2012-13 In Review (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

Why This Post: First, to remember what we did. And second, to take a small step toward correcting a problem among homeschoolers: realism. So many times we post our plans – I am very guilty of showing only my best self. Then we post pictures of our cool nature walk or the project the kids made — the good stuff. Which is good.

But I think we need a lot more posts of how those plans actually worked, the good, the bad and the ugly. And once in a while, I’d love to see posts covering “a day in the life of a real homeschool family”. Where the phone dies so you don’t hear your alarm, you discover you are out of milk which was a vital ingredient for breakfast, Edward punches Henry because “he was annoying me”, your toddler dumps the flour all over the kitchen while you are teaching a math lesson, and then by noon – after 1 chapter read and half a math lesson total – you are ready to put a cartoon on for the kids so you can go beat your head on the wall while gorging on chocolate. Because I see forum posts from moms who believe everyone else has things together. And most of us don’t. And yes, all those things have happened to me, even though the flour incident was a different day than the others. Names were changed to protect the guilty.

Overall: This has been a great year full of new things. I’ve learned that we love to sing together, that the old hymns and folksongs are worth learning. (And singing these hymns bring back memories, sadly our current church doesn’t sing many hymns.) I learned that if it is on their list, it gets done. If I put it on a group list, it generally does not get done. (I’m working on that!) Oh, and I’ve increased my own knowledge about true education. In addition to pursueing the true, the good & the beautiful, and to playing with the puppies, I’ve deepened my understanding that it’s not how much you know, it’s how much you care.

A Choppy Beginning: We started with an undefined mix of things, and I was glancing often at Memoria Press. I didn’t like their workbooks, but I loved their integration and their emphasis on recitation.

Then (cue dramatic drumbeats) Ambleside Online moved from a mailing list to a forum, and everything changed. I understand forums, and I can navigate them easily. Plus, there is zero guilt because they don’t clog up my inbox.

So we switched to AO. The boys were 6 (Andrew), 8 (David) and 10 (Jonathan). Anna was nearly 3. I put my 6 year old in year 1 with my fingers crossed. He flourished. I started my 8 year old on pre-year 3 and my 10 year old on pre-year 5. While those combo years a very well done, they are a bit dated now and I started feeling like the history was too fast and that we were giving up too much literature & natural history. So after about a month I switched my 8yo to year 3 and my 10yo to year 4. I didn’t catch up with every reading (we missed a few biographies and didn’t get to all the poets).

Note: I’m not going to link the following books, if you’d like to look and possibly buy please visit Ambleside Online and use their affiliate link. (I’ve used books in Year 1, Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5.)

What We Didn’t Do or Only Partially Did: The schedule. We hit the right chapters in the right term, but … yeah. AO has the new nifty & official chart schedules now, so I have great hope for next year. It’s great to see all the readings on 1 page per term. Our mid-winter vacation to Nevada (after our late start this year) further cramped the schedule. The vacation was great – camping down South by Lake Mead instead of freezing in Montana. We hope to do it yearly, but we will have to do some school while there. Schooling in the hot August weather is … too hot.

In the same vein, we also didn’t stick to a scheduling program. This year I’ve used Homeschool Tracker Plus, Scholaric, Skedtrack, SCM’s Online Planner, forms from Donna Young – especially her excel spreadsheet, Evernote, and various printouts or hand-written lists.

I know we only did about 3 chapters of “Parables from Nature” this year, we did read them as a family. (I think 6 are scheduled per year normally.) We did only a few stories from Shakespeare total (I think 2 from Nesbit and 2 from Lamb’s). With my eldest, we didn’t get to Plutarch or any “official” Shakespeare, though we did watch “Much Ado About Nothing” and went to a live performance of “Henry V”. So we had positive exposure to the Bard.

We only did 1 term’s worth of artist study, we went from singing the folksongs with printed lyrics to just listening a lot. We sang some, but it was harder knowing the words of the verses without them printed out. For composer study, we do recognize Figaro’s song from “The Barber of Seville” and I’m trying to add another favorite “The Ride of the Valkyrie” to that list. We listened to a retelling of the Pilgrim’s Progress instead of the real thing. But that retelling made a big impact on the boys, so we will be listening to the full dramatized audio this year.

We had huge issues with consistency in math. But I’m happy to say that teaching those MEP lessons finally seems to be falling into a groove. I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with MEP math, but the love side is winning. Plus, my eldest is doing year 6 this year, so next year he will go to pre-algebra and I’ll only have 2 MEP lessons a day. Yay! However, we have been doing math all summer out of necessity. As a result, they all seem to grasp concepts well, but we need to work on mastery of facts (speed). So we will start doing as Charlotte recommended, and adding in a short, daily oral drill session.

I added some books from year 5 for my eldest son after Christmas. Of those, we didn’t get to “George Washington’s World”. We did read most of the relevant chapters in a “Child’s History of the World”, but GWW was too much for me. I’m one of those kids who was good in school and had American history every year. And I don’t seem to remember many details. Looking back, I/we should have read the chapters in CHOW first, as a general overview, and then tackled GWW. But hindsight is 20/20.

My eldest and I also missed “David Livingstone”, parts of the “Storybook of Science”, and the “Christian Liberty Nature Reader 5”. I will have him use these for independent reading since we are progressing nicely with “Dancing Bears”. I dropped “The Incredible Journey” as well. I’ll post an updated plan for Jonathan’s 6th grade year soon.

What We Did Do: BIble – with some trial & error. We tried AO’s new Bible reading plan, but went back to the boy’s choosing their own devotional readings. I did accomplish the year 1 readings with my youngest son, and next year we will follow the year 2 (Genesis & Matthew) Bible schedule, but do it as a family. It was just too much for me to add, especially since I was using Greenleaf’s Guide to the Old Testament instead of the Patterson-Smyth commentaries, which meant I had more lessons (though they seemed to be shorter). I did discover JC Ryle’s commentaries, so we will be using them for the gospels.

Masterly Inactivity / being Outdoors – The kids have done great. Our camping trip down South meant we missed much of the cooped up indoors weather, and they’ve been having a great time playing & building things outside. I need to get out more, which I plan to will do after this post.

English – Even though we didn’t follow “the plan” in some ways, my older boys improved their handwriting (you can read it!) and everyone is doing a great job with oral composition (narrating). So I’m calling this a win. My older boys did do enough Latin to cover an adequate amount of English grammar. (I’m calling Latin a win too, even though we are changing programs on Latin for 2013-14.) Oh, and Jonathan is doing great with Dancing Bears. (Why didn’t I buy it two years ago!??!?!)

We visited a museum devoted to the native tribes where we were camping (and I forgot both my sketchpad AND my camera!). We also experienced a completely different biome in the high desert of Nevada.

All the stuff we partially did in the previous section? It all went great. The real culprit was that lack of consistency, when added to a late start plus a longish mid-year vacation, made it hard to get everything done.

Year 1 – Andrew LOVED his readings. Especially “Fifty Famous Stories Retold”, “The Burgess Bird Book” and “Pinocchio”. We had an extremely good year, and I am especially pleased with his progress in narrating. Thanks to the BBB, he is able to give a good description of birds that he sees.  We got behind of 50F Stories, so we are still reading “Viking Tales”. I’ve enjoyed reading stories with him.

Year 3 – David has really grown this year. He’s my child most like me, so sometimes we butt heads. He is a great reader though, and it has been such a blessing to have him reading most of his own books. I had him follow along with Librivox for history books and “Heroes”, so that he would hear the names properly. I gave him an MP3 player, so he listens to & follows the text with the “Jungle Books” (scheduled) plus other free reads. He and I will make it a point to read some books together next year, because I think it’s important that I spend time with him. Plus, he tends to read quite fast, and a few of the books should really be read slower.

Year 4/5 – Jonathan is a strong auditory learner, and really does well with audio books. He (and I) have learned a lot about science and the process of invention. He loves “Robinson Crusoe” and still compares all other books to it. We’ve also enjoyed the biographies – many things “Ben Franklin” did my son would do as well – tinkering, making things, helping people. He’s also enjoyed “Abigail Adams”, and I think the perspective of a woman in the male-dominated time of the revolution was the perfect choice for AO’s year 4. Instead of the biographies adding flavor to the history spines (like “This Country of Ours”), I find that the spines add background to the biographies. I wish I had read more biographies in school!

All things considered, we read a lot of great books, we saw new things, we played outside, and we enjoyed poems, works of art, music and the Bard. We had a good year.

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