The Sacred Sprouts Schoolhouse

Archive for January, 2010

Let’s Talk Math

Since I talked about our language arts last week, I thought that this week I’d get my thoughts down about our current math going-ons.   Math was a challenging one for me to nail down before school started this year.  Math is one of the biggies- and of course, it’s the first one that people grow concerned about when I talk about homeschooling.  Everyone wants to know how I’m going to teach the more advanced math to my kids- and what if I mess that up? Really?  This is the age of technology my friends, and whatever I come upon that I struggle with teaching can be done on the computer or via a DVD.  We can go all the way through advanced calculus if my kids are so inclined.  And actually, I suspect that Abigail is right on track to accomplish just  that if we do math every year of high school.

The number one thing I had to do with selecting math was wait until 3rd grade was done.  I needed to wait until all concepts had been gone over and reviewed.  Then, the next thing to do was to have Abigail take some tests.  Thankfully, most of the math programs out there have placement tests, so you can order the right one for your children’s abilities.  I printed off a total of about six math tests and Abigail had to take them.  She was not happy with that process, by the way.

But when she was done with the tests, I had her rank them in order- because the tests reflected the curriculum, and if she had a hard time understanding something on a test- that meant something to me.  Some were also colorful, and some not- and that also played in.   She ended up choosing the Horizons test as her favorite, followed very closely by AOP’s Lifepac curriculum.  After looking over both programs, I decided that Horizons was closest to how I wanted to teach.  I have not regretted it at all.  Abigail loves doing her math.  She loves the colorful notebook, and she loves the approach.  It’s spiral math, which I actually wasn’t sure about, but it’s working very, very well.  When I say it’s spiral, I mean that it revisits topics over and over.  Last week we introduced division of money.  Abigail did about 8 problems regarding that, and then moved on to do a few problems dealing with multiplication into the hundreds, then a few regular long division problems, then a story problem or two, and finished up with a puzzle which was a review of prime numbers.  So she’s not doing dozens upon dozens of one problem- and we both love that.  She does enough so that I know she knows what she’s doing, and then as we keep coming back to it, she gets more and more confident.  It’s wonderful!

We are about one week away from finishing up her first book for the year.  This book has dealt with the big guys- major addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and money.  The next book we get into the more “fun” math- the geometry, the algebraic equations, time, decimals, fractions, ratios, graphing, things like that.  I think she’ll have fun with it, actually.

Which all leads me to next year, and thinking about next year’s math.  I have an extra variable for next year- and that is little brother.  While they are doing different math this year (obviously) next year the bulk of their school days will be separate.  I fear it will take a while to totally wrap my mind around the idea of doing two separate cores, but in the meantime, my decisions for next year will involve as much independent work as I think I can ask for.  Math is one of those for Abigail.  While we’re really enjoying the Horizons math, I think that this next year will be a good year to switch to Teaching Textbooks.  This program is done at the computer- where the program walks you through problems and helps you learn to complete your math.  Then mom comes in and checks the work- but the bulk of it is done by the student and the computer.  This will be something that I can have Abigail do while I work on something separate with Zander.  I think it will be a good choice- I just need to wait until this school year is done and have Abigail take a placement test to find out which version I should order for her.

Zander has been a completely different ball of wax.

When you look up the requirements of a kindergarten math program… well, lets just say that I could have skipped it altogether.  The basics of kindergarten math are counting to 20, identifying and writing numbers, identifying something like 10 basic shapes, and there’s something else that is escaping me.   Knowing that, at the very beginning of the year I picked up an inexpensive math book, thinking we’d just go that route.  Except that Zander whizzed right through the book in a matter of a few weeks.  So I went back to the computer and did my research before deciding that if I wanted him to have math- I would need to go with a first grade program.

So I ordered the beginning books for Singapore Math.  The Singapore way of math is praised the whole world over- and Singapore students consistently rank at the top of any standings when it comes to math- so they must be doing something right.  Contrary to some beliefs, the US version of Singapore math does not have foreign currency or strange symbols in it- it’s Americanized all the way, and has been a very interesting journey in teaching my son basic math skills.

Honestly? This program is phenomenal.  It’s so easy to understand, yet at the same time, it is totally teaching math skills- today I sat down with Zander to do flashcards and he whizzed right through them- telling me over and over again how easy they are.  The Singapore way of math has worked so well.  One of the things they encourage is the grouping of numbers to make it easier to add them together.  So when Zander sees 9+8, he automatically thinks to himself that 10+8 would be 18, so he needs to subtract one and get 17.   And he can do this well into the 20’s and 30’s now.  Just this morning he showed me that he can count by 1’s to 1000 (I let him stop just past 100), 2’s to 100, 5’s to 100, 3’s to 30, 10’s to 100, and then he wanted to count by hundreds to 1000.  In the weeks to come, he’s actually going to be starting multiplication already- in kindergarten.  He just gets it.

Where I’m hesitating is that while the Singapore has been good for him, I also really like the Horizons math.  So this is going to be weighed out very carefully for us in the coming months.   Ultimately, I think it will come down to his placement tests.  The number one thing when looking at any math program for me is those tests.  It’s just so important to make sure that they are using a math program that fits them where they are at.  Honestly, I’m not even looking at grade numbers anymore when it comes to math.  We’ll do the test and order the correct curriculum for where they are at.

And after all that, if the program shows up and after a few weeks we’re just not jiving with it, we can always switch to something different.  And we will switch and switch until we find the program that fits best.  Individualized education- that’s what we’re all about here at The Sacred Sprouts Schoolhouse.

posted by Erika in Curriculum Choices and have Comment (1)

Language Arts

I’ve been meaning to spend some time here to share a few of the tools we’ve found successful in our first year of homeschooling.  It’s the time of year to start thinking ahead for next year, and as I assess where we are going and what choices to make for next year, there are a few that have become stand-outs as far as I’m concerned.  So today I thought I would share a little bit about some of the language arts curriculum we’re using.

First, let’s talk about spelling.  If you asked me last year what was the one area Abigail needed most help in- it was spelling.  She was really not a good speller at all, and I knew it would take some work to get her to really think about the spelling process.  During our summer school time, I had picked up an inexpensive spelling book put out by Spectrum.  It was decent enough, a basic spelling program with spelling lists and three days worth of workbook pages to integrate the words and become familiar with them.  I thought it might work for us, but I really didn’t relish the idea of having spelling lists and tests every week.

So on the recommendation of Sonlight, I ordered a copy of Sequential Spelling.  I had no idea what to expect, and when I got the book, I almost sent it back unused.  The premise is unlike anything I’ve ever heard for spelling.  You start with a list of words.  You go word by word- you say the word to your child and use it in a sentence.  Then they write the word.  Immediately, you also write the word so they can see it.  They check their spelling of that word, correct their mistake- if any- immediately, and you move on to the next word.  There are 25 words every day.  The words are related, and you build on them, triggering the mind to remember sequences when it comes to working with words.  As an example, this week we did stand, understand, misunderstand, misunderstanding all on different days.

It’s so different!  There are no lists of words to study- no tests, unless you want to do a review test at some point, but you do a list of words every day, and by golly, if it isn’t working. Abigail’s spelling has improved incredibly, and most often, when she gets a word incorrect now, she knows its wrong before I even write the correct spelling.   She’s understanding when to change the Y to an I, and she’s thinking about correct spelling in her everyday writing.  Sequential Spelling has made me a very happy teacher and mommy.  When we’re done with school for the year, we’ll stop wherever we are in this book, and pick right back up where we leave off.  If we finish the book, we’ll be on to book number 2.  When Zander starts spelling, I anticipate using the exact same program with him.

Grammar and Writing have taken us a little longer to find our groove with.  I had started out our year with Sonlight’s language arts program.  I really wanted to like it, because it works with everything else we’re using.  It was a nice blend of grammar material and writing material, dictation was done, except that it just didn’t make much sense to my daughter.  After a few weeks, I decided that it wasn’t enough grammar by itself, so we added on some Easy Grammar to our days.  Well, that took a subject we already weren’t excited about and simply made it even longer.    It wasn’t until I started asking around that the light-bulb clicked, and I understood that the LA we were using utilized the “classical approach”  to language arts.  That may be fine for many people, but for my daughter, who had four years of public school under her belt, it just wasn’t clicking.  I suspect that if I had Zander begin first grade next year with Sonlight’s LA we’d have no problems, because he would grow into it and get used to learning that way.

Abigail needed something new.  The LA was not keeping her attention, and the Easy Grammar, while it may be a good way to learn grammar was so dry and boring!  I think we spent about 6 weeks on prepositional phrases alone.   Over Christmas break, I was thinking about our day and decided that if we didn’t like it, I should try something else.  Enter Bob Jones University Press. I was looking and looking for a language arts program that would capture Abigail’s attention.  In reading reviews, I saw one person talk about how colorful the workbooks for English was, and I was sold on trying it out.   I ordered a student workbook and eagerly waited for it to arrive.

Oh, if you could have seen Abigail’s face light up when she saw her new book.  She loved seeing the color and the whole workbook, you could just tell, almost felt familiar to her.   Immediately, we both stopped dreading our language arts time together.    I love their approach- love it, love it.  We spend one chapter of twelve lessons learning grammar and then we switch gears and do twelve lessons of writing.  The pages are very colorful and easy to understand.  Each lesson consists of two pages- one page we do together, and the second page Abigail does on her own.  Flipping through her book did give me a reason for concern right off the bat though.  It didn’t take me long to see unfamiliar lines and drawings that could only mean one thing: sentence diagramming.  I have never diagrammed a sentence in my life- only read about it in the Little House series of books.  I decided I better send for a teacher manual too- so that I could learn to diagram sentences properly.

The teachers manual is very user friendly too!  It offers teaching suggestions, optional worksheets, game suggestions, overhead masters if you choose to use them, as well as answers for all the student activities.   There’s an optional CD-Rom that you can also use to print out extra practice pages and worksheets as well. Together, I am completely sold on BJU Press’s English 4 program for fourth grade language arts.  Next year we will do English 5 for Abigail, and I’m thinking about English 1 for Zander.  I just really like everything about this language arts program.  It’s not complete by itself- you’ll need the spelling too, but I’m really happy with the quality, and the quantity of work for each day is the perfect amount.  As it is, since we started English 4 halfway through the year, I’m contemplating doubling up a few of the chapters.  I think it wouldn’t be too difficult to take a grammar chapter and a writing chapter and have them going simultaneously.  We’ll see.  We’re on our first writing chapter, so once we’ve given that a full go, we’ll see about combining in the weeks to come.

Overall, I am very pleased with both of these programs.  I can already say with absolute certainty that I have two choices made for next year for Abigail. Well, that and the core work are set in stone.  Other decisions are on the way, and I hope to share about those soon as well.

posted by Erika in Curriculum Choices and have Comments (3)

Halfway In

This week we mark the halfway point of our school year.  I’ve had so many thought I want to get down here- mostly to keep people informed, but also for me- so I can look back and see how this period of adjusting has gone for us.  We’ve definitely relaxed into homeschooling.  It is so enjoyable for all of us, and thanks to our new language arts curriculum for Abigail, there isn’t a part of the day that we dread getting to.

Yesterday we took the rare opportunity to spend time with another homeschooling family.  The kids all had a great time together, and it was so nice to sit and visit with another mom who is making the exact same journey I am- and who is just as in love with our curriculum choice.

Speaking of curriculum.  I know people check in here from time to time who are contemplating making a switch for themselves in the future- or maybe have really little ones who are thinking for the future too.  So I wanted to share some thoughts about curriculum.  Mainly, that there is no one program that works for everyone.  We have chosen to do a lot of our schooling with Sonlight because we love books- we love the history and geography focus, told to us through fiction and biographies.  But this works for our kids- there are so many other programs out there, that the best thing to do is simply start looking.  If you are thinking about homeschooling- check out my sidebar.  I have a list of curriculum providers that I have seriously considered for our journey.  They all have strengths and weaknesses- but they all also have catalogs (at least mostly).  Go ahead- look at their websites, request a free catalog and really take some time to check out all the options.

When I chose Sonlight, it came as a shock to me.  I had ordered scads of catalogs, and was going back and forth between Winter’s Promise and Christian Liberty Press for much of our schooling.  I ordered the Sonlight catalog because I knew it was literature based, and I was thinking I would maybe order a few books from them.  It was love at first site- and what I thought was my last choice became my only choice.  It works well for us, and we’re going to continue with it for now.  Next year the kids will be split up and Abigail will move ahead to the second half of American History while Zander will drop back and start his own Sonlight journey with an introduction to the world around him.

Here in Wisconsin, we are required to provide 875 hours of instruction which must include math, language arts, reading, science, health, and social studies.  Everything else is gravy, and within these veins, you can do what you like- but it must be progressive.  For our social studies we do history and geography mainly right now.  Our reading ties into our history as well through historical fiction and biographies of famous Americans.  Our science right now is Astronomy, but in a few weeks we’ll be doing a unit on food and nutrition- which will also qualify to meet our health requirement.   Math is individual to meet each child’s needs, and language arts as well.  Companies who provide math curriculum also provide placement tests, so you can order material that fits right at your child’s ability.

So here we are, this week is the halfway mark and every day it seems to get better.  Last week we finished reading Johnny Tremain for our read-aloud and it was such a bittersweet victory for us.  It was a really long book- we’d even taken a significant break from it for Christmas.  But once we finished it, we were sad to say goodbye to Johnny.  It gave us such an incredible view of how the Revolutionary War started- and we celebrated our victory by cuddling on the couch for the movie version.   This morning, as I read the second chapter of our new read-aloud, Toliver’s Secret, Zander told me that this book wasn’t near as exciting as Johnny Tremain so far.  Abigail chose that moment to also confide in me that even though there were days where it seemed like I read aloud for a whole hour, she wanted me to keep going with Johnny Tremain, she loved it so.   Last week while we were out with friends Zander started running around like he was riding a horse, exclaiming that he was Johnny Tremain.  Abigail followed suit, only she was being Paul Revere, and they started calling out that “The British Are Coming” and all I could do was just grin and watch them act out history as it really happened.

My kids have learned how to learn… I can’t express that enough or even say it quite right.  By giving them each individual attention, catering to their weaknesses and challenging their strengths they’ve come so far.  They’re like flowers in full blossom.   If you had told me to expect this… I probably would have laughed at you.   And now… now I just cannot believe that I was so against this idea in the first place.   The questions and concerns that people have about socialization are just plain silly to me now.   I have watched in the last few weeks as my son, while we sit at dance class waiting for Abigail for hours at a time, now takes the initiative and organizes all the other “siblings of dancers” into group activities of hide and seek- or simply playing with some toys.  I watch him walk around, and when he sees another child with a DS, he sits next to them and asks if they’d like to play with him.  My shy almost six-year old is organizing groups of kids from age 2-10 to play together…

Ah, I’m rambling.  It’s been a fantastic couple of weeks here at the schoolhouse, and I just wanted to share a little bit.  I’m going to try and do better at updating here.  Now I have to go add some curriculum sites to my sidebar.

posted by Erika in Random Thoughts and have Comments Off on Halfway In

Admiring The Schoolteacher

I think there is a common misconception among the public population in general that when a family chooses to homeschool, we’re making a blanket statement about teachers and public education.  That’s simply not true.  What most homeschoolers are about is simply doing their best to provide the best education for their children- tailor made for each individual child.  We’re providing what school teachers wish they could provide- but simply don’t have the time or the resources to do so.   I bet if you asked any school teacher what could change to make their learning environment better it would be class size- one teacher spread among 25 students makes for a difficult task for the teachers.

I don’t envy them.

I also admire them, because they have to work with what they are given.  They are given this group of student and this curriculum, and in the words of Tim Gunn, they are told to  “make it work”.    I can’t even imagine…

We just had our best week of school to date.   The kids had almost an entire month off of school for Christmas, and were relaxed and ready to go.  Their brains were ready for some stimulation, and we hit it hard, and had a great week!  Because we took an extra week off, I wanted to double up on our history, reading and science this week.  It went off without a hitch.  Our school days ran a little longer this week, but with a few breaks during the day, we just kept marching forward, digesting every word.

Zander had a proud moment Friday morning when he finished the last few pages of his math workbook.   I am amazed at his math abilities, and the confidence he has gained.   We did some flashcard work this week, and he just kept telling me “that’s easy” and rattle off the answer.    We’ve finished the Singapore 1A and now move on to 1B.  We will be taking this second book a little slower, as it moves quickly to more difficult concepts.  We will be adding much bigger digits, and I was really surprised to learn that in just a few weeks we will be doing an introduction to multiplication.   I think I am going to pick up an inexpensive addition and subtraction workbook for him to work on before we get to that point.  I want to make sure he knows those facts well before trying to multiply.

One of the decisions I made over Christmas break was to change Abigail’s Language Arts program.  We’d been using the Sonlight LA along with some Easy Grammar thrown in.  While I think it was a great combo to do and touched all the bases, Abigail really wasn’t enjoying the work.  Every day after spelling, she just sort of deflated, knowing what was coming.  I guess the classic approach just wasn’t working as well for her- not surprising, given the fact that she had four years of public schooling.  So I ordered up BJU English 4, a curriculum used successfully in many Christian schools.  It arrived on Wednesday, so she got to try it out Thursday and Friday and already she loves it.  She just lit up when she saw the workbook full of color and descriptions.   She had no troubles at all, and the only troubles I can foresee in the near future will be remedied by ordering the teachers guide, as I have no clue how to diagram a sentence.  (Up to now, all teachers guides have sat on the shelf unused- so I ordered without the teachers guide. Oops.)

I am so thrilled that I can do that.  That I can assess how things are going and adjust accordingly.  As of right now, we have two more weeks of work and then we’re officially halfway done with our school year.  Now that we’re almost halfway through, it’s time to assess where we are, where we are going, and start looking to next year and what our plans will be then.  There are some big decisions to be made- do I keep the kids together for one more core?  Do I separate them next year?  A Separation is certain at some point, and that’s going to be the big decision in the months to come.

posted by Erika in Random Thoughts and have Comments Off on Admiring The Schoolteacher