always seeking.
As far as literature, I always have an ambitious list. We read several of the same books as the 4th grader and really enjoyed them, plus some additional classics, like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist series, the Madame Pamplemouse series, and Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos series . We read through her stack of books that were Christmas books, as well, including A Wolf Called Wander and Coyote Peterson’s book of animal adventures. Many of our reading choices came from Torchlight Level 1.
Mom Rating of our Language Arts curriculum this year: A-
Torchlight had great suggestions for some read-aloud bedtime books, and The Good and the Beautiful really solidified grammar knowledge for our oldest and helped with word decoding and reading practice for our 3rd grader. Dart and TGTB both got a bit dry toward the end, however.
We did the same social studies curriculum for both girls, and it came from Torchlight Level 1. We used Curiousity Chronicles as our guide through all of the ancient civilizations in chronological order, starting with the Stone Age and ending with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Ancient Egypt was a big hit, as was the Stone Age, but I think many of the cultures just went in one ear and out the other for the girls. I hope they at least came away with an understanding that as humans, our history of civilizations is worldwide and very old. We took some interesting field trips, including to a local Egyptian museum which was quite good. We talked about the beliefs of native people and introduced the concept of conquering civilizations and how they often oppress or destroy those whose lands they seek to control. We have ended on Maori and Aborigine people, and I think we are in a good position to start introducing our state and national history next year. With a solid foundation of what a “civilization” is, and how one can often be detrimental to another, we can talk about how our own country came about, why slavery existed and how it still affects our country today, and how we came to live in our own state instead of the natives who came here first.
Mom Rating of Social Studies Curriculum this year: B+
B+ only because I built much of the curriculum myself, meaning I took the themes and subjects from Torchlight and found similar books, or books not mentioned, videos, movies, and field trips that related. That’s totally ok, and I enjoyed making my own curriculum. Torchlight ended up being more of a reference than a program I followed, though. While I did find their booklists helpful, I did not stick to their timelines, schedules, or assignment sheets at all, and we did our own thing with science. Torchlight doesn’t include language arts or math.
Both girls did science together, just as they did last year. We had a truly great experience with Blossom & Root Year 1, earth science, and finished with their dinosaur unit, so we were well prepared to take on Year 3, which was the animal kingdom. (We skipped year 2, plants.) Essentially, I used their subject order, their book and video and activity lists for suggestions, but also built in my own activities and books and videos. Again, I mostly used BR as a resource for building my own curriculum, just like with Torchlight. My 3rd grader especially enjoyed studying each type of animal very thoroughly, and they both have a great grasp on animal classifications and life cycles, as well as the effects that humans are having on their existence. They ended the year this week with an animal report (I got two different templates from TeachersPayTeachers) and poster presentation. I was very proud of their end result!
Mom rating of the science curriculum this year: A-
B&R is a great curriculum for starting new homeschooling families off on the right path. I really learned how to tailor curriculum to my own family and lifestyle from them. They were the perfect age for animal studies, and I highly recommend bringing in great movies that teach better than a textbook. Like watching Free Willy to learn about Orcas, for example. Naturally, we visited the zoo, aquariums, and watched local wildlife, including bird watching. This was a basic intro to all of the different kinds of animals in the animal kingdom, and it kept us interested. I think we are a bit ready to move on, now, to physics, space, biology, etc.
Handwriting and Typing
This year both girls worked on handwriting with The Good and the Beautiful, as well as cursive workbooks. Our 4th grader has very nice cursive and our 3rd grader now has the basics. In addition, they are getting a grasp on typing with the proper hand position, thanks to Typetastic and Nessy Fingers.
Art and Music
We did several handcrafts this year, including finger knitting, wood carving, and clay (again). The girls were introduced to the recorder, and we’ll pick it up again next year. Additionally, our 4th grader took homeschool group art classes at a local studio and the 3rd grader took a weekly drawing class on Outschool.
Ranching, Farming, Hiking, Survival Skills
The girls continued to attend a local program for both homeschoolers and after-school students that has kids outside no matter the weather (as if the weather changes much in CA), gardening and harvesting and preparing food, both from their crops and from gathering edible plant life, hiking, plant identification and medicinal uses, raising animals, survival skills like shelter and fire building, archery and pottery, woodshop, and social-emotional skills and team building with their groups. Our initial attempt to have the girls in the same group failed, so by moving the 3rd grader down a level, it all improved and they both made friends and enjoyed their day there. I can’t say enough about how great this place is for kids! In addition, the 3rd grader continued riding lessons twice a week, and began cantering this year!
Needing a change for the new year, we joined the Wilder Child Moon Club for 2022. The girls studied the moon extensively: its phases, its orbit, what its like to be an astronaut on the moon (I highly recommend Astronaut, Aquanaut: such a cool book!), what ancient civilizations called each moon of the year and why, and how to track the phases of the moon and witness some of its major events, like eclipses and super moons. We’ve also done Moondalas with each new moon to set intentions, and read stories about the topic coinciding with that particular moon. (Snow Moon, for example, included books about snow, both fiction and non-fiction, and snow activities and videos.) I have personally loved feeling more in sync with the moon.
Emotional growth and Growth Mindset
We did all sorts of stuff here… sibling relationship programs, Big Life Journal, Mom/Daughter journaling, plus lots and lots of library books that went along with the theme. We talked a lot about making and learning from mistakes, anger management techniques, setting goals, resilience, being kind to yourself and to others. Our 4th grader did a whole Empathy workbook and our 3rd grader worked through the whole ADHD and Me workbook. It’s hard to say if they can really use what they learned, but at the very least they have an awareness and it won’t be brand new information to them as they get older. The sibling programs are a work in progress and we just keep finding as many resources as possible to help them with their animosity toward one another. Helping our older girl understand ADHD and trauma behavior in her younger sister was a big focus for us along with empathy. And both girls often feel a lack of attention with the boys taking the lion’s share of it all the time.
What Didn’t Work
It sounds so sweet and good, but I just couldn’t pull it off with any regularity. Plus, I don’t want the toddlers breaking my beautiful tea set. So, maybe when they are at preschool next year, we can try to do it at least a little bit more. At the very least, we will read more poetry!
Big Life Journal curriculum
Don’t buy this pdf. It’s redundant, and so is the podcast. It literally repeats what is in the journal itself. Just the journal is good enough, and a quick google search for “growth mindset books for kids” will bring up lots and lots of excellent lists that you can find at the library or as read-alouds on YouTube.
I was initially excited for this resource. The girls had a few good experiences, including a MineCraft group, an art class, and escape rooms. The Flex classes were pretty disappointing, though, and unfortunately we just can’t seem to be home on time or at the right times to pull these off consistently. I do think the online gaming with friends is particularly good for my 3rd grader, so I may try to find a time that I know we’ll have to be home in the future for these groups.
The Good and the Beautiful readers
Some of these are really boring. It’s always sort of a very vanilla story without any real complex problems. I opted to use level 1 readers from the library instead. No one wants to read things that are boring!
We never did it. I think it will just be easier to add games into the actual daily schedule. After all, we had plenty of weeks without any school due to sickness or vacation!
Main Lesson Books
I’m not totally giving up on this, it just wasn’t in the cards this particular year. First of all, my 3rd grader just ended up drawing on every page all the time, so her MLB was full of this and that way too soon. I still love the idea, and as we’re going to use Oak Meadow next year, I’m still planning to try again! We ended up not even using them the 2nd half of the year, because I’d run out of creative steam. It was open and go curriculum for the main subjects or nothing.
So there you have it! The last school year was a great success, in my opinion. The girls both advanced even more than one grade level in math and reading/language arts. There were way fewer arguments and hardly any tears over any writing or math at the end of the year, and we all learned a lot about animals, the moon, and hopefully ourselves!