Friday, March 23, 2007

Language Lessons

A handful of people asked through comments and email about what LA program we use. I had really hoped to dodge that one. Why? Because I have never found the single one-size-fits-all approach to LA that has made me happy. I used to think it was just me--that my own background in writing and English has made me entirely too jaded and just impossible to please. Then I discovered a soul-mate in my cousin, who laments every year at about this time that she, too, can not find the perfect LA curriculum. Since she is not a former English major (she's the family artist ), I've come to the following conclusion: either it is just in my genes to be dissatisfied with LA curriculum, or it has very little to do with my own personal background; LA curriculum are dizzyingly inconsistent and hopelessly complicated.

As an aforementioned English snob, I want my kids to have a solid grounding in grammar. Yes, grammar--boring, awful, stodgy stuff that it is. My favorite English teacher told me once as I was lamenting the entire concept of a future author (humble, wasn't I?) diagramming sentences: "You have to know the rules before you break them, dear." And he was right. I break the rules all the time in my writing--fiction and nonfiction. But the fact of the matter is that I know the rules. Breaking them (or bending them), I like to think, is style ... not ignorance.

Another component I look for is ease of understanding. Frankly, I think a lot of LA programs over explain things to the point of boredom. Who wants that? I also look for a variety of genres to be touched upon. The field of LA is so vast that you really have a lot of territory to cover to give your children exposure to the full gamut.

There are, of course, other things I look for. But the most important element, by far, is the ability to actually write creatively. And I'm sorry to say, but this is where a good 90% of LA curriculum fall far short. The practice is just not there for kids (homeschooled or not).

That being said, what, exactly, do we use?

I have found it best to mix and match a variety of resources specific to each child. Here's a list of what I'm currently piecing together.. Some are resources available for purchase, others are homemade. Try to follow me here ...

A Beka Language Arts workbooks
I use these as a "spine" around which I build the other components of our program. I don't buy the Teacher's Guides, and chances are that I am not using them in the way A Beka intended. These give solid practice. I am not a slave to their protocol, however. It's pretty rigid.

Simply Grammar
I love the way that this book explains grammar concepts. I also love the way that the exercises can be worked orally. If there was a bit more practice included in this book, I might drop the A Beka altogether.

Spelling Power
Don't tell Beverly Adams-Gordon, but I use the book in my own way. My kids are very good spellers, so for us, the book is really just a compilation of lists that I present orally each week. Works for us. I would quit spelling with Jo at this point, but she's loves competing in spelling bees, so ...

I don't do a formal vocabulary program; we read enough that vocabulary is introduced naturally on a constant basis. I would like to do a more formal etymology program, though. Let me know if you've got one you love.

Portraits of American Girlhood Unit Study
I was blessed with elements of this resource when my cousin passed it on. While it says "American Girlhood" (and is actually based on the American Girl books), Atticus has been happy to do it. There are so many LA activities in here. It's been a joy to use in shaking up the LA schedule.

Readers from Sonlight and WinterPromise

I like to include journal activities about twice a week. Since both of my writers become paralyzed when faced with a blank page, I tend to give them topics. Being a sentimental slob of a mommy, I like to ask them personal questions and have them reply. These journals have become absolute gems to me. How else would I remember Jo's favorite dinner when she was six or Atticus' impression of falling leaves when he was five?

Story Starters
We have a rotating game that involves all family members (even Dad) adding a line or two to an ongoing story. This has been a fabulous way to keep creative juices flowing. I also pull an idea out of my hat every once and a while and have a particular child work on it. They love that!

Family Newspaper
My husband works for a newspaper, so being a reporter is a big deal in our house. Jo, Atticus and Logan started their own family newspaper about a year ago, and it has been probably the best LA experience they will have in all their years of education. Not only is it self-directed, it's also peer-edited. They work on it together and take great pride in the finished product they manage to produce each month or so. This summer, I plan on giving them some training on how to use the computer to craft a printed product.

Please keep in mind that we do not do everything every day. These are just the pieces I fit together on an as-needed basis.

See why I didn't want to post about LA? Now you all think I'm nuts ...

Vive Revolution!

We're on, oh ... about week fifteen of studying the American Revolution. This wasn't my plan, nor was it Sonlight's. We're still stuck firmly on week 20 of our IG--right where the Revolution gives way to the Constitution. After chafing for nearly two weeks under what has become an absolute obsession with all thing Revolutionary, I finally decreed on Wednesday that it was time for the war to end.

The kids weren't thrilled at this prospect. While my idea had been to give them a nice overview of the war--it's causes, its reality, the key thinkers, pivotal points and outcomes-- they, clearly, have an appetite far beyond the scope of a mere overview. All three of them have been breathing redcoats and congress and Bunker Hill. They can't get enough of Phyllis Wheatley, Ceasar Rodney and Thomas Paine. Their playtimes have included impressive stagings of crossing the Delaware, as well creating some very nice examples of broadsheets. And their movie requests have been almost exclusively for a PBS show called "Liberty's Kids."

You'd think that this total saturation would have worn thin on them as well as me. But, oh, no. They are still going strong. I think they could do an entire year on nothing but the American Revolution.

The stuff they are learning ... wow! Jo explained to me in great detail last night several complex links between the American and French Revolutions. These are things that I didn't tie together until college, when I took a course contrasting the post-Civil War Reconstruction of the South with the steps taken to ensure unity through the signing of the Constitution. Atticus is of course enchanted with the personalities of the key historical figures. And Logan has memorized various weapons, major battles and quite a few tart cultural tidbits.

Despite these lovely rabbit trails, I am ready to move on. I have gathered all of the library books, movies and games into one spot to be returned. I'm not pointer my browser toward any more sites with photos of reenactments. And no, I'm not making another batch of those disgusting hardtack biscuits, thank you very much.

Time to move onward! Let's get going! What's up next? Oh, no. Westward Expansion. Lewis and Clark. Sacajawea.
Jim Bridger.

I'd better get my library card ready.

More ?s

More replies to comments on combining:

Posted by LotusBlossom

I'm interested in doing the same thing with my kids ages 8 and 6. Can you post a sample of what your schedule looks like please.

Samples of my schedule are really, really misleading. This is the conclusion I've come to after nearly a week of trying to pin down a single day to post about. So, in lieu of naming actual titles and whatnot, I'll give you a glimpse at what I shoot for every day, how's that?

Everyone: Rosetta Stone Spanish, AWANA verses, "Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek!"
Jo & Atticus: Math, LA, Spelling, history activities (SL , WP or my own add-ins)
Logan: 100EZ lesson & math activity

During lunch
Everyone: "Field Guide to Bible Promises" devotional
SL History reading
WP AS1 Adventure reading

Rest time
Everyone: readers (for Logan, that's actually a book on CD )

Early afternoon (for the days when we do it)

Everyone: Science activities, hands-on stuff

Jo: SL read-aloud with Dad
Atticus & Logan: WP AW Adventure reading with mom

Posted by Jimmie

Give us reviews of the books you chose. :-)

I'll try to do this as we use them. Right now, a book still fresh in my mind (especially since Logan insisted on taking it to rest time to leaf through again) is this one, a selection from AS1:

This one book did more to help Atticus grasp the concepts of the American Revolution than any other. It was also really popular with Logan, who adores books with beautiful illustrations. I highly recommend using this one if you're gearing American history to your early elementary kids.

I'm also really excited about this WP book:

We'll be heading into this one in the next few weeks, and I've been previewing it with anticipation! Lots of neat hands-on activities, as well as a sweet storyline. I'll let you know if the kiddos like it as much as I do!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Questions on combining

I don't have much time tonight, but I wanted to start answering a few of the questions that have been posted about combining SL and WP. I'll get to more as time permits.

Posted by mompotter

Next year I have 7 and 5 yr old tagging along behind the 9 yr old. I had planned to combine wp and sl but following the wp schedule. Mainly having the sl books as filler for my big reader (9 yr old). If I was to follow the wp schedule do you think it would be a little lighter year than following the sl schedule? The thought of doing sl core 3 seems overwhelming to me. We have struggled a bit to get things done this year with core 2(have a new baby too). You also mentioned that most of the crafts were just paper crafts. That discouraged me because the whole reason I planned to combine wp is for the activities and lower level of reading for my younger two. Do you think it is worth it?

If you are interested in keeping the reading at a slightly lower level, I think WP is the way to go. The books in American Story I cover the same topics and time period as SL Core 3, but at a lower intensity. The themes are not as mature as those in the SL books, and the ease of comprehension is definitely geared toward a younger audience.

If you have more kids toward the younger end, I would go with ASI and add in SL books as you choose. The schedule is going to be lighter, too. Keep in mind that WP schedules read-alouds in much smaller increments than SL does. If you are used to a SL schedule, WP is going to seem very light.

As for the crafts ... I really can't say what your opinion of them will be. I think it depends on what your expectations are. I assumed we would be sewing and cooking and building earth lodges every week or so. The truth is that WP relies heavily on mini-books to color and cut and on books like "Little Hands Celebrate America!" --a really cute book that has a hand full of neat hands-on activities sandwiched in with your typical "here's how you draw an American flag" stuff. I have heard that buying the Native American Focus set opens the doors to better crafts ... but it is not part of the core set, and comes with an additional price tag. For us, coloring activities aren't really that big of a draw--my kids do that on their own. We have been much happier with Hands and Hearts kits.

Posted by MotherJoy

Sounds like you weren't too impressed with the WP activities. I don't have to combine two students, but I liked WP for its hands-on activities. My biggest complaint with SL was that the IGs were harder to use that I expected and I didn't like the LA. Thank goodness they are changing the LA.

Anyway....I really don't want to buy a WP guidebook if it isn't necessary. Would it be better to just add in activities? Which of the WP resources did you find invaluable?


The SL IG and WP Guidebook are almost identical. Clearly they used the exact same program for layout, because they have the same format. The major difference is that WP does not include any of the notes on the books that you're using that SL does. If you're used to a SL IG, that means that the entire back section--the Read-Aloud Guide, History Study Guide, etc.--are all missing. I have heard quite a few people say that they never really use those notes or the questions anyhow, so it's no great loss to them. I personally do use them, so it's something worth us paying for.

I haven't used WP LA beyond the readers ... but I don't use SL LA, either. I find SL LA confusing, to be honest. I'm interested to see the revamped product, but am probably not going to change my current homemade curriculum.

As to whether or not you absolutely need to buy both the SL IG and the WP Guidebook --to be honest, probably not. Whichever road you choose to take (basing mostly on SL or mostly on WP), I think you could get by with just one set of plans and the book list of the other. Having said that, I do personally think it's very important to support the companies that put so much effort into developing the curriculum we use and enjoy. I won't get on a soapbox, but I will say that I believe the vote we cast with our dollars is more powerful than the one we drop in the box on Election Day.

Could you just add activities to SL? Yes. I know that a lot of people add notebooking resources or History Pockets to SL. Many people use the Hands and Hearts kits like we did. That option is definitely out there--but it doesn't address the maturity level or complexity of some of the SL books. Depending on what Core you were looking at, you may find that some of the work is just beyond your kids. For example, I have completely dropped Landmark History of the American People because it needed so much modification that it was more trouble than it was worth for me, personally. With all the great (lower level) books out there, why slog through something that is constantly flying just over your kids' heads?

For our family, the resources from WP (so far) that have made this year so successful have been:
Liberty! Story of the American Revolution
Ben and Me
George Washington (a picture book)
Who Was Thomas Jefferson? (biography for younger readers)
The Birchbark House
Pedro's Journal
(also in SL)
The Sign of the Beaver (also in SL)
Make-Your-Own History Book

Each one of these, in particular, took an area of study that we were looking at through SL and filtered it in a way that Atticus and Logan were able to grasp the concepts and get excited about what they were hearing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

More on combining ...

Once the decision was made as to what pieces we would be fitting together, all that was left was actually doing the work of combining. That, of course, fell on me. Since I am by nature a curriculum junkie, I actually enjoyed the process quite a bit.

Combining--the actual process
Since I knew that SL was going to be the main spine of our curriculum, I used it as a starting point. I placed my order and waited for that lovely box to arrive in the mail. I also ordered the Guidebook for WP ASI. When my SL order came, my first step was to put my IG in order and acquaint myself with it in far greater depth than I had any previous years'. Using the weekly plans, I was able to craft a timeline of all the topics that would be covered. Then I took the ASI Guidebook and did the same.

The first thing I noticed was that though the two programs do not line up perfectly. SL begins with Incans, Aztecs and Mayans--as you'd expect, it's more of a North American history program than a United States of America history program. WP spends more time on Native American tribes. WP delves a bit deeper into the personalities of explorers and other figures. SL focuses more on causes and effects of events and decisions.

Taking these things into account meant that I had to shave a bit off here and pad a bit there. Using my timelines as a guide, I transferred the helpful websites & other info from the WP Guidebook into my SL Core 3 IG. Then I went about picking and choosing which books from the WP program made the cut and needed to be scheduled. I transferred those into my IG, too. In a few instances, I used WP books to replace SL books that I knew wouldn't be as big of a hit with my gang. In the end, my own discretion won out over either of the two purchased schedules I had in my lap. Our own interests determined what went in to the final product, not what SL or WP said we ought to be learning.

Then I went through the craft ideas and began adding them in. To be honest, many of them were paper-and-cutting based, and weren't what I had expected. Others were "busy work" type projects that I knew my kids would see right through. A few crafts did make it into our schedule, though. The rest have been supplied by Hands and Hearts.

Finally, I scheduled in the WP ASI readers that Atticus would be using, as well as the Make Your Own History notebook pages that he would be working on in place of the Story of the US workbooks Jo is doing for Core 3.

Combining SL and WP

Combining SL and WP, part 1

As promised, here's a rundown of how our family combines two wonderful curriculum into one cohesive program that touches on the multiple learning styles represented in our house. I'll try to hit the basics in this post, but please feel free to ask any questions through the comment section.

The first step: How we decided what to combine
We have been happy SL users for four years. The quick pace of the reading schedules fits Jo's voracious appetite for books, and the content--mature issues balanced by thorough discussion with mom or dad--is perfect for her. Also, as a family deeply committed to a missions-based world-view, the many biographies and stories about missionaries and the non-Anglo-centered approach to history is a perfect fit for us. I have also found that SL is very flexible, and has allowed us to very easily trim here and add there to make a program that works great for us.

Things went along great through Core K, Core 1 and even Core 2. The thing we found ourselves faced with was the fact that Jo and Atticus are just slightly too far apart age-wise, as well as having quite different approaches to learning in general. Factor in Logan, who isn't happy unless he's tagging along, and SL was starting to look pretty daunting at the more intense levels (Core 3 & up).

This is the point at which many people simply split their children into two separate Cores. While that had been my original plan, I knew that no one would be happy with that. Atticus was chomping at the bit to get to American history, and Logan wasn't quite ready for Core K. Plus, I just didn't see how I was going to do two cores, handle an adoption in-progress and perform various ministry tasks.

Not wanting to abandon a curriculum that we truly love, I began searching around for ways to complement it. I did not want to replace SL. I just wanted to make it work more for our family. After some research and careful observation of my kiddos, here was the list of things I decided we needed in our curriculum package as a whole:

1. Like SL, anything I added in had to be literature-based. We are a family of writers and readers. The most important aspect of our homeschooling is the ability to curl up together with a good book. Workbook based programs have their place, but they are not the heart of what our homeschool is about.

2. The new program had to "fill the gap" of Sl by providing crafts or hands-on activities.
I've been pulling these together myself for years, and I decided that if I was adding anything in to SL, it may as well be something I was already doing on my own.

3. The new program had to correspond in time period to what we were doing in our next SL Core.
Had to be American history--because I am too disorganized at this time to handle more than one era of history in depth.

4. New readers had to be available at approximately a first grade level. I knew Jo would be doing SL Core 3 Advanced readers, and I also knew that Atticus couldn't handle the regular Core 3 readers. I wanted something that was historically based, but was at a low enough level that he could read successfully on his own.

I really recommend putting together a list like this if you are considering combining two programs. So often I think we slap two things together because we like them both and can't decide which one to "do." That's a recipe for frustration--on your behalf, and your children's. Take the time to plan ahead and make sure tht your needs and the needs of your children will be met. It will save you so much time and money!

Anyhow, after going over this list, DH and I settled hands-down on WinterPromise. It is very, very close to Sonlight in its overall goals and style. It also corresponds perfectly--at a slightly lower level--to SL. With a bit of plotting, we decided that our curriculum for the 2006-2007 school year would be built around a hybrid of SL Core 3 and WP American Story I.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Perpetual preschool interrupted

About two weeks ago, Logan made the startling announcement that he will not, in fact, be a kindergartener this fall.

This was news to me on several fronts. First and foremost, the boy is nearing his fifth birthday. In our house, the fifth birthday is the official time of some sort of required schoolwork--albeit little more than a short period of sustained work. Up until the age of five, a simple, "No thanks," cuts it with me, and you're off the hook for preschool-y type instruction, as long as you manage to keep yourself mostly occupied while everyone else is doing school. Logan has always been exceptionally good at working when he wants and playing quietly when he wants. Maybe a little too good, in fact.

This was also news to me because honestly, it had never occurred to me that any of my children would ever simply opt out of learning. And frankly, that's what Logan has done lately. He has said "No, thanks<" more often than not to any sort of organized lesson, unless it involves drawing instruction. Since he's under five, since he seems to be struggling with some underlying learning issues and since I tend to think that drawing is a wonderful skill that ought to be encouraged, I've allowed this continual state of "No, thanks," to go on for the past two or three months.

It never occurred to me that he had no desire to learn in an organized way. I just thought he was busy in other areas. He's a busy kid, after all. Stickers to be stuck. Tape to be taped. Paints to be blended. Buildings to be constructed. That's learning, right? And if you can learn like that, you can learn from a book, too, right?

So you can see why his little announcement caught me totally off guard.

Despite my own inner "Ack!" I didn't make much of an issue out of his statement. He followed it up by letting me know that he planned on buying a guitar and becoming a musician. O.k., fair enough. I told him that all the musicians I know most certainly read, and suggested that he follow in their footsteps. He smiled his impish grin and said, "No, thanks."

Fast forward to Saturday morning. The whole family is loading up to get Jo off to her latest rabbit show. The boys are completely ready--faces washed, hair brushed, shoes on--and beginning to get that "what now?!?!" chaos where they start poking each other and wrestling like puppies. In desperation, I order them to the couch and tell them to look at library books while I finish making the sandwiches to take along. Things are quiet for three or four minutes. Suddenly, Logan starts howling.

"Please! PLEASE! PLEASE! "

Atticus shrugs and says, "Not right now. I'm busy."

You guessed it: Logan is desperately begging his older brother to read a book to him. Atticus, absorbed in his own book, is saying no. And all hoopla is getting ready to break loose.

Being the wise homeschooling mother I am, I seized upon the moment.

"Welllllllll," I smiled sweetly at my youngest, "too bad you don't want to learn how to read. You know, there are going to be lots of times when there's no one around to read to you, or when we're all too busy. Boy, especially once some new little brothers or sisters arrive ... hmmmmmm...."

Guess what? We started reading lessons again this morning. Logan attacked 100 EZ with a whole new appetite. I asked him, as he sat on my lap just after finishing the insipid story about a cat on the sand, "So, do you think you're going to be a kindergartener this year after all?"

"I guess so," he replied, already wiggling down to start a new Lego creation.

Good enough.