To Homeschool Happier: A Little Recap and Refresh, Part 2

Well, it’s taken me a bit longer than I had planned to get back to write the second part of this post! But here I am, nonetheless! To recap, last time I wrote about the end of our school year and how burned out I felt, essentially. Today, I am sharing what I am doing differently going forward in order to have a happier, healthier homeschool!

First of all, I have decided to switch from the year round school schedule we have been using to a more traditional school year schedule. There were several factors that helped me make this decision. Even if we had been finished with our previous year’s work by the end of December, I was leaning in this direction anyway. My husband’s work is now completely tied to the traditional school year, for one thing. My daughter will not be old enough to start Year 1 of AmblesideOnline until April, and I think she will be even more ready for that in late summer/early fall. My son will be doing Year 5, and I need him to continue building some independent study skills before diving into that next step up. Plus, I need much more time to begin pre-reading for Year 5! Instead of rushing us all to be ready when we aren’t, we will just wait and start a new school year in August or September!

So what, you may ask, are we doing in the mean time? Well, we are taking a step back from AmblesideOnline, but we are still doing things in a mostly Charlotte Mason style while “fun-schooling” a little bit. I have lightened the load for skill work somewhat while still keeping a daily list that includes some math, handwriting, spelling and such. I created a binder for my son that has all his weekly work already organized and laid out for each day, and that has been a HUGE blessing for us both! We are doing all of our books together as read-alouds in a “morning basket” style setting right after breakfast, which is working well for our daily routine.

For the current 6 week “term” we are doing an in-depth study of Chinese history and culture using a mixture of picture books, nonfiction, missionary biographies and folktale-inspired fiction. We have been watching a lot of fun videos of traditional Chinese music and art forms, as well. I chose this themed study partly because we have friends who live in China and because I travelled there for a few weeks before beginning college. Plus, we all love Chinese food, ha! 😉 Our normal school studies center very much on the western world, which makes sense, since that is where we live! But I do want my children to have an idea of the broader world in which we live and also have a heart for the people of other cultures and locations. We are all really enjoying this time learning together, and I am so glad I decided to give our homeschool refreshing change!

Of course, it isn’t just the schedule or subjects or routine that have helped make our homeschool a little happier. I am also being much more intentional about being totally present when it is school time, not distracted with my phone or trying to multitask and do housework when the kids are doing lessons. And perhaps more importantly, I am placing the emphasis on enjoying being together and learning together instead of just checking off the boxes. I am listening to my kids and seeing how they learn best in different subjects and trying to find ways to make the most of those strengths. I am looking for opportunities to practice grace and patience, and I am prioritizing relationships over academics right now. Of course I want my children to succeed academically, but more importantly, I want them to love each other, to know that I love them, and most of all, to know and love God with all their hearts. Because THAT is the key to true and lasting happiness in this life and the next!

To Homeschool Happier: A Little Recap and Refresh, Part 1

I’ve wanted to share how our homeschool year ended up, but it is hard to get it all out in words. The year 2020 was a very rough one in our homeschool, if I am to be perfectly honest. It was not just the stress of COVID, either. Yes, having less time out and about with friends and having much more limited access to places like the library and even, for a time, local parks and green spaces, definitely took their toll on us.

But moving to a new state mid-year, during COVID, was probably the bigger stressor on our life and homeschool routine. It was also challenging for me to keep up with everything with both kids when I needed to start really working with my daughter on letter and number skills. We fell “behind schedule” by about 6 weeks from where we would usually be and ended up not finished my son’s AmblesideOnline Year 4 books until mid-February. But we DID finally finish!

Looking back, there were many things we did not do as well or as thoroughly as I thought we would when we started Year 4, especially written narration, which I completely forgot about until after we had finished the year! Oops! We did start a Book of Centuries, but many weeks I completely forgot to have my son work on it, and it still is mostly just a timeline, which I know is not entirely “correct” in terms of following Charlotte Mason’s intent for the BoC. But we tried to do something along those lines, and hopefully in the future it will improve. We also did start Latin, although we primarily just used Duolingo for practice a few times a week and only just started memorizing some verb conjugations near the end of the year.

The books were definitely the highlight of Year 4, even the hard ones that started off rocky. Here are some of our favorites:

  • George Washington’s World (my son read this one independently and really enjoyed it)
  • Abigail Adams (a hard book which I read aloud, but one we all learned to appreciate by the end of the year, including my 5-year old who tags along)
  • Kidnapped (this started out being one of my son’s least favorite partly because of the dialect, but he ended up being very sad when he finished)
  • Incredible Journey (an easier book and one that my son definitely enjoyed reading every week)
  • Minn of the Mississippi (we have really come to love Holling C. Hollings books over the years)
  • Robinson Crusoe (I almost forgot this one was even a Year 4 book, it seems to long ago we read it, but it was and is one of our favorite books!)

All in all, the thing I regret most to say about this school year, at least the second half, was that we lost our joy and pleasantness in the midst of all the difficulties of the year. I tried to re-infuse some of that with extra special morning tea time snacks after we got settled in our new house, but that also became somewhat of a stressor for me eventually. By the end of the year, everything felt like we just had to press on and check things off the list so that we could say we had done it. This was obviously not the spirit or atmosphere I want to have in our homeschool. Something had to change.

In the second part of this series, I hope to write a little bit about how I am attempting to make positive changes to make our homeschool a happier place again. So far, a few days into a new routine, I think it is making a difference! Stay tuned to hear more next time!

This Year in Our Home School: AmblesideOnline Year 4, Part 4

Welcome back to my series on AmblesideOnline Year 4 and how we are implementing the curriculum in our homeschool this year. In this final post I am going to write about how I have scheduled subjects and a little about how this works in our daily routine.

Before I get any farther with that, however, I want to emphasize that currently our daily routine is quite fluid. Some days we get everything done more quickly than I expect. Other days are a slog. Many times we have to move things around to make room for outings, grocery runs or appointments. Since we aren’t in any kind of co-op at this time, we have a lot of flexibility, and I LOVE that about our homeschool life!

I also should point out that my daughter is still only 4 years old (turning 5 next month, though!), and I do just a light preschool lesson with her 3-4 days a week. That generally happens while my son is doing this independent work. If you want me to write more about that, I can, but it really is just a few minutes of learning a different letter of the alphabet (weekly-ish), reading some Mother Goose and a folk or fairy tale, and going through a lesson from MEP’s Reception Year math.

In making my son’s schedule, I try to take into account the recommended time allotted in the PNEU’s programs for Form II. I also do my best to switch up subjects so that we don’t do too many challenging books on the same day or have several reading-narrating sessions back to back. Ok, with all that said, let’s look at our “ideal” day AO Year 4 schedule!

AmblesideOnline Year 4

Again, let me reiterate that we do not follow this schedule to a T every day, or every week. In fact, I need to point out that we are not even doing Latin at all this year. But when I made out this plan in the fall I thought we might. So it’s there—just in case sometime I get a crazy idea and decide to add it in anyway! Also, my son has some very bad feelings about Swedish Drill at this point, so when I do actually remember to get some movement into our school time, it almost always looks like doing a Cosmic Kids yoga video on YouTube or freestyle dancing to our composer of the term. Nobody’s perfect, so that’s what actually happens here, in spite of what the schedule says!

Morning Time has evolved in our homeschool, changing a little every year. Currently we are doing Morning Time at the breakfast table as soon as I’m done eating. This is what we do:

  • read a chapter of whatever book of the Bible we are reading together for devotions,
  • read about one country highlighted in the Voice of the Martyrs Global Prayer Guide,
  • pray our prayer of the month and for the persecuted church,
  • work through our Scripture memory cards,
  • sing our hymn of the month,
  • recite our poetry selections,
  • sing our folk song of the month,
  • read a poem or two from our current poetry book,
  • practice our skip counting,
  • work on a Spanish lesson, and
  • do a piano theory activity from my son’s piano curriculum.

As you can see, this packs quite a punch in our school day and squeezes a lot of subject material and goodness into a relatively small amount of time. After Morning Time, my son does his morning routine of chores, personal hygiene and piano practice. When that’s finished he comes back to the table for a brief math lesson with me before completing his practice page on his own. Copywork and one reading for the day are also done during this independent work time. When we are both done with our other morning tasks, we come back together for the remainder of the day’s lessons and finish in time for lunch.

If we are pressed for time, I will often hand off another reading assignment for my son to do on his own in the car while we drive somewhere or in his room while I do whatever else I needed to do. By the end of the year, my goal is to have him reading 2 assignments a day and only reading one thing aloud. But we are easing into that gradually.

I think that’s about it….at least it seems like a lot of caveats and details for one post! Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to chat with you in the comments!

This Year in Our Homeschool: AmblesideOnline Year 4, Part 3

This week I am continuing my series on our current homeschool year using the AmblesideOnline curriculum. I meant to have this post ready to go last week, but I went to the Nashville Teach Them Diligently homeschool convention and was too busy to actually write it until now. (By the way, if you have a chance to attend a TTD conference near you, definitely go! I was so encouraged!) So here we are at last, adding a little more information about what supplemental resources I am using with AO Year 4.

Supplemental Resources for Year 4

  • MathMEP and Khan Academy
    • We have been using MEP math since Year 1, and I am still firm in my appreciating on this curriculum. It teaches concepts in a different way than I learned them, which is sometimes a challenge for me. But it is strong in the problem solving, logic and mental math skills that I wish I had had growing up. This year we started into long division, which was discouraging for my son. So when he started struggling, we slowed down a bit and added in one day a week doing some review work on Khan Academy, just for a change of pace and something to remind him that he can do math and have fun!
  • Artist Study–picture study aids from A Humble Place
    • We are using the AO art rotation again this year, and I have found Rebecca’s resources a nice supplement to looking at the pictures every week. She has a brief biographical sketch about each artist, along with some information or things to look for in each painting. Also, if you are unfamiliar with how to do a Charlotte Mason style picture study, she always includes that information at the beginning of each artist packet. Best of all, she makes these PDFs free of charge!
  • Art Lessons–Brushwork and What to Draw
    • This year I wanted something that would lend some loose structure to our art lessons because what I have tried over the past couple of years has not really worked out that well. I found two lovely vintage books to start with and will likely add more as we finish these. The first is Brushwork by Marion Hudson, which gives several simple layouts for practicing brush forms with watercolors. The second is What to Draw and How to Draw It by Edwin George Lutz. This is really just an old-fashioned version of a step-by-step drawing book, but the vintage pictures are fun to copy, and the kids have both enjoyed making their own creations using these instructions as a jumping off point.
  • SpanishPoco a Poco and Duolingo
    • The last two years we have used Song School Spanish from Classic Academic Press, but this year I wanted to try something a little more conversational. I found an other free resource in the public domain Spanish text book Poco A Poco, as well as the Teacher’s Manual for said text book. We are going through it very slowly, but so far I am liking it. We also continue to use the Duolingo app for practice one day a week.
  • GrammarWinston Grammar (Basic level)
    • In my previous post in this series, I mentioned that grammar lessons were new for us this year. While I was at the Teach Them Diligently conference, I visited the Home Works book sellers and stumbled upon a Winston Grammar kit. I looked up some reviews on the AO forum and elsewhere and decided to give it a shot. We’ve only done one lesson so far, but I’m looking forward to getting farther into the method!

Whew! That ended up being a bit longer than I had expected! I hope that some of this information has helped you if you are planning for AO Year 4. I will be back again soon with an outline of our current schedule/routine and how it is working out so far this year.

This Year in Our Homeschool: AmblesideOnline Year 4, Part 2

Last week I shared some of our favorite books so far in Year 4 of AmblesideOnline. This year my son is in Form II of Charlotte Mason’s programs, and as such, there are a few changes and additions to the curriculum. AmblesideOnline gives some suggestions for these subjects, but there are not specifics given for dictation and grammar. Here is what we are doing that is new.

New Subjects in Year 4

  • Shakespeare–Where in Form I we were only reading retellings of Shakespeare plays, this year we are reading full plays together. Instead of using the AO current rotation for plays, I decided to start with A Winter’s Tale because that is the one that I am already reading along with The Literary Life podcast. While we look at the text of the play, we are also listening to the Arkangel audio production of the play. Both of the kids love Shakespeare day, and so do I!
  • Plutarch–We are using Anne White’s lesson guide for Plutarch, and it worked out nicely that this year’s new study guide starts with Alexander the Great. I think it has been helpful for us to start in reading Plutarch’s Live with a historical person with which we are already familiar. Many moms are scared of Plutarch, but so far it really has not been that hard at all.
  • Dictation–In addition to continuing copywork for spelling and handwriting, this year we started studied dictation. Somehow I came upon a link to “The Dictation and Spelling Book” compiled by Mary B. Rossman and Mary W. Mills. Each week I write one paragraph out for my son to copy, and when he is finished with it, I dictated a few of the sentences for him to write out without looking.
  • Grammar–We are doing a very gentle, organic introduction to basic grammar concepts this year, also using the sentences from the dictation book. So far I have been teaching my son to identify nouns and verbs and the fact that every sentence must have a subject and a verb.

Charlotte Mason also recommended beginning Latin instruction in Year 4. We have not started that yet, however, both because I feel that we still need to shore up our modern language study and I need some more time to consider Latin curricula. I am not sure if we will begin Latin until Year 5 or even Year 7.

In my next post about our homeschool curriculum, I will share some of the resources we are using for the “riches” and other subject areas not directly laid out in AmblesideOnline. I hope some of you will find these posts helpful as they plan for your own new Year 4 students.