As homeschoolers, we don’t really have to follow school term schedules and times. As I had a really bad bout of laryngitis when we first moved to this house in June, I declared homeschool holidays for 2 weeks. As a result, we finish “school”a little later than the conventionally-schooled kids around here – 2 weeks after their summer holidays have started.
I had initially anticipated that it was going to be tricky not to follow school terms and timings in this place, because our next door neighbours on both sides and opposite all have loads of kids – at least 4 kids per family on each side. So when they have no school, they make a lot of noise around the area and in their back gardens, only separated from ours by a wooden fence.
It’s true. My kids found it hard to do any studying when the kids next door are making a lot of noise. I wouldn’t have picked this house and this location to rent, but my husband was desperate to have us move over ASAP because he was tired of commuting 3.5 hrs each way from our previous home to his new workplace, and in these rural parts the availability of homes to rent are scarce, so he picked this house to rent, out of desperation.
So at least we’ve learnt that the next home we pick better not be next door to large families for a start. In our previous home, most our neighbours were retirees or working professionals, and that worked very well for us. We don’t mind taking our kids to clubs, playdates and parks to “socialize” with other kids… we don’t really need neighbours’ kids to give them that “socialization” experience.
I have been looking at different curricula for my kids’ homeschooling next year. Although we have been homeschooling with Galore Park materials, and I found the Science and History books give a really good foundation in the basics, I wasn’t so keen on the English books. So once again I am looking for new English curricula for my kids. I still like the Charlotte Mason and Well Trained Mind (Classical) approach to learning English, so I was looking at those again.
I researched Sonlight A LOT and I prefer their book selections over the Ambleside Online ones, mainly because the Ambleside ones, even the Kindy stuff, can seem over my children’s head. But I don’t really like the Sonlight IGs and their reading schedule. Too much reading, and my kids don’t like having to read a few pages from a few books every day – they’d prefer reading the whole book before moving on to the next, plus I don’t really think the way they teach Language Arts would be effective for my kids. Plus I can tell that some of their recommended reading would not be that interesting to my kids.
So I’ve decided to get hold of the books myself and well, if I can, I’d try to get hold of the IGs cheaply and used if possible, because I do like the fact that sometimes I might find something good ideas from the IGs to do with my kids on whatever book they would be reading. I’ve been lucky in that so far I managed to purchase used Sonlight materials for a much smaller fraction of their original price, so we will be doing a very modified version of Sonlight this new academic year onwards.
I am also going to use First Language Lessons Level 1 for both my soon-to-be 6 and 8 year olds. And Writing With Ease Level 1 for them too. I have tried out some of the lessons on my kids before and I found them to be effective. My kids really need the repetition to remember concepts, and the very scripted nature of the materials actually forces them to use correct English during lessons. First Language Lessons would address their grammar, and Writing With Ease concentrates more on sentence structures and writing skills, as well as narration and comprehension.
My eldest I feel needs to brush up on her writing and comprehension skills, and after doing Galore Park So You Really Want To Learn English Book 1 all this time, I can see that it is not really improving her writing and other English skills. It is good for exposing her to some variety of texts, but I can do that with her if we follow a more Charlotte Mason or Classical approach. She still writes in quite simplistic language, sometimes having problems expressing her thoughts, and avoids using larger words. So I have also decided to start her on Writing With Ease, at level 1 too, as she even finds the narrative questions hard in the Level 1. The Writing With Ease series of books focus on summarising skills, and the dictation work relies a lot on her learning to hold sentences in her head by short term memory and writing the sentences out. When you see Level 1 you think it’s elementary stuff, and at her age (turning 12) it might seem like she really shouldn’t be doing this, but the reality is that she needs to build these skills first before going on to higher levels of Writing With Ease. I expect also that she may be able to finish the Level in half the amount of time than a younger child, for whom this level is more targetted at, but I am not in a hurry to rush her through it. When you think about it, narration and especially summarising are not easy skills and they are not reinforced in our current education system at all, even though I personally believe they are much more beneficial for improving language skills and reading comprehension than doing worksheets and workbooks.
I feel that this is where conventional schooling fails as they don’t put enough emphasis on kids developing these key skills from early enough, before progressing to more advanced skills expected of them later on at her age. Luckily we homeschool so we can work on that.
For her grammar, I will be using Hake Grammar. First time we’re using this, but I’ve researched it and feel it is a better grammar program than others I’ve seen and/or used. It teaches sentence diagramming as well, and that’s something I would like her to learn as I feel it helps her with her comprehension and sentence structures in written work.
I also am contemplating buying the All About Spelling kit to teach my younger two. Maybe even my eldest would benefit from learning this too. My nearly 8 year old has difficulty spelling consistently and correctly. My nearly 6 year old however has just learnt to read simple books on his own so no need to insist on good spelling at all. However, I have researched this spelling program a lot and I feel it is really one of the very best programs on the market for spelling. Yes it may be American, but that is not a big issue. I have tried many other Spelling workbooks in the past and nothing has worked that well. I think part of the reason why this spelling program is so effective is because it incorporates Orton Gillingham methods with the latest in research to teach kids how to spell correctly every time. The Orton Gillingham approach was developed by a doctor and it uses a multisensory structured approach to teach reading skills. It is a proven technique for treating people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. I know it will benefit my son as he has quite poor pen control and is prone to write things the wrong way round. I know he’s still young, and it’s quite normal for young boys to be like this perhaps, but it wouldn’t hurt to teach him the All About Spelling approach, as I know it will also help reinforce and strengthen his reading skills in the process (he also has some difficulty pronouncing certain sounds correctly). The price of this program is quite high for what is essentially marketed as a spelling program, but think it is worth it (if I have enough money left for this!). The effects of this program will not just help in spelling correctly, but it will no doubt have a beneficial impact on other English language skills as well.
For Maths, I realised Conquer Maths wasn’t really teaching my kids to fully understand concepts, and doesn’t cover everything they should know. Fractions and percentages for instance, are my children’s weak points, I found. I have done a complete U-turn and decided to go back to MEP Maths for all of them. I ordered the practice books for MEP Maths from their website, as I don’t like having to print them out online. I used to do MEP but I didn’t know how to use them in a homeschool context. We got burnt out real early very quickly and ditched it. Over the years, I’ve stayed on the MEP Maths Homeschool Yahoo group, learning more about how to implement the program at home. Now I am going to do it with my kids again. I’ve always found the program to be outstanding with the way it teaches Maths very conceptually and the way it forces a child to use their noodles. It’s also a somewhat spiral curriculum, with lots of continuous review, which I have learnt is what my kids need as they forget things they’ve learnt quite easily. I just wanted to find some way of making it work with my kids, and I think I know now how to – the idea is that I should only pick certain questions from each day’s teachers notes to do with my kids, not try to do the whole lot!
For Science I was tempted to go with Sonlight. I like the fact that in Sonlight Science, we would be doing some Science almost every day. Sonlight Science also seems a bit more on the practical aspect rather than reading and theory. We are Science lovers here me and my kids. The only problems with Sonlight Science I can see would be the worksheets (which I feel are not really that interesting). Sonlight Science topics also seem to be quite disjointed. They do different things which don’t seem that related to each other. We have been using Galore Park for Science so far and I like the textbooks as they have a good amount of review, good amount of information, is well-organised by topic and has given my kids a good grounding in Science. So in comparison, I would say I think Galore Park Science is a better program, but the textbook approach gets a bit dry. Which is where Sonlight Science might make it a bit more fun. I feel like doing both actually, but I don’t know… only if it is doable I guess.
I still have the Building Foundations Of Scientific Understanding book and it is a good Science curriculum but I find it doesn’t really get done much in this house. Unfortunately that is a bit of a waste if it doesn’t get done.
As for History and Geography we are going to use Galore Park History and Evan Moor worksheets… Also we will be reading some Sonlight Core books, using the IGs for suggested activities to do after reading, but we’re not following Sonlight’s reading schedule strictly so don’t even mind if we don’t finish the reading in a year. I am considering using Story Of The World too. Not sure if I can fit everything in!
But that’s it for now. Our new academic year’s curriculum will be this.