The One With the Long Overdue Update

It’s been just shy of four months since I wrote an update on our homeschooling (or anything for that matter). In that time we left our home in upstate New York, stayed with family in Pennsylvania for five weeks, moved across the country to our new home in southern California, settled in (more or less), started a new school year (eight weeks in as of today), endured the reality of sea duty again, and added a new feline family member.

For the most part, our homeschooling (6th, 4th, and 2nd grades) is going pretty much according to plan. (I previously blogged about said plan in three parts herehere, and here.) Regulations are much more relaxed in CA than NY, so I feel like we can expend more energy just being and learning and exploring and wondering without the persistent feeling of how am I going to translate this into a quarterly report?

That said, of course we are following a fairly well-laid-out agenda and doing All The Things in an orderly fashion, because, well, it’s us. We still have a general routine of morning school and afternoon school, although now we actually leave the house several days a week so sometimes it’s not as exact as it used to be. (Trying really hard not to be hermits here, and get into the habit of going out more, even if it’s just the library or the park. The weather definitely makes this a more feasible year-round goal here than it did in NY.)

As far as specifics, we still do math and language arts every day (at the kitchen table, as a group, with each Agent working on a different topic or workbook or whatever). We started Coffee Break Spanish over again, and have decided to go more slowly this time, working on just one or two lessons a week tops. Agent E (6th) is doing more written Spanish this year as well; I will probably add that aspect in for Agent J (4th) and Agent A (2nd) later in the year. Morning reading is a combination of math books, language arts or poetry, Egyptian mythology, and any other random fun books we find that all three Agents enjoy. (Currently it’s a book of Hindu mythology stories.) We have also decided to include our study of the United States as part of our morning school time, looking at one state per week or every two weeks (depending on how many books we find). This week we are wrapping up Virginia. 

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon school continues to be geography, world history, and science. So far this year we have been concentrating on human and population geography, world events from around 1500, life on earth, and mammals. Tuesdays and Thursdays we cover art, music, health, and world religions. We are working our way through Lives of the Artists and Lives of the Musicians, both very fun books that come highly recommended by the Agents. For health we are currently reading How the Incredible Human Body Works . . . By the Brainwaves, which has been a hit. We are also rereading What Do You Believe?, a book I liked a lot better when we first used it two years ago than I do now. (Why is probably a topic for another day.)

Our school days have a brand new distraction as well: After two years of being a pet-free household, we now have a cute kitty living with us. He is seven years old and just the sweetest. (The receptionist at the shelter audibly gasped when we walked in and specifically requested to see him; sadly, older cats tend to languish at animal care facilities.) The Agents named him Darwin (yes, after that Darwin) but they also liked the name his previous person had given him (Oscar) so sometimes we call him that, too. He is a bit overweight, is missing quite a few teeth (soft food diet), and he had been declawed, so indoor only (which we would have done anyway). We adore him.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. If you are near Irma (my old stomping grounds) please be safe. 

Planning for the 2017-2018 School Year {Part Three}

Today I’m sharing a final planning post for the upcoming school year. Last week I shared Part One {math, language arts, Spanish, and mythology} and Part Two {geography, science, world and American history, world religions, and health}. Part Three will focus on the remaining topics we cover on a regular basis—art, music, philosophy, and critical thinking—as well as introduce a few ideas for “extras” we might pursue this year or in the near future.

We spent the last two years going through The Children’s Book of Art as well as reading several selections from the 13 Things Children Should Know series {artists, painters, sculptures, photos, art mysteries, etc.}. We also try to do as much creative art play time {drawing, painting, chalk pastels, collage, etc.} as we can, just because it’s fun and the Agents love it. Going forward we intend to use two different spine books for art: A Child’s Introduction to Art and 13 Women Artists Children Should Know. {The second book necessitated by the fact that the first book—while I love the style and presented biographies and suggested projects—mentions only one female out of 35 total artists.} I expect this to be another two-year cycle. We will also read Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes {and What the Neighbors Thought}. We've read several titles from this series and they're always a hit. 

For music we just wrapped up a similar book—The Children’s Book of Music—also after two years. {Apparently taking two school years to get through one book is A Thing with us, as this has happened numerous times with our other subjects, too.} Next year we plan to read The Story of the Orchestra. I like the set-up of the book; it comes with a CD, which is nice, and it will work well as a spine. However, it’s not particularly detailed, so I envision us utilizing lots of supplemental books. As with art, we will read {or in this case, re-read} Lives of the Musicians as well. Unfortunately both of these texts are lacking in female names, and I haven’t found any ways to address that as of yet. {So if you know of a book that includes a decent number of women composers and musicians, please pass it on.}

I actually wasn’t planning on covering philosophy as a separate topic this coming year. Then I came across The Children’s Book of Philosophy and pretty much had to own it. Sigh. The Agents will love it, though, as just flipping through the table of contents I can tell it is right up their alley. In addition, we will likely re-read some of the critical thinking books we discovered last year {Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong and Maybe Yes, Maybe No come to mind immediately} as well as investigate a few new ones.

As far as “extras” we’ve considered, I think Agent E {6th} would benefit from a structured typing program. She has also expressed an interest in studying Latin, although I’m not sure that is something we will find the time for this year. Agent E already practices three instruments on a regular basis {recorder, keyboard, and guitar} and has mentioned wanting to try another {flute or trumpet are the current top contenders}. So far the younger two Agents {who will be starting 4th and 2nd} have not shown a desire to start music lessons of any kind. {And by “lessons” I mean the self-taught method that Agent E uses.} I would definitely like to incorporate more independent writing—whether short stories or poetry or even simply regular journal writing—into both girls’ days as well. {Agent A is not quite there yet.}

I’m sure that by the time I hit publish on this I will think of something critical I forgot, or come up with the next latest greatest idea. And this was supposed to be the year we were getting back to a simpler routine, ha! Oh, well . . . at least I won’t have so much pesky paperwork to keep up. 

Planning for the 2017-2018 School Year {Part Two}

A few days ago I shared Part One of our plans for the upcoming school year. This outlined our intended direction for math, language arts, Spanish, and mythology {all the subjects we do daily in the mornings}. This post will address some of the other academic subjects we typically include each week, although we don’t hit each of these topics every day. 

For geography, we will be using the same spine text for the third year in a row: Geography: A Visual Encyclopedia. We’ve been working through it in order, albeit following lots of rabbit holes along the way. The first year {4th for Agent E and 2nd for Agent J} we completed the first three sections: planet earth, rocks and minerals, and water. The second year {5th for Agent E, 3rd for Agent J, and 1st for Agent A} we covered climate and weather and life on earth {ecosystems}. Our focus next year will be on the final three sections of the text: human geography, mapping the world, and individual country studies. 

Our world history spine—History Year-by-Year—will also be seeing its third year of use. So far we have progressed from the very beginning of the human story through ancient history and the middle ages up to and including the age of exploration. We will be picking up this year around 1525, and are hoping to get at least up to the time of American westward expansion. If we manage that, we will still be looking at using this book for a fourth year to carry us up to present times. Then we’ll probably start the whole cycle over again, focusing on different key points and reading more complex texts than previously. I did not really include Agent A {1st} in our world history studies too much this year, but going forward {2nd} I probably will.

While we did cover American history this year, we did not have a set plan or use a particular spine book. For next year, we intend to make use of the United States Encyclopedia. This gives a brief overview of US history, then offers state-by-state summaries, and finally presents a brief discussion of important documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. I’m anticipating this being a two-year endeavor. We will also likely re-watch both America: The Story of Us and Liberty’s Kids while supplementing with additional texts along the way.

Next we have science, which is consistently the area in which we overplan because we want to Do All The Things. Although we did make it through a substantial amount of our spine text, Science: A Visual Encyclopedia, we still have two sections to cover: living organisms and great discoveries. While we used a spine for our evolution studies this year—Evolution: The Human Story—it turned out to be a little more dense than we were anticipating, and we will likely “shelf” that one for a few years. Instead, we are going to go through our Goodreads list and re-read all of our evolution favorites {and include Agent A in any ones he missed last year}. We also plan to read The Magic of Reality {one of my absolute favorites} together as well. We are almost through all the mammals covered in The Animal Book, so we should easily wrap up that section this year and move on to another animal group, probably birds or amphibians.

We will likely continue doing a separate study of world religions and their mythologies as well. {Although I still can’t decide if we will leave this as an afternoon subject as part of history, or move it to our morning routine and cover it along with our study of Egyptian mythology.} The girls have already read What Do You Believe? {twice}, although we have not gone through it with Agent A. {We tried earlier this year and it was a bit much for him at the time.} We have read Really Really Big Questions About God, Faith, and ReligionThe Belief Book, and The Book of Gods with all three Agents, however. I think this is such a fascinating topic and one that everyone should have a working knowledge of, regardless of their personal beliefs or lack thereof. I don’t have a new spine book in mind for this topic, although I’m open to suggestions {ahem}. 

For Health we will be re-reading a book we used as a spine during Agent E’s 4th and Agent J’s 2nd grade year. The Human Body: A Visual Encyclopedia offers a detailed look at each of the body’s systems, as well as including information on the life cycle and personality traits. We will be making ample use of the KidsHealth website articles and videos as well. This year we also discovered the wonderful collection of books by Robie H. Harris about the body and puberty, and we will likely be re-reading all of them next year. They are all highly recommended and Agent-approved. {We will likely skip reading It’s Perfectly Normal with Agent A, as it’s really aimed at middle-school-ish ages, but all the others we will read together.} I think it is so important to have an accurate, scientific understanding of your own body and how it works. {Just think about how many people you know personally who fall for all sort of health-related pseudoscience nonsense because they lack a basic understanding of the human body.}

Right now our routine is to cover geography and science on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, then turn to history, world religions, and health on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, I think we will likely be revising our days somewhat for next year, possibly to include more of a “block” schedule of sorts. Of course we also still need to throw art, music, and extras into the mix as well. That will be the subject of part three of this post.