Tuesday, September 29, 2015

4th Grade Homeschool Curriculum - Classical and Charlotte Mason Inspired

We have begun another homeschooling year and so far this year has been my favorite year ever!

There have been years when I have basically gone with a 'curriculum in a box' type of approach, but as I became more comfortable with homeschooling, I was more brave to venture out and to be able to pick and choose for all different subjects.  So I wanted to share with you what is working really well for us!

Before I get into which curriculum we use I wanted to share with you this genius idea that I came across several times this summer.  It is so simple yet so effective.  Every evening I take five minutes and simply write out in a spiral notebook exactly what Boo is expected to do the next school day.  She is a kid who thrives on checklists and knowing exactly what to expect.  She just adores being able to check off each item as she completes them.  So simple, yet so effective.  Plus it's a great way to keep track of exactly what has been done each day when it comes time for the reviewer to visit us.

The very first thing on Boo's checklist each day is to check her responsibility card to be sure all of her morning chores have been completed before she starts school.  I don't have a picture here but its a simple card (that I copied out of my planner pictured above), where we fill in exactly what she needs to do each day before starting school work.  This includes things like make her bed, brush her teeth, feed the dogs, wipe the bathroom counter, etc.

This year our day starts early as Banana is attending high school and leaves the house  at 7 am.  While I am showering, starting laundry, cleaning up breakfast dishes - Boo starts her day on her own using a Veritas Press Self-Paced history online course. This year she is studying Middle Ages, Renaissance and the Reformation.  I can't say enough how much we love this program! We used it last year as well and she has learned so much! Even I am learning along with her just by listening.  The program is very engaging with games, songs, and more.

As soon as she is done with History, which usually takes about 45 minutes, I am ready to sit down and begin our day with morning basket time.  I did a separate post on the morning basket that you can read right here.   The morning basket is basically an entire curriculum within itself! This has really changed the "feel" of our homeschool day.  When mom is excited and engaged and letting her child see that homeschool education is a very important and valuable part of our day, then it sets a very different tone. This hour we spend together really grounds our day and sets Boo on a path of more self-directed and independent learning.  Morning basket time is when we pray, do memory work (scriptures, poems, etc), art appreciation, music appreciation, character development, singing, devotions, read-alouds, and home-making skills.  We even touch on some Shakespeare during this time.  It's become the most treasured part of our day and I would encourage all homeschool moms to try and add something similar to this and see how much more you enjoy your homeschool times together.

Last year the most frustrating part of our day was math.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and math does not fall very high on Boo's list of things she enjoys.  After leaving our classical christian school after 2nd grade, we continued on with Saxon math at the same level the school would have done, which was a year ahead.  We struggled all through fourth grade math during third grade last year.  We did this with the intention of if she ever goes back to that school, we don't want her to be behind where they are.   I had to decide this year to either struggle forward, or take a step back and  help her learn to love (okay if not love, then at least appreciate) math once again.  My oldest child Punkin (who is a junior in college this year) always worked a year ahead in math and I don't think it was the best thing now that I look back.  By the time she was taking the ACT and SAT she was taking Calculus II or some crazy high math class and the more basic math that was on these tests she had simply forgotten because it had been so many years since she had regular practice with it.   So we decided to actually stick to fourth grade math during the fourth grade (what a novel idea!).  Remember that post when I wrote about a "rigorous" education? 

This year we are using Horizons 4th grade math .  It is such a better fit for Boo.  It is colorful and engaging, and is a spiral curriculum.  By spiral I mean that it constantly circles back around reviewing concepts that have already been learned and reinforced.  Boo has even said she actually looks forward to math now!   We also use the Life of Fred books as a fun math supplement. These books are brilliant and I highly recommend them - they are so much fun!

Using manipulatives such as multiplication wrap-ups, fraction tiles, fraction tower sets and lots of other things make math more interesting and reinforce what we are learning.

This is probably both mine and Boos favorite subject.  We both really enjoy it and appreciate that it very much rounds out a hearty liberal arts type of education.  We use quite a bit of different curriculum for this subject.   I've discovered a writing curriculum that I absolutely LOVE called Writing and Rhetoric by Classical Academic Press.  It is very classical in nature, yet also encompasses a Charlotte Mason type approach to writing.  It's very simple and natural to teach.  It exposes the student to excellent writing and teaches more of a learn by example approach. I love this way of teaching instead of the very systematic approaches of some other writing curriculums we have used recently.

We alternate our writing curriculum with Shurley English .  Boo THRIVES with this program.  I know its not for every kid but it works perfectly for her and she just loves doing it! She can classify a sentence (also known as diagramming) like a crazy grammar fool! I don't even know how to do this but it's very easy to teach and I'm learning right along with her. These two writing and grammar curriculums are times when I am teaching her directly.

She also has independent workbooks which are  Daily Grams  for grammar reinforcement as well as Reasoning and Reading which deals more with word reasoning, basic language and thinking skills, and reading comprehension.

For vocabulary development we very much enjoy Marie's Word Cards . It's a great visual vocabulary resource that is also a lot of fun.

We love to READ around here! We have daily read aloud time as well as independent reading time so our literature unit for the year is quite large, rich and robust!!  Boo is an avid reader and can rarely be found without some kind of book in her hand.  She cracks me up when she wants to be finished with her school work so she can hit the books! HA! She is just so much fun to homeschool.  I have quite the literature list for her for the year, but it grows and changes depending on what we come across. As of right now, our basic list for the year includes:  Mary Poppins, A Nest for Celeste, The Racketty-Packetty House, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, King Arthur, The Green Lantern, Tom Sawyer, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Faerie Gold, Leepike Ridge, The Book of Three, The Whipping Boy, The 21 Balloons, The Adventures of Robinhood, and so much more! (This may seem like a lot but this kid loves to read.)

Boo absolutely loves this workbook called Maps and Geography.  It's probably her favorite book we use.  I don't really know why - maybe she just loves Geography!

Something else we have started this year is using tiny little removable stickers on our wall maps.  We have different colors for our different subjects, and every time we come across any "place" in any of our curriculum, we stop and find it on the map and then mark it.  This has almost become a game for Boo! It's amazing how many places you come across throughout the day, whether a word problem in math, the places we study in history, the setting of our read-aloud, the oceans we study in science, or even an in depth study of certain locations - we mark it on the map! You can order these Mark-It dots here.  This is natural learning at its best and it helps to define where things are happening on a large scale in the student's mind.

 Of course, our Geopuzzles are always a favorite and have stood the test of time - each puzzle piece is shaped like the country.  Listening to our Geography songs while we do the puzzles is an added bonus in helping to commit them to memory. Big sisters have often commented on how they ace their high school and college geography tests because of these puzzles from their childhood.

A core component of a good classical education will incorporate Latin.  It is an awesome stepping stone into understanding all languages, but especially English (of course!).  This year I am soooo grateful to have our local Latin teacher from our classical school teach a homeschool class for us right here in our home.  Boo has discovered a new love for Latin that mom and a DVD set just couldn't do last year.  She uses the curriculum Latin for Children which is excellent! She is following in the footsteps of two big sisters before her that are both seven year Latin scholars.  Boo looks forward to Tuesday afternoons every week just because of Latin class!

Boo is very interested recently in anything and all things Ocean related.  This past summer, Boo, Banana and I took a rather spontaneous two-week long summer road trip and we made it into one amazing field trip all about oceans!  We first drove to the incredible Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and spent a few days there.  Then we continued on to Florida to stay with family and enjoy the Florida Aquarium in Tampa.  We even had the incredible opportunity to enjoy kayaking in the Tampa Bay with some wonderful friends - one of whom majored in Marine Biology and gave Boo a great lesson on everything we found stuck to the side of the boat dock.  The dolphins were swimming all around us - moms and babies too! They would surface and blow so close to us we could hear them breathing.  It was a wonderful experience and a great launching point to our ocean studies for the year.  We are using Apologia's Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. along with the accompanying note booking journal.

We are enjoying using the music resources in our Morning Basket, but in addition to that we have a wonderful piano teacher that comes to our home every week.  Boo is making great progress!

Every day after we finish our morning basket time, our three dogs KNOW it is time for their morning walk.  They are so funny how they never forget.  Sometimes we try to trick them out of it and they just KNOW! Boo enjoys riding her bike, her scooter, jogging, cartwheeling or just being BOO during our morning walks.  It's always good to get moving that time of day then we can settle in again for our serious morning work time.  Boo also takes three dance classes a week including ballet, jazz and contemporary.

We have taken a very natural CM style approach to spelling this year.  Boo is a natural speller so any spelling workbook just becomes a mindless checklist type activity for her.  Instead we use our rich literature and curriculum as our spelling practice.  We keep a list of words we come across that are new to her and/or tricky to spell.  I love the idea of copy work as a way to learn spelling also - which incorporates cursive handwriting and attention to perfect execution.  We have copy work incorporated in our writing, our science and several other curriculum as well.

The curriculum we are using this year is Artistic Pursuits.  Since we only do art twice per week, it's a little hard to tell how we are going to like this.  It seems like a great program but we've only dabbled in the first few lessons so far!  We get plenty of art experience while sketching in our nature journals during morning basket time also! 

We make a point to visit the library every week, but if it were up to Boo it would be everyday.  Our Maryland public library is a wealth of resources for homeschoolers! I am constantly checking out DVD's about the ocean, wonderful literature classics on audio, and of course more books than we can carry!

So that is our 4th grade curriculum for the year! With that said however, there is no such thing as the perfect curriculum.  Every child is different and their needs are constantly changing and growing.

Homeschooling classically is not about perfection, or being successful, but continuing day in and day out in faithfulness and in love.  I am as much of a student as Boo is.  As the teacher and parent, I must always remember that my child mirrors and reflects my own worst failings.  It is much more of a tutoring and discipleship that goes on in our little school.  The most important things I am teaching her are in the day to day actions she sees in me.  This is true of any parent - homeschooling or not.  How I treat her and speak to her teach her far more than any curriculum will.  How I handle myself in stressful situations is the true lesson she sees.  How I choose to live my own life - for Christ or for myself - is the lesson of her childhood - and she will mimic what she sees.  Have I become lazy, am I complaining too much? If I'm seeing that in my children, then most likely it began with me.  Am I setting a double standard? Am I asking something of my children that I don't follow through with myself?   I must adjust my own thoughts and habits so that I can lead by example.  The example we set as parents speaks so much louder than anything else we can try to teach them.

I shared with you the curriculum we use - but it is just that. Curriculum.  They are simply resources.  Let your life and your love be the true lesson you teach your children.