Sunday, June 28, 2009


When we started homeschooling our oldest was already reading. We felt like some reinforcement would be good, but we did not need an involved phonics program. Out of total ignorance I picked Saxon Phonics. Oops. Saxon is extremely involved. If I had followed the program as outlined we would have spent 45 minutes on phonics every day. I significantly altered the program and we spent an average of 15 minutes a day on phonics.

Saxon has two levels of phonics. We used level 1 during first grade, and level 2 during second grade. I didn't love it, and neither did M, but for 15 minutes a day we could both tolerate it. I will say that Saxon Phonics balances learning to read with learning to spell. I might review some of the flash cards next year if M has trouble with specific spelling concepts.

Our second daughter started kindergarten last school year. I could not imagine teaching a child to read using Saxon. We chose the Veritas Press Phonics program and were pleased with it. Again, I did not follow the program exactly, but we did actually use the worksheets. I also enjoyed the primers that came with the program. Next year we will use the Veritas Press 1st grade student workbook.

I had always bought into the idea that years of training were necessary to be able to teach a child to read. I was so glad to discover my error. Time is the main ingredient. I love having two new readers in the house and I am looking forward to adding two more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Next school year will be the first time that I have used a science curriculum. I think that science should be a messy, hands-on endeavor. We have the privilege of living in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Our house is surrounded by woods. My kids can identify an eastern towhee based on sound alone. They can identify a wide variety of wildflowers and can tell you what month each of those flowers will bloom. Weather patterns are a constant topic of conversation in our community, and my children live the differences between snow, freezing rain, and hail. They are learning about seeds and plants as we participate in our neighborhood garden. They know that too much rain turns your basil black, but makes your cilantro three feet tall. They know more about salamanders than I do and can tell you the heart rate of the humming bird that we share three meals a day with,
But . . . . .

This year when my rising 3rd grader found out that there would be a science portion on her standardized test she panicked.
M: “Mom, we haven’t done science this year.”
Me: “Sure we have. You have a journal. Remember when we recorded the height of the basil plants.”
M: “yeah, but then Z ruined them”
(Z is baby brother, and did in fact ruin the basil plants. Several times.)
Me: “Well, that is part of science. Even great scientists have to start over sometimes. Anyway, we have done science. Remember talking about birds?”
M: “um, did that count?”

There was more to the conversation, but it was all pretty similar to what you see above. So, this year we are “doing science”. My girls crave structure. This free form science is life plan of mine is not working for them.

I think that I have found a reasonable compromise. Next year we will use R.E.A.L. Science level 1. I was sold when the woman on the phone started reading the necessary supply list, “pitch fork for collecting worms . . . “ R.E.A.L. stands for read, explore, absorb, learn. There are student worksheets, a short reading assignment and a lab for each unit. The material includes a reading list for each unit and helpful websites. The program assumes that you will have science twice a week. Level 1 is “life science” and includes human anatomy, animal life and plant life.

Hopefully next May M will not panic when it is time for Standardized testing, and both girls will continue to learn that science is a wonderful, hands-on subject.

Webinar update

The webinars that I mentioned last week did prove to be helpful. See for yourself by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A helpful Webinar

One of the things that I intended to include in my 2009-2010 school budget was money for teacher training. There are several topics that I would like to be more informed about. Unfortunately, after purchasing the basics, there is not very much money left. I am still hoping to enter the school year a little more prepared, and I have found several free webinars that look helpful.

I have registered for two writing workshops and a session on helping guide your child's spiritual development. All three look helpful, and the price was easily in my budget. Now the challenge will be carefully coordinating nap time for the younger two. If you would like to join me in one of these webinars click here. There were several other choices, so be sure to read all the descriptions.

If you have ways that you participate in teacher training leave me a comment. I would love to hear some of your great ideas.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Math choices

Clearly, I love Tapestry of Grace. It beautifully pulls together history, literature, art, and geography. However, those subjects are not enough to complete a well rounded school year. I will use the next few posts to tell you what I have chosen to use for our non-tapestry subjects. Let me start with Math.

I have now taken one student through Saxon 1 and 2. Next year I am planning on using Saxon 1 for my first grader and Saxon 3 for my third grader. Homeschooling moms tend to have strong reactions to the use of Saxon Math. Here is my pros and cons list:



Straight forward; my husband can easily teach a lesson, even if he hasn't done so in weeks

Each day, if followed exactly, would take a very long time

Through; plenty of practice with basic skills

The daily repetition can be confusing to young students. If I quiz my daughter everyday on the months of the year, by mid-week she has decided that she must be doing something wrong.

Adaptable; when the teacher's guide suggests sorting pattern blocks we sort laundry

Worksheets follow a familiar pattern; students who are reading well can complete a worksheet with little help

Worksheets follow a familiar pattern; I want my children to be able to answer any math questions, not just "Saxon" math questions.

When we complete a year of Saxon I am confident that we have completed math for grade "x"

I am happy enough with the Saxon program that I have worked hard to find solutions to its weaknesses. It is worth mentioning that I love math, and enjoy finding ways to best teach my children this subject.

I have set a one hour time limit on math. To make that work I look at the lesson in reverse. How long will it take my daughter to complete the worksheet? Are there additional worksheets to be completed? Is the lesson introducing a new concept? How did the "meeting book" time go yesterday? Once I have considered those questions I can mentally divide out the hour. We rarely complete more than one section of "the meeting" each day. I have found that over the course of a school year that is fine. Actually, when I was attempting to complete the entire "meeting" each day I found that my daughter struggled more. It became clear to me that she figured she must have been wrong the past three days. Doesn't that make sense? Typically we drill students on material that they are struggling with. She knew that I asked the "plus 9" facts everyday because she needed the practice. A logical jump for her was, "hmm. . . I must be getting those months wrong. Maybe there are 13." When I switched to asking calendar questions once a week she got them right every time. Less time and greater success, that is a good match.

To address the issue of familiar worksheets I use the Mathematical Reasoning workbooks that are published by the Critical Thinking Company. I also print worksheets from several websites. I will add links to those sites soon.

So, that is what I do for Math. This year I will use Saxon 1 with Mathematical Reasoning B and Saxon 3 with Mathematical Reasoning D. Hopefully that combination will work as well next year as it did this year.