Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2014/2015 Curriculum Wrap-Up

Last year I skipped writing a curriculum wrap-up because everything finally went almost as planned and there were no big changes from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.  That was our FOURTH year of homeschooling, so if you're new to this and stressing out about the trial and error involved, take heart, it gets easier and no one has any gaping holes in their education.

Quick background: These are the materials that we used for an 10 year old, strong reader in 5th grade and a 7 year old, math-minded 2nd grader.

Here is the final list of what we used and what I thought about it (most links are affiliate links, clicking them will not raise prices for you, but will give me a small commission if you choose to make a purchase). Previous years' reviews can be found by clicking the "homeschool freebies" link on the left sidebar.

RightStart Math/Beast Academy: I am still happy with the earlier levels of RightStart, but was sorely disappointed in Level G.  Sierra started doing level G and it was abundantly clear it was bringing lots of frustration and very little education.  Since that is the end of RightStart anyway, we decided to jump ship and use this year as review/foundation building.  First Josh and I went through several math programs and then Sierra and I looked at the top contenders together.  It was decided that we most likely want to move into Art of Problem Solving for middle and high school, so we decided to review with Beast Academy (the elementary series that feeds into AoPS).  After taking a few placement tests, we picked up with level 3D, which didn't introduce any new concepts at all.  This allowed Sierra to work through quickly, picking up some new tricks and building confidence.  4A is also mostly review, but is giving her a better grasp of higher level skills she will need later on.   We will work all the way through level 4D and then decide if she's ready for AoPS pre-algebra, or if they publish any level 5 Beast Academy books by then, we may do those first.  Sedona is sailing through RightStart Level C and I will probably follow the same path with her, doing Level D in 3rd grade and Level E in 4th grade, then go back to Beast Academy 3D at the beginning of 5th grade and let her work through at her own pace.   Another top contender for review was Life of Fred, but we felt like that wasn't rigorous enough.  We agreed our long term goal is having the ability to either take dual credit calculus or prep for the calculus AP test before high school graduation.

All About Spelling: Still LOVING this program and wishing I'd bitten the bullet and spent the money on it from the beginning.  AAS/AAR is the thing I tell all new homeschoolers they absolutely should try out.  Sierra has caught up to her grade level and is working through Level 5 this year.  She still has to really slow down and think about spelling to get it right in her papers, but she's capable now thanks to All About Spelling.   Sedona has always been on track since I started it earlier with her and she's on Level 2.  She seems to be internalizing the rules and progressing at a good pace.

All About Reading: Sedona has taken off with her reading this year.  I'm still fairly certain she's dyslexic.  Assessment by the school district was less than fabulously done and there was some debate among different people about what the results meant.  It essentially came down to the school district saying she was fine because she was on grade level and other people telling me that's irrelevant and that the testing showed her potential was higher than where she was.  At any rate, we've steadily worked through AAR (which is a great program anyway, but especially so for dyslexic kids) and she will finish level 3 this year.  In the last several months she has started reading more automatically and sailing through those fluency sheets that were the only thing I didn't like about AAR in the beginning.  She has developed a love for reading and now asks to read to us and "sneaks" the AAR reader to read the stories just for the fun of it.

Science Odyssey, Life Science, Level 1: We had already done this with Sierra in 2011/2012 so we knew just what to expect.  Sedona is enjoying it as well.

Science Odyssey, Biology, Level 2: Sierra is doing her first "real" science course and level 2 is a big step up from level 1!  I've been incredibly happy with this course and am anxiously awaiting the release of chemistry level 2.  I know they are planning on publishing soon and I just hope it's in time for Sierra to do it next year.  They are also planning to release physics level 1 soon, so in the future, that will be our 5th grade science and the level 2 courses will start in 6th grade. If physics comes out before chemistry 2, I'll probably have Sierra do that next year.  Biology is a 5 days a week course with a text book chapter to read followed by a bench lab and microscope lab.  There is also a "famous science series" for each chapter that relates the information to the real world and gives the kids some practice at researching information on their own.  Lastly, there's a "show what you know" open book review/quiz.  Every month or so, there's a closed book unit test over the last several chapters.

Brave Writer: Yes, I've STILL been on the hunt for a decent writing/grammar program.  I had such high hopes for Brave Writer, but it's just too nebulous for me.  I can teach math or science without a scripted step-by-step plan, but I am not a language arts person and I need more direction here than I got from Brave Writer.  It was fine for plain ol' "put pencil to paper" time, but my kids really need to know where to put a comma and why and I wasn't able to teach them because I don't know the specific rules for it, I've just always gone by what "sounds" right.  That leads us to........

Shurley English: on the advice of an English major friend whose mom taught English, I bought a copy of Shurley English to try.  EUREKA!!!  The lessons are scripted, the girls are getting specific rules about how to construct a proper sentence and we can all pick out an adverb with the best of 'em.  If AAS/AAR is a good fit for your family, Shurley English probably is too.  The company recommends going with the level that matches your child's reading level.  That wasn't going to work because Sierra reads at a high school level, but her writing was pretty abysmal.  Also, it's another subject that has to be taught one-on-one and I just couldn't add another 30 minutes per child every day, I knew I wouldn't keep up with it on a daily basis.  So instead, I purchased level 3.  This is a little bit of a stretch for Sedona and a step "back" for Sierra, but it's working out well.  I teach them together, but have higher standards for Sierra as far as spelling and handwriting.  Sierra is picking it up easier than Sedona, but Sedona's getting along and sometimes when I have to do something with Secora, I have Sierra review with Sedona, which helps both of them.

Level 1 Middle Ages: This is my own set of lesson plans, so of course, I still think it's a good fit.  Sedona has been plugging along and learning the basics of life in the middle ages.

History Odyssey, Ancients Level 2: While creating my own plan worked fine for level 1 (1st-4th grade), I wanted something more rigorous for level 2.  A big part of creating my own plan was that everyone seems to use Story of the World as the level 1 spine and I didn't want to do that.  History Odyssey (from Pandia Press, the same people who publish Science Odyssey) has level 2 courses that looked like they would be a good fit for us.  Sierra's had her moments of mumbling and grumbling, but I've been happy with this course and plan to stick with HO for level 2 middle ages.  Like science, this is a time intensive course that's a big step up from the early elementary years.  In addition to teaching history, it teaches how to write an outline, take notes and write a basic research paper over the course of the year.  It also requires reading several books so you wouldn't really have to do a separate reading plan.  She's still got a ways to go, but Sierra has learned some valuable study skills in addition to ancient history through this course.

Rosetta Stone Spanish, Homeschool version: We were still plugging away on Rosetta Stone for most of the year.  The kids are not at all happy with it.  I still think it's a good program.  I'm tired of fighting them over it though and I'm thinking about trying Mango.  A lot of people recommend it, but that seems to be because it's free through a lot of libraries.  Our library doesn't have a subscription, so we'd have to pay $20/month, but that's cheap if the kids will do it willingly.  It's worth noting that they HAVE learned Spanish through Rosetta Stone.  I can say things to them in Spanish and they'll answer (though in English) without thinking about it.  But they have set up a firm mental block against Rosetta Stone at this point and they'll probably be better off trying something else.  I'm planning to do the Mango free trial this summer and then make a decision.

Music: The girls are learning about music on their own without my forcing it on them, so I've pretty much just let that happen this year.  Sedona has access to the piano books and works on them at her own pace and Sierra signed up for a Coursera guitar course.  If I notice the self motivation waning, I'll get more insistent on regular practice again.

Handwriting: We tried Handwriting without Tears last year and I hated it.  Much of what I bought was a waste of money.  I would say it'd be useful to buy the 1st grade teacher's book and work book for the sake of learning the memory prompts for how the letters are formed and then using those to teach a younger child or remind an older child as it comes up.  Handwriting lessons for Sierra were mostly useless, she just needed regular reminders to start her letters at the top.  Sedona got a little more out of it, but mostly I use reminders like "bump the line" as it comes up in her other work.

Evan Moor Geography / Stack the States: Sierra is beyond the Evan Moor workbooks and learning plenty of geography from her history lessons.  Sedona is loving them and works through them on her own.  They are both also enjoying the Stack the States app.  I will probably get them Stack the Countries next year.

Art: We have done very little structured art this year.  We have looked at artwork and talked about our observation and they have access to art supplies to do their own projects.  This has been fine at their ages and we will keep it this way unless they specifically seek out more (much like they'd pick electives in school).  We'll have to add in specific art projects again soon as Secora gets into structured lessons.

So that's that!  Five years into homeschooling and just when we feel really confident about choosing curricula, it's time to enter the land of middle school, which is a whole different ballgame!

Friday, May 1, 2015

First Race of the Year!

Well, almost the first race of the year.  Josh did a 25K trail run back in March, but I was swamped with the whole living in the Ronald McDonald House and being at therapy all day routine at the time, so I didn't write about it.  Just to be clear, when he signed up for the race, Secora hadn't yet been hospitalized and had her admission date moved up.  Neither of us figured there was much sense in skipping it once the money was already paid.  The main ideas I got from his race story were that there were tons of switch backs so he totally lost his sense of direction (this is saying something, he's got an amazing sense of direction) and that it was definitely slower than running on the road and he helped several runners who had fallen get back up again.  I was glad I wasn't running because it was COLD.  Temps were just above freezing when the race started.  Long story short, he showed up, he selfie-d, he conquered.  Then he got right in a car and drove over 3 hours to visit Secora and me, and there was much hobbling around on sore and stiff legs for the rest of the weekend.

But the first race of the year that I have my own memories of is the 5K Sierra and I ran last weekend.  Sierra signed up weeks ago to run with friends of ours, but I had opted out because I wasn't sure if I'd be home or not.  Through a series of events, it was determined around 9pm the night before the race that I would run with her.  Not exactly ideal, but I have started tri training, so it wasn't really a stretch aside from the 5:45 wake up time.  The morning "dawned" with thunder storms, but it looked like they were going to pass soon, so we loaded up and headed to the race venue.  After a brief delay where we all hung out in a large cafeteria/gym and watched the giant projections of the current radar video, the area was finally declared lightning free and we were allowed outside.

They quickly got the timing mats set up and before long we were on our way!  Sierra and I stayed together for the first half mile, and then she ditched me.   Before long we came up behind the walkers, which was really confusing since we were running.  Turns out there was some confusion about the route and some people were sent one way while others were sent a different way.  Sierra and I had run about 1/2-3/4 mile extra at the beginning!  I was a bit annoyed at that, but it was fixed at the end.  The people who had run extra at the beginning were shuttled straight to the finish at a late turn in the course while the others were directed to run the loop originally planned for the end.


According to my Garmin, we ended up running 2.9 miles instead of 3.1, but the pace was still my best in the last few years.  I finished in 34:50 and Sierra's time was 32:20.  Sierra was a little disappointed that she was in a 10-19 year old age group, which pretty effectively knocked her out of the running for any prizes.  It turned out only 2 girls her age or younger beat her though and she did really well pacing herself, so she's made big improvements over last year. All in all, a fun time with friends and a successful day!

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