". . . 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)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back to School, Part 1

In our relaxed, sometimes structured, sometimes unschooly sort of way, we practice year-round schooling. We don't make our lives fit an academic calendar; we make the academic calendar fit our lives, which means we "do" school whenever we can. But there comes a time in late July/early August when we just have to stop for a few weeks. (Other such times are the weeks before and after Christmas and Holy Week.)

We are wrapping up such a hiatus right now and gearing back up for a resumption of schoolish pursuits. And even though we study year-round, it always seems like this time of year gives us a fresh start. We decide which unfinished things we're going to try to finish and which ones we're just going to "punt" on. Various activities start afresh. The schedule adjusts accordingly, and the students mentally advance their grade level (although we don't put much stock in grade level designations).

This year, we have a student beginning his freshman year in college, another entering her sophomore year in high school, and a third entering second grade. This post is about that last one. He got the short end of the stick last year--we were undergoing a major home repair and some significant life changes--and I want to do a better job of feeding and watering his very fertile brain this year. In spite of last year's neglect, he is thriving academically, reading well beyond his years, adding and subtracting and multiplying with ease, and regaling me with all sorts of facts gleaned from his own reading. He loves maps and is fond of running to the one in our dining room to look up various places he hears mentioned in conversation. Sometimes I wonder if I really need to do anything to "teach" him, he's doing so well teaching himself. I guess I'm not really an unschooler because the answer to that is invariably yes. I still think there is great benefit in having a schedule and making a plan and intentionally pursuing certain subjects. We freely deviate from both schedule and plan, but I still like to have a framework and goals to enhance our productivity. Otherwise, the pajama days take over. (A pajama day here or there is a wonderful thing; a two-week succession of them, not so much.)

So, here for the curious is our plan for second grade, as it currently stands.

Writing and Language Arts

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting - 2M. Handwriting was probably the most neglected subject last year. We will use Zaner-Bloser to continue working on letter formation, manuscript only. Additional writing practice will occur in the language arts texts (see below) and in the copying of a weekly Bible memory verse.

Learning to Spell Through Copywork by Sandi Queen - I have had my head turned this year by the Queen Homeschool company, which produces curricula with an eye to the Charlotte Mason philosophy. I love the simplicity of the spelling lessons. Here's a photo of a two-page spread from Book A, the one we are going to use:

I think there is a lot of spelling overkill in public schools, but I also think there is a place for learning the basic spelling/phonics rules. And the benefit of this approach is that the child will be getting some nice handwriting practice and, through the copying of grammatical sentences, language practice as well.

Speaking of language, I also plan to use Queen's Language Lessons for the Very Young. Also in a Charlotte Mason style, it makes use of copywork combined with discussion of literature passages and works of art to develop language skills in a holistic way. (One of the things I hated most about English class in school was all the busy work in the form of grammar exercises that rarely make the leap into the student's writing.) I like that this book spends time on some basics like the days of the week and the months of the year (using the well known "Thirty days" poem), includes some classic children's rhymes like "Little Things" and "A Wise Old Owl," and teaches beginning language concepts like vowels and consonants without becoming laborious. There are 36 weeks worth of lessons divided into five lessons per week, and I think each lesson will take no more than about 10-15 minutes.


Basic text will be the first book, on ancient times, in Jessica Wise Bauer's Story of the World series for children. We used this series with my older children and now my 18yo son is reading through Bauer's companion series for adults. The children's book comes with various supportive materials--the only one I plan to use is the activity book, which contains maps and craft suggestions and various other activities and supplemental reading lists. Our bookshelves are pretty well stocked so I don't think I will have any trouble supplementing our history study with some good picture books and encyclopedias and historical fiction. We may have to skip the mummies this time around, though. Evan has a low tolerance for creepy stuff.


We will not be using a curriculum for science. I don't see a need. Again, we have built up quite a library from our homeschooling years, and I think between the Magic School Bus series and the Scholastic Question-and-Answer Series and the Random House Step-Up books, plus several science experiment collections I have, we can do science. The one additional source that has caught my eye is the Burgess Thornton Animal and Bird books from Yesterday's Classics.


Last year we hardly cracked a math book, and yet Evan seems to be doing fine with basic math facts. Again, even though I think a great deal of math can be learned through life, I think some structured math study is worthwhile if only for practicing how to form the numbers and recognize math symbols and such. This year we are going to use Singapore Math. We used it two years ago for kindergarten on an oral basis only. I like the simplicity of it and the lack of excessive written drill. If I think we need to drill something more I can do it myself. Probably in the next year or two we will switch to either Teaching Textbooks or Saxon, but I think Singapore will serve us well this year. I reserve the right to skip any lesson I deem unnecessary.

Other Stuff

Evan has been taking piano lessons from me and that will continue. This year he will join the children's choir at church. (Yay! Can't wait! I haven't had a singer in the children's choir for a few years.) We used to subscribe to God's World News but I don't like it much anymore now that it has gone from a weekly to a monthly. So we will leave the current events teaching to Dad's inspiration. Dad will also take over chess instruction from Trevor, who won't be around to do it this year. Evan is so far not showing the aptitude for chess that Trevor did, but the goal is not to create another chess champion but simply to sharpen thinking skills, and chess definitely does that!

The question mark is physical education. We have not had great success with formal instruction or classes. Evan took swimming lessons last year (or was it the year before that) and in the first week there was a different teacher every day. Finally a lovely young lady with a male crewcut and several facial rings showed up to teach and he refused to participate anymore. We have also had difficulty with organized sports and P.E. classes that have any sort of competitive play. He doesn't like to be chased or tagged or called "out," and he doesn't like to lose. I know this is a phase he will eventually outgrow, but at this point I'm not sure if we're ready to take another chance on paying for something that will be a bust.

Have I left anything out? (That is not a rhetorical question. Please tell me, as I very well may have!)

Parts 2 and 3 in this series will address school plans for my other two children.


Anonymous said...

Looks like you have a great year planned for Evan!

I received a mailing about a bowling "class" for homeschoolers in Naperville that looked interesting. I could pass the info on to you if you are interested. Will he still be taking an enrichment class at LV?

Hopefully we can still squeeze in some playdates this year!


Gauntlets said...

Thank you, Cheryl. :)

Cheryl said...

Anne, yes, please do! Evan loved bowling the time we did it. Sounds like it's worth looking into!

And yes, I forgot to include the enrichment class at Learning Vine. For fall Evan is going to take a class on Australia while Caitlin is taking geometry.

Dawn, you're welcome for . . . well, for whatever. :-)

Gauntlets said...

:D Thank you for listing your books. I'm feeling LOOK AT BOOKS rabid, given where we are in the school year. I'm also really brain dead, so I forgot to zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The Mama said...

Thanks for posting this!

Cheryl said...

You are very welcome, Mama! ;-)