The Fourth Week

It’s the end of the fourth week, and now we’re really finding our groove! After lamenting to a friend (and former homeschooler) about my daughter’s lack of internal motivation I was told that, if I was patient, Lillia would become the student I want her to be. I think my friend was on to something, because this week Lillia really stepped it up, in terms of cooperativeness, quality of work, and enthusiasm. I don’t think we had a single meltdown all week.

Even though she struggled to master cursive “b” she persisted until she got it right (there was a bit of resistance, but nothing like a temper tantrum). She seems to think that my criticizing her work is a reflection of how I feel about her, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth! However, when I made her erase the ones that came out poorly, then showed her what was wrong, she was able to do a much better job (and, I think, was secretly proud of herself).

As her teacher, I have to be objective, and be willing to point out her mistakes, even while the mom in me wants to coddle her and tell her that her work is perfect every time. How do you deal with the parent/teacher dichotomy?

Highlights from this week:

Reading: We’re still working on Anooka’s Answer, by Marjorie Cowley. This is a story about a girl living in Europe during the last glacial maximum (ice age). She discovers a hidden talent for creating figurines from clay, but this practice is prohibited for women in her tribe. Lillia seems to like it.

Writing: We didn’t do any formal writing this week, as I am still trying to choose which program to use. I have four to choose from, and they are all very different. I plan to decide over the weekend, and start a formal writing program on Monday. We are still doing our drop-down webs for history.

Spelling: We have been working our way through McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book. I will have her do little sections daily until we get to a point where she gets a certain number wrong (maybe 3 or 4?), and then we will actually do a formal study session. So far, the words are so easy that she hasn’t gotten any wrong, but the words do get harder. My husband and I had a great time quizzing each other on the later lessons.

History: We just finished our first history “spine,” Voyages Through Time: The Beginning, by Peter Ackroyd. Overall, I liked this book. It did a nice job of covering the Earth’s history from the Big Bang through the Ice Age. There were moments when the writing was almost poetic, but then times where it was quite dry. I wish he had written more consistently in the “narrative” voice, instead of trying to be so scientific. Also, the illustrations were TERRIBLE! Now, this is purely based on my opinion, and what I look for in an illustrated children’s book. What I really want is beautifully rendered watercolor illustrations. I detest computer generated graphics, which is what was used for this book. I actually didn’t really show the pictures to Lillia because they are so uninspiring. Would I use it again? Maybe. But, I would probably just use Jennifer Morgan’s series, which cover roughly the same material, but are so eloquently written and beautifully illustrated. The only reason why I didn’t use them is because Lillia has already read them many times.

Mathematics: We’re still in Life of Fred: Butterflies, but I have ordered the next book since we are almost done with this one already! I cannot praise this series enough. Lillia loves it, and even I have learned a lot from it. This week, we covered the concepts of ordinal and cardinal numbers, and orthogonal (ex: perpendicular) lines. I love that she is learning all of these concepts in such an organic way, through Fred’s life and adventures. All of the math that she learns makes complete sense in the context of the story. It’s never arbitrary. Seriously, this is an amazing math curriculum.

Science: I decided to switch gears and just spend this year doing a combination of life science and astronomy. We are reading the Burgess Bird Book for Children and recording what we learn about each bird in our science journal. This week we learned about the wren and the English sparrow. I just received my astronomy curriculum from Memoria Press this afternoon. I haven’t had a chance to really look it over, but I will certainly write more about it in the future.

On a side note, Lillia is thrilled because she has been cast as an angel in this year’s Nutcracker performance at Moco. She’s going to be busy with two dance classes plus the Nutracker repertory class, but she seems to be having fun. And, unlike last year, she isn’t exhausted in the afternoon when it’s time for practice. Getting the amount of sleep she needs, eating when she is hungry, and having time to relax during the day allow Lillia to be successful in ways she couldn’t be before (when she was sleep deprived, starving, and overstimulated at school).

Hope you all had a great week, too!

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The Third Week

Well, this was a week where we didn’t get much done. And, I’m okay with that.

Monday, Lillia climbed Mt. Monadnock with my mom (lots of pics at the end of this post).

Tuesday, she woke up with a terrible sore throat, so we shelved school for the day, and she rested.

Wednesday, same deal.

Finally, on Thursday she was feeling better, so we took up our history, math, and independent reading work. She tried to learn the cursive letter “D,” but that ended in tears.

Friday was mostly normal. The baby is now sick (poor thing!), so that is taking up a lot of my time, but we were able to do some really good work in our history book. Lillia is now illustrating her drop-down webs without my even suggesting it (we were printing out pictures from the internet). I am so impressed with her initiative. We also did our math work (we’re now on Life of Fred: Butterflies, and still loving it!), and then she watched a one hour NOVA documentary called “Evolution: Great Transformations.” (I found it on YouTube.) She really enjoyed it.

I love our cursive curriculum, but I think we need to do a lot more practice with each letter. I purchased New American Cursive from Memoria Press, to see if it might be useful as a supplement (also, I love the meerkat!). We haven’t been working much on science because I am trying to figure out what I want to do — we may do the Thornton Burgess books, and an astronomy book I ordered from Memoria. I will write about that more later, after my thoughts have had a chance to coalesce.

I’d love to hear from other homeschoolers regarding how you deal with “sick days.” Obviously, she could have done her work in bed, but it seemed cruel. I know when I’m sick my head is all foggy, so probably not much good would come of trying to think about anything, but maybe that’s just a lame excuse…

Pictures from the hike (she was pretending to be a wolf the whole time — check out the “paws”):

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So proud of her for making it to the summit! I wish I could have been there.


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The Second Week

Our second week (and first full week) of homeschooling is complete! So, what did Lillia do this week?

— She learned about the different types of clouds, and how to identify them.
— She learned about number sets from our math book, Life of Fred: Apples by Stanley Schmidt (highly recommend!). Can you think of a set with seven numbers in it? {The days of the week}!
— She studied world history from the Precambrian through the Triassic using her history book, Voyages Through Time: The Beginning by Peter Ackroyd.
— She learned how to make and use drop-down webs to organize what she learned in history.
— She learned how to make the letters A, E, I, O, U, Y, B, & C in cursive!
— She learned what a sentence is, and how to identify one of its parts (that of which we speak — the subject).
— She reviewed the concepts of latitude and longitude, and started plotting hominid fossils on a map using coordinates.
— She finished her first literature book, Children of Time by Anne Weaver, and used two column notes to help her remember all of the different characters.
— She participated in many extracurricular activities, including Phys Ed and Art at the school, and Hip Hop and Ballet at Moco!
— And, she had lots of time to play!

This afternoon, Lillia spent a couple of hours creating character studies for some wolves from her imaginary city. She typed up all the pages by herself, and then she used Photoshop to create illustrations for them!


All in all, this week went really well. Looking back at her list of accomplishments, I feel pretty good about homeschooling! There were a few moments where things were difficult, but each of those moments offered valuable insight into how Lillia learns, and what types of activities interest her/bore her/stress her out. I feel like it will probably take a couple of months for me to really figure out what I’m doing, but there is marked improvement just since last week.

One thing I noticed is that we don’t really follow a schedule. I had originally planned to do things in twenty-minute increments, but that has gone completely out the window. We don’t really follow a particular order, either. Every day is different. It certainly keeps us from getting bored. I’m curious how others deal with the schedule issue, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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The First Week

Phew! It’s Friday afternoon, and we have officially finished our first week of homeschooling. And, what a week it was! I have read that, when it comes to homeschooling, kids often teach their parents more than the other way around. After the week we’ve had, I couldn’t possibly agree more. But, the things I have learned were so valuable, and I know they will really shape our homeschooling journey in the months to come.

First of all, I learned that all of my agonizing over curriculum design and planning was, though not entirely pointless, a fairly big waste of time. Our school day looks very different in real life than it does on paper! Sometimes there’s a cranky baby. Sometimes we’re inexplicably starving an hour after breakfast and need a break. With one car, we’re on the road more than I thought we would be. And, Lillia’s extracurricular classes at the school use up the entire morning twice a week.

But, this is good for me! I hate ambiguity — I need to know what’s going to happen. This is a real exercise in persisting despite not knowing, and I think that will have long-term benefits for me.

I also learned that my daughter HATES to write. I didn’t know this! That might surprise some people, but how would I know? The problem is not her writing skills. In fact, she’s actually a very good writer (most likely because she is also a very good reader). However, my plan to have her write daily in a literature journal has been tossed out. The first attempt ended in tears, the second attempt ended in laying on the ground moaning, and I didn’t even try a third time. I’m not homeschooling her to torture her. But, I am homeschooling her because her teachers and guidance counselors were not able to help her deal with her debilitating perfectionism, and it has become a real obstacle to her academic success. Writing seems to be where her perfectionism manifests itself in the homeschooling environment. I’m going to try and separate the literature study from the writing, and see if that helps. I found a program called WriteShop for “reluctant writers,” which I think describes my daughter perfectly. Writing isn’t always fun, but it shouldn’t be torture, either!

Once the pressure was off, she wrote extemporaneously about an imaginary place she created called “Miriloo – City of the Wolves.” She wrote an entire page! The next day I typed it for her, and she created a map of Miriloo, complete with a legend/key (during which time we got to cover some Geography stuff), and then the following day she created a travel brochure for her imaginary land. All in all, a great project that was mostly child-directed and completely unplanned.

wh miriloo

Here’s what else we accomplished:

Independent Reading!

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Discovering the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere using an apple!

wh apple experiment

Writing in her science journal!

wh science journal

Seeing how long it takes for a drop of water to evaporate!

wh evaporation experiment

Re-creating the Water Cycle!

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And, much more!

After a terrible start, most of the week went smoothly. I was temporarily paralyzed with fear that we should start with US History instead of Ancient, but in the end it probably doesn’t matter. There are arguments from both sides, and both seem equally valid. Since I’ve already bought many Ancient History books, I figure we should just stay the course. I may write more about this later, and I’m open to feedback on this issue!

I’m looking forward to next week!

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Re-inventing the Wheel

I must be honest — I’m really struggling with the process of designing my curriculum. I totally understand why someone would buy a boxed curriculum. But, I’m stubborn, and I know I wouldn’t be satisfied with someone else’s product. Also, my daughter is all over the place when it comes to grade levels. She’s third grade for science, eighth grade for reading, somewhere in the middle for math. No pre-made curriculum is going to meet those disparate needs.

But, what happens when you find yourself designing, then re-designing, and then again re-designing just the first unit? What about the rest of the year? I’ve always had a perfectionist streak, and I try very hard to answer my critics with success. I feel I must get this just right or those who doubted our choice to homeschool will say, “I told you so.”

I don’t know if anyone has been in this place, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. We are “starting” school next week, and I feel like I’m back at square one.

Just a FYI: We are loosely following a Charlotte Mason-style method, although I am all for experimenting with other ideas. Also, I’m back in school myself, one day a week, and I have a lot of reading to do, so I don’t really have time to keep re-designing everything.

image via


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Aurum Science web site

I just wanted to share a link to this fantastic science education web site that I found earlier today. It’s called Aurum Science, and though I think it is geared toward older students, it has some fantastic worksheets about evolution that I will definitely be using during our first unit on prehistory. They might be too difficult for a young child to do independently, but I think they will be great for us to do together. I’m looking forward to learning something new! Aurum Science has units on Anatomy & Physiology, Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Science.

Here’s the link:

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Unit 1 Science Book List

This information was originally listed in a post with the humanities book list for Unit 1, but I decided to separate it. Along with our humanities unit on Prehistory, we will be studying Weather & Climate Change. I tried to make our Science units loosely correlate with our humanities units, without being contrived. The third graders in our school district will be studying various weather-related topics this year, though probably not climate change. I’m trying to make sure that we, at the very least, cover the material her peers will be doing in school, plus as much extra and related material as we can. I think you probably need a good understanding of how weather works to appreciate the concept of a “climate,” which is more complex.

Weather, Paul Lehr
Weird Weather, Kate Evans
How We Know What We Know about Our Changing Climate, Lynne Cherry
Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change, Tony Bradman

UPDATE 8/29/12: After actually reading these titles over the past few weeks, I have determined that this is way too much work for an eight year old to cover in six weeks. I mean, what was I thinking? I have cut out the Paul Lehr book, as it is a fantastic reference book, but very dry and dense. It would take us a whole year to cover the material in that tiny book!

I’ve replaced Weather with The Weather Detectives, by Mark Eubank and Mark A. Hicks. It is much more kid-friendly, and reads conversationally, which is what I was looking for. Lillia really absorbs information when it’s given in narrative form.

Also, we won’t have time to read the Lynne Cherry book of short stories about climate change, or the How We Know… book, either. I will offer those for independent reading at her leisure. I do, however, want to read Weird Weather, which is a really well-researched, yet very fascinating, graphic novel about climate change. It will be worth it to squeeze it in somehow.

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Basic Unit 1 Schedule

Here is a preliminary schedule for our Unit 1 study of Prehistory and Climate Change. I haven’t added any of the supplemental materials yet, as I haven’t quite worked out where they will fit. This schedule reflects only the work that Lillia will be responsible for doing on her own.

Click here to view—> Unit 1 Schedule PDF

UPDATE 8/29/12: This has changed completely. I will post an updated version soon.

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Unit 1 Humanities Book List

Here is a list of the books Lillia will be reading during the first six-week Humanities unit, during which we will be studying Prehistory — beginning with a quick overview of evolution on Earth from the Big Bang to the rise of Homo sapiens sapiens. We will concentrate a lot of our time on the Ice Age peoples of Europe and North America. I will post a reading schedule later this week or next, so you can see how I broke down the readings by chapter and/or page number so they are manageable for an eight year old.

Disclaimer: I do not consider myself an expert on education. I do consider myself an expert on my particular child. This reading list is designed for a child reading proficiently at a late elementary/early middle school level.

Born With A Bang; From Lava to Life; Mammals Who Morph, Jennifer Morgan
Children of Time: Evolution and the Human Story, Anne H. Weaver
Oxford First Ancient History, R.E.C. Burrell
Anooka’s Answer, Majorie Cowley
Maroo of the Winter Caves, Ann Turnbull
Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones, David L. Harrison

* I chose two books of historical fiction that have female protagonists. Marjorie Cowley also wrote a book called Dar and the Spear Thrower, which has a male protagonist. You could substitute that for one of the books I selected.

UPDATE 8/29/12: I’ve changed this list quite a bit since I posted it. I am now breaking it up into two subjects, covering History (which we will read together) and Literature (which she will read to herself) separately. This will still take us six weeks, but I have cut down the number of pages per day, to keep the lessons manageable, and that leaves us with fewer books. The other titles we can read at our leisure, like the Jennifer Morgan series which we have already read many times. Here is a more accurate picture of what we will read, including some new titles:

Voyages Through Time: The Beginning, Peter Ackroyd
Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones, David L. Harrison
If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge, Marc Aronson

Children of Time: Evolution and the Human Story, Anne H. Weaver
Anooka’s Answer, Majorie Cowley

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The Adventure Begins

We have decided to…

Before I go into any details, I must first apologize for my complete lack of posts for the last few weeks. I meant to keep updating during our trial period, but it only ended up lasting a week. Then, we were going back and forth with our decision, and I just didn’t feel I had much to say in this space. But, now that we’ve decided for sure, I feel I can write posts again.

As you may have noticed, we have a new header, and our “homeschool experiment” is upgraded to an “adventure!” It took my husband quite a long time to come around to the idea. So long, in fact, that we actually ended up switching positions at the end — I was ready to send her to school! But, it had to happen this way because I wouldn’t have been successful without 100% of his support. There can be no acquiescing in this sort of decision.

During our trial week I learned A LOT about what would/wouldn’t work for us in a homeschooling situation. I have so many questions, but they will remain unanswered until we start our program in the fall. I think that it will be a “take it as it comes” sort of adventure, and I am okay with that.

We are still going to use some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, but others just won’t work for us. And, though I love the Ambleside curriculum, I feel much more comfortable designing my own. Lillia will read many well-written, not-dumbed-down books. I am creating humanities “unit studies” based on various periods of history, and incorporating primary source literature as much as possible.

I feel very strongly that children should have access to primary sources when studying history. Professional historians use primary sources, not textbooks, for their work. If we want to stay true to the discipline, we should teach it the way professionals practice it. Also, children should be free to make their own connections and interpretations about the past. Simply memorizing names and dates does not make history meaningful.

We will also be combining the humanities unit with a science unit that is in some way connected. For example, during our first six weeks we will study Prehistory and Climate Change, which played a huge role in the development of human civilizations (people couldn’t really develop agriculture during the ice age…). This will ensure that Lillia learns modern science, but not in a void. She will learn the history of the science topics and why they are important today.

I have chosen to do the humanities units in chronological order because, as a history major, I find it completely illogical the way children learn history in school. They jump around between time periods, so everything is always out of context. There wouldn’t have been an Enlightenment without the Renaissance. There would be no U.S. History without the Enlightenment. See where I’m going with this? So, for the coming year, we’re going to cover Prehistory through Ancient Rome. If we decide to homeschool again next year, we’ll do the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, which is a whole ton of stuff, especially because the closer we get to the present, the more cultures there are to study. And, each time period left more and more literature behind for us to read!

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