". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Grade

A few days ago I shared academic goals for the senior members of Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy* (known affectionately around the house as "The Big Kids"). Today I thought I would share what we have planned for the first grader.

First, let me say that the label of "first grade" is an indication of Evan's age more than anything else. He is six years old, so if he were attending an institutional school, he would be entering his first grade year. But when it comes to learning around here, we don't much care what grade someone is in. That's why if you read my last homeschooling post you may have noticed that even though they are three years apart in age, my two oldest children are studying many of the same things. Since they can, they do. Makes my life easier and theirs more enjoyable. But when their paths part academically (as they must with some more sequential subjects, such as math), their studying does, too.

So, back to Evan. What does he have to look forward to this year? Here's a list of the areas of study we will undertake, how we will approach those areas, and the primary books we will be using:

Language Arts
I have been fortunate to never have to teach reading. All of my kids, including Evan, just learned, and I really can't tell you how. My only explanation is that we have always read to them, a lot, from a very young age. Books that teach letters and their sounds have certainly helped (such as a Random House series we bought when Trevor was little that had a book for every letter). Dr. Seuss books with their rhyme and repetition have been invaluable. I also credit Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, and Garfield comic strips with helping Evan make great strides forward this past year. The pictures combined with the short number of words to decode make for a great and highly motivating reading experience. I would say at this point Evan is easily at a third grade reading level, maybe higher (he was reading Luther's Small Catechism to us this morning). But while he knows how to read, he is not able to spell and write at a comparable level. And he could still use some basic phonics to help with sounding out unfamiliar words. So to that end we will be using Explode the Code, starting with Level 1. Additionally, at least once a week I will have him do some copy work (nothing long, just a Bible verse or line from a hymn or story) and will try to move him towards generating his own, not just copying, sentences by the end of the year.

I think at this age the best approach is to incorporate math learning into other subjects or everyday life ("There are seven continents. We just named five of them. How many are left?"). But I think it is also good to do some math worksheets on a limited basis, if for no other reason than to have the child practice writing his numbers. So I purchased A Beka's Arithmetic, Level 1, and we will use it occasionally. I will not have him work through the book in a methodical, one-page-per-day way, but will give him just enough math sheets that when he gets one he thinks it's interesting and fun.

We already have a lot of great nature and science books on our shelves (my two older children always loved the Scholastic Question & Answer and the Magic School Bus books), but the kindergarten level of Sonlight science looked really fun to me, so we bought some, but not all, of the items. I did get the curriculum guide and after a few days am glad that I did because it does have some helpful suggestions for simple (yay!) activities. I also bought the A Beka science and health readers for first grade as supplements (which again means we will only use them to the extent they are fun). But note well: I do not buy any of the A Beka peripheral materials (test booklets, teacher guides, etc.). The workbooks are only about $10 each and I think I am smart enough to use them without a lesson plan or teacher's guide. (Please don't burst my bubble.) We don't do much testing around here, especially not at the primary level, we never stick to the prescribed schedule, and I don't think I need answer keys for first grade material. (On the other hand, today I told Evan that the North Pole is in Antartica. Sheesh. It was a lapse, OKAY??? But maybe I do need the answer key for geography . . . . ).

Social Science
Nothing too formal here. Some broad reading about times past, using some of the books suggested by Sonlight for elementary world history: things like Usborne's Time Traveler, Then and Now, and Living Long Ago ; the Sonlight Book of Time and paste-in timeline figures; A Beka's My America and My World; and selected historical fiction at Evan's reading/listening level. Also some map study, as it comes up in history and other subjects. (Yesterday we read Robert McCloskey's One Morning in Maine. Seemed logical to look up Maine on the map. Evan was fascinated. We found Illinois, too, and Chicago, and traced the path from here to Maine, also taking note of Indiana--which we visited last week--and Texas--where we have family. This book is a great example of the myriad of things that can be learned through literature. If you followed every bunny trail in the book, learning about the geography, the animals, and the lifestyle of the people, you could spend weeks on it. )

Catechism & Bible
Evan participates in daily family devotions with Bible reading, hymn singing, and catechism study. Each week we will have a Hymn of the Week that all of us will work to commit to memory (thanks for the inspiration, Hymn Addict), at least in part. This week's hymn is "Christ Be My Leader," Lutheran Service Book 861, chosen for its accessibility and suitability for starting off a new school year (it's also coming up in church in the near future, so learning it now will help Evan to sing it later). Last year Evan learned and memorized the Ten Commandments. This year he is starting out by learning the Apostle's Creed. He will probably also likely have the meanings of both down soon as a result of listening to the Small Catechism set to music (see Sing the Faith in my left sidebar.) In addition, he and I are going through Every Day With God, which has 52 weeks of Bible stories at his reading level, with one story for every day of the week, M-F. (I bought the first book of Concordia Catechetical Academy's Bible Stories For Daily Prayer a year or two ago, but at this point Evan will only experience it indirectly through me.)

We are blessed to have a lot of people in our house to help with Evan's schooling. This kid has an entire teaching team! Trevor will provide a weekly chess lesson, I will teach piano, Dad will provide enrichment with God's World News, and Caitlin will help out with art projects and science experiments (I am no good with the hands-on stuff). Evan will also take a combination ballet/tumbling class at our local park district (he does not handle anything competitive well, but he's great with the cartwheels, so we are hoping this works). Top that off with lots and lots of reading for fun, as always, and you have a first grade curriculum.

Now, for the die-hard homeschoolers that are still reading and wondering what one of our homeschool days looks like (homeschoolers always want to know what each other's days are like), here's a run-down of Evan's:

9:00 Wake up, get dressed, have breakfast (Yes, he sleeps until 9:00! No, I'm not kidding! Yes, I know how lucky I am!)
9:30 Family devotion
10-11 School time
11-12 Free time
12-1 Lunch
1-2 School time
2-3 Free time
3-3:30 Some kind of activity (piano, chess, craft, experiment, or the like)
3:30-4 Pick up room and/or house clutter
4-6 Free time
6-7 Supper
7-8 Free time
8-9 Bath & get ready for bed
9-10 Story & prayers & quiet play in room

It helps us in our home school to come up with a schedule, but we are not dogmatic about it. When we need to adjust (which is most of the time), we do. Sometimes people ask me what our homeschooling "style" is. The best answer I have found is "relaxed." We are not unschoolers, because by definition unschoolers are those who primarily allow the students to determine what is to be studied and when. My kids don't decide what they are going to study; I pretty much tell them, and I decide what materials we are going to use. On the other hand, we are definitely not structured "school at home" types. We don't do a lot of busy work. We read. A lot. We do use some textbooks, especially in the high school years, but we also use a huge number of "living" books. If we start a book and hate it, we toss it aside and look for another. We don't obsess about "covering" material, and we don't concern ourselves much with grades until we have to put something down on a high school transcript. We follow tangents and pursue passions. And we NEVER, EVER let "school" take precedence over spontaneous, natural learning and daily life. Have you ever heard financial guru Suze Orman's slogan? "People first, then money, then things"? I think you could summarize our general philosophy as "God first, then family, then school."

We had our first day of the "new" "school" "year" yesterday (all of those terms are open to definition). We followed the above schedule pretty well. But when it was time for Evan and Mommy to read together, he was deep into a Lego "Knights of the Castle" book. He read it to me and it became part of our school time for the day:

How do you tell a kid that is wrapped up in blankets, enjoying the comfort of his couch, engrossed in a favorite book, to Stop Reading because it's time for school now?

You don't. You let him read. And if you must, you put off until tomorrow what you didn't get done today. Because loving to read is more important than "school."

And how do you tell the contractor who is overseeing the remodeling project that will allow your elderly mother to move in with you that now is not a good time for him to welcome a series of sub-contractors into your home because you're "doing school"?

You don't. You set the studies aside for a couple of hours, even though it's only the second day, because Grandma, too, is more important than "school."

God first. Then people. Then school. That in a nutshell is what I love about homeschooling.

*our "official" name for our home school, after the hymn writer Philipp Nicolai


Leah said...

I really appreciate your approach to educating your children Cheryl.

Cheryl said...

Thank you, Leah! Sometimes it's more a matter of hanging on for the ride than anything else, but as long as we're all together and God is driving, we're in good shape.