Our Homeschool Curriculum Choices for 2018

Our Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2018

After I wrote my scheduling posts, I remembered that I had also wanted to write a little about what we are using for curriculum this year. We have made a few additions this year that are really helpful, so I wanted to talk about those a bit now that we have been using these materials for a little while.

The Curriculum Core:

As is clear from previous posts, we use AmblesideOnline for the core of our curriculum. The subjects that are fully covered under AO’s curriculum are as follows: Bible, History, Literature, Artist Study, Composer Study, and Geography. What I love about AO is that it is all laid out for what me as to what books to read and when. It is so much more than a booklist. Using AO actually has taught me more about Charlotte Mason education while I am immersed in doing it on the day-to-day basis.

Another great thing about AmblesideOnline is that it has links to free online versions of such a huge number of the books and resources because so many of them are in the public domain. So it is a very budget-friendly curriculum if you are in need of that. For us, the last two years we have actually bought all of the print books we needed for school for right around $100 just by buying used copies. That is still a lot less than most boxed curricula out there, even with the added cost a few other supplements! And that brings me to those extras…

The Extras:

Math

We have been using the Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP) for a couple of years now. It is a free curriculum from the UK available online to download and print. Being free to access, you might think it would not be very high quality, but we have been very happy with the results so far. It teaches arithmetic in a way that helps children understand why and how numbers function, instead of only teaching rote. It also has a good blend of logic, problem solving and mental math. MEP is not flashy, and the printing of materials is a bit of a job at the beginning of the year. But the skills my son is learning are so valuable that I have zero complaints about MEP thus far!

Handwriting/Copywork

We started my son out learning cursive using ABeka handwriting books, and we are still slowly working our way through the first one. ABeka moved WAY too fast in cursive for us at the beginning, and handwriting became a real pain point in our homeschool for a while. We slowed down a great deal and even took long breaks from doing any work on writing at times. Now it is no longer an issue, but I still only require a few lines of simple handwriting practice from my son each day. We are starting to incorporate some quotes from our Ambleside Year 2 books, as well, but when I do that he still only writes one short sentence a day.

Science/Nature Study

Nature Study is still something we are learning how to do well and consistently at this point. It was one of the things that dropped from our schedule most often last year. I decided that in 2018 we would start using Lynn Seddon’s wonderful guide, Exploring Nature with Children. It is such a lovely resource, and I fully expect us to reuse it again and again over the next few years. Right now we are using the curriculum sparingly, mainly noting the subject for us to observe each week and using perhaps one extension activity to help us give attention to whatever that is for the week. It is helping us have more structured nature study time, and I feel like I have more motivation to get to it each week. If you are struggling to incorporate nature study regularly in your homeschool, I highly recommend Exploring Nature with Children!

Foreign Language

Another subject I needed more consistency and structure to implement was foreign language. Even though I know a lot of Spanish grammar and vocabulary myself, I did not know how to actually teach it. So this year we began using Song School Spanish from Classical Academic Press, and it has been a big hit! Both of the kids look forward to our 5-10 minute daily Spanish lesson, and I have heard our 2-year-old singing the songs while playing on more than one occasion! One word of caution to Charlotte Mason homeschoolers…Song School Spanish does include some exercises in which the student is supposed to read and write words in Spanish. Charlotte Mason strongly recommended against children seeing words in a foreign language before they were fluently reading their own language. This is not a problem for us because my son IS a very fluent reader, but if your child is not reading well in English, you would have to adjust many of the activities in this book.

Drawing

My son LOVES doing art and drawing, but I was at a loss of where to begin when it comes to formal lessons. Although I would love to put him in a class with an art teacher some day, that just isn’t practical for us yet. So this year we started using Drawing with Children by Mona Brooks as a guide. I admit that I was highly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information presented in the book before she even gets to the first lesson! But after I got over that initial “shock” I decided to just dive in and start following some of the opening warm-ups and teaching the basic elements of drawing as she presents them. We only do one brief session each week, so we have not gotten very far. We will see how it goes throughout the year!

Solfa/Solfege

Although I know solfege and the Kodaly handsigns myself, this was another highly neglected part of our homeschool last year. I have taught children’s choirs and used solfa singing as presented in the curricula, but I did not know how to present it at home. Enter the sweet and helpful Heather and her Children of the Open Air Solfa lesson videos on YouTube! Each week we sit down and sing a little song and practice our hand signs and solfege along with Heather (and her adorable kids!) It is quick and painless for all of us, and again, it is something even the 2-year-old loves to do!

Swedish Drill

Don’t know what Swedish Drill is? Neither did I until I found Dawn Duran’s tutorials on the Afterthoughts blog! Essentially, it is an exercise practice that involves teaching good posture, following directions (training the habit of attention!) and using various muscle groups. Last year we did Swedish Drill nearly every day. This year we have been doing it weekly so far, but I think we may add it back in as a daily activity again soon. I need to teach the kids a few more new moves and make some cards for me to call out drills so I’m not always thinking on my feet and leaving something out. I really have appreciated Dawn’s work on creating video tutorials with her kids doing some of the moves. And now she has even created a complete open and go resource called Swedish Drill Revisited to help us implement Swedish Drill effectively in our homeschool! I really NEED to get my hands on this one!

So, there you have it! A complete run-down of what curricula we are using in our homeschool in 2018. Are you using any of the same things this year? I’d love to hear what you fellow classical Charlotte Mason moms (and dads!) are using to help you teach this year!

Scheduling AmblesideOnline Year 2, Pt. 2

As promised in my previous post, here are the rest of the details of my planning process for scheduling AmblesideOnline Year 2. If you missed that post, you will want to go back and check it out to see the first steps before moving on to these last few! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments, and I will do my best to answer or help you find someone else who can!

How I Created Our Schedule for AmblesideOnline Year 2:

Steps 3 and 4: Decide how much time to spend (maximum) on each lesson and in what order to place each subject. I knew that no lesson at this point should go beyond the 20 minute mark. This is not usually a problem, unless we run into that aforementioned frustration over a math problem or have a longer than usual passage to read. Knowing ahead of time which books are likely to have those long chapters that need divided up, such as Parables of Nature and Understood Betsy, I can be prepared to divide up those lessons before accidentally running over-time.

•Recitation: 15-20 min.
•Spanish: 5-10 min.
•AO Reading 1: 20 min.
•Math: 20 min.
•Weekly Subject 1: 15-20 min.
•AO Reading 2: 20 min.
•Weekly Subject 2: 10 min.
•Copywork: 5-10 min.

As you can see, I tried to alternate shorter lessons with longer. Even when I have longer lessons back-to-back, I made sure that the subjects were going to be using different parts of the brain. This really seems to be working out well thus far.

Step 5: For my own sanity in planning, I also assigned specific days for specific types of books. Again, I looked at how many readings were required under each subject. I then spread those out over the week so that, for example, we would not be doing all our History and Tales one day or all Literature the next. I also assigned specific days to each of the weekly subjects, also trying to keep one longer subject paired with one of the shorter ones.

Our Finished Schedule:

I imagine that after all this, someone might want to know exactly how our schedule looks now that it is finished! Please note: This timetable is based on the AmblesideOnline curriculum, but it is not in any way a copy of the actual AmblesideOnline curriculum, which is under copyright. I simply offer this as an example of a way to create your own daily schedule for use the AO materials. 

So, there you have it! Now that I have this nifty schedule all written out, I am able to quickly and easily plan each day’s work and keep track of what we are doing next throughout the morning. I also printed off a copy for my student, so he can know what to expect next, too! I hope this example and these steps help you if you are trying to figure out how to create your own daily schedule!

Scheduling AmblesideOnline Year 2, Pt. 1

Now that we are almost a month into our second “official” year of using AmblesideOnline, I feel like we are really getting into the groove. Not that I don’t still have a lot to learn about teaching and living in a more Charlotte Mason-esque way! We certainly have not arrived! I do feel, however, that I have a handle on the flow of the academic portion of our school day, and that is a welcome change from last year. Many days I felt scattered, and I often could not remember what I was supposed to be doing from one day to the next.

Now, it could be partly that we were in the midst of pretty major upheaval all of last year, as opposed to feeling fairly settled here at the start of 2018. Another difference this year is that I have a much more mature, less destructive two-and-a-half year old along for the ride, than the high need 20 month old I had at the beginning of last year! But I honestly think that one of the biggest factor in my ability to juggle all the various subjects and moving parts is that I have a much better schedule this year!

Why I Created Our AO Year 2 Schedule:

This year I wanted to be more intentional about short lessons and varying the subjects to stick to the idea of “a change is as good as a rest.” But with so many moving parts (i.e.-some subjects daily, some bi-weekly, some only weekly) I was unsure how to make sure I got everything in the right place. Last year we tried looping some subjects, but inevitably, there was always one or more that got left off or skipped somehow. And some lessons seemed to get drawn out much longer than need be because of frustration or dawdling (I’m looking at you, Math!)  I knew I needed a set schedule for Every. Single. Subject. And I knew I needed to use a timetable to keep us on track.

How I Created Our AO Year 2 Schedule:

Step 1: First I listed out all the subjects, noting which are weekly and which are daily. Some of the subjects on the weekly list could be done more frequently, such as Swedish Drill and Solfege and Poetry. For us at this time, however, dividing them up with the weekly subject is working better.

Daily—
Recitation (this is where we do our memory work)
Spanish
Math
Copywork
Ambleside Readings and Narrations
Bible
History and Tales
Natural History
Literature

Weekly—
Artist Study
Composer Study
Solfege Practice
Swedish Drill Practice
Geography
Timeline
Nature Study
Drawing
Handicrafts
Poetry

Step 2: Figure out how many of each type of AO Reading there are typically in a week.

  • Bible: 1-2
  • History and Tales: 3 (We are skipping Trial and Triumph at this time, so there would be 4 here if you are including it.
  • Natural History: 2
  • Literature: 3 (although these are frequently long and need to be divided over 2 days)

Since this makes an average total of 10 readings in a week, it works out nicely for us to have 2 spots in our daily schedule for AO books and narration. I also plugged in 2 of the weekly subjects each day. With 4 additional daily subjects, I now know I need 8 total time slots in my timetable.

Because the rest of my planning process gets a bit more detailed, and this post is already long enough, I will continue with the rest of my steps in a new post tomorrow. Until then, I hope these beginning steps are helpful to anyone just starting out with scheduling with AmblesideOnline Year 2!

Planning Our Homeschool Year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, it is Christmastime! And in our homeschool that means a more relaxed schedule with more fun and freedom. It also means it is planning time for me! Since we homeschool year-round and have a January start, this is the time of year I get all our new books ordered and figure out what our new school year is going to look like. I already got my first shipment on new-to-us classics, and I was so excited!

This year I decided to be a little more proactive and plan out more of the details than I have in the past, especially when it comes to our memory work and morning time subjects. That means I am choosing hymns, folksongs, poems, quotes and scriptures to memorize for each month of the year right now. Usually, I do that on a month-by-month basis, and inevitably I get down to the last day of the month and realize I have a bunch of work to do to choose, format and print the next set of memory work. I am hoping by getting all these things in order now, I will have a less stressful, more productive school year!

There are several other aspects of our homeschool that I am also currently evaluating and planning as we get ready for the new year, including curriculum choices and scheduling. The Plan Your Year kit from homeschool planning wizard Pam Barnhill is great for all this. She literally walks you through every step of homeschool planning, from the very beginning step of creating a vision for your homeschool all the way to organizing simple, streamlined school days. I have used some of Pam’s products for scheduling, and they really are helpful and well thought out.

Plan Your Year Ad

How about you? Are you making any plans for the new year? Even if you don’t start a new school calendar in January, this can be a great time of year to step back and reassess what has been working and what needs tweaked. It might even help avoid the dreaded February homeschool burn-out!

Memory, Hither Come: Memory Work in our Homeschool

“Memory, hither come,

And tune your merry notes;

And, while upon the wind

Your music floats,

I’ll pore upon the stream,

Where sighing lovers dream

And fish for fancies as they pass

Within the watery glass.”

~William Blake

When I first began homeschooling, we were using a popular neoclassical curriculum that involved a lot of rote memorization of facts and lists. At first we had fun with chants and songs and games to help us both remember these random tidbits of information. I was told that all these names and dates were pegs on which my son would later be able to hang more complex ideas. However, we both quickly became disillusioned and frustrated with the disconnected, seemingly meaningless nature of all these facts and figures. As I began researching the Charlotte Mason method, I realized that we needed to approach home education very differently, and we stopped using that particular curriculum.

At the same time, though, I was learning that memorization in and of itself is a beneficial exercise for the brain. (If you have not heard Andrew Pudewa speak on this subject, save this link to go back and listen to this podcast series as soon as you can. It is so fascinating!) So if I didn’t want to be teaching my son dry, disconnected factoids for the sake memorizing something, what should we be memorizing? My new knowledge of Charlotte Mason education led me to believe that I should be filling my child’s mind with ideas: true, good and beautiful ideas. So I set out furnish our minds with rich ideas through memorizing Scripture, hymns, poetry, a catechism, mottos/quotes, and folksongs.

How we go about this is as follows:
Each 6-week term we start new memory work, with the exception of hymns and folksongs, which are on a monthly rotation. I create and print pages to fit in a small binder for each of us, containing all the memory work we will be doing that term. At the opening of our Morning Time each day, we say our prayers, then sing our hymn, having a daily devotion, and then go over our memory work together. We simply read (expressively) through everything together daily. By the end of the term, without any further drilling or tricks, my son can almost always recite the selections from memory without help. But I do not press this. My goal is more to expose my children to worthy examples of beautiful language and have them become familiar with a wide variety of Scripture, poetry and song so that they will recognize and enjoy them better later on in life.

I sat down last night to catalogue a list of all the things we have memorized just over the past 18-24 months, and I was amazed at how much we have done! To think how many beautiful ideas with which we will have furnished our minds if we continue doing this for the durations of my son’s school years is simply overwhelming! The one thing I have yet to figure out and implement is a good method for reviewing some of the ground we have covered. I have heard of a few ways other families use, but I have not tried them for myself yet. That is something I want to improve on in the coming school year.

If you are curious to know what we have memorized or need some ideas for starting out your young students with memory work, I have created a new page containing our Memory Work Index with categorized lists of all the passages, poems, etc. we have worked on so far. I am looking forward to seeing how this list grows in the years to come!