Category Archives: Writing

Midway Through Third Grade

I thought I’d do a little update. I’ve been super-duper mega busy lately. I’m working on a degree in English, taking a short story course, and writing as much as I can, all while homeschooling. I’ve entered a few writing competitions and have works in progress and ideas for more.

Our curricula has changed quite a bit. We’re no longer using as many of  Susan Wise Bauer’s and Jessie Wise’s books.


We’re still using Story of the World, but we’re not nearly as happy with volume 3 as we were with the previous 2 volumes. The narrative isn’t as good, the illustrations are poor, and there isn’t a pronunciation guide in the book itself; it’s in the activity book. It’s sad, really, because history used to be Isa’s favourite subject.

Writing & Grammar

For writing we’ve switched to Classical Writing. We were getting so bored with Writing with Ease. It just didn’t seem to be progressing and I didn’t usually like the selections. I found it strange that one day the lesson included practice writing direct quotes, and then that was it for a few weeks. It’s a bit like teaching multiplication one day and then not doing it again for two months. Some of the dictation sentences were ridiculously difficult to memorise. The whole purpose of buying the workbook was so I didn’t have to go searching for dictation sentences or choose selections for narration, but I ended up doing just that, and quickly tired of it.

I’ve had Classical Writing sitting in a box for about a year, so I thought we’d give it a spin.

First impressions are good. It is quite teacher intensive and is not pick up and go. There’s a lot of prep work when you first get it out, but it’s worth it. I feel like we’re really digging into the literature selections. I’ve incorporated what I’ve learned about writing, so we discuss conflict, motivation, plot, resolution, etc. Classical Writing also includes grammar work, which is good because we gave up on First Language Lessons a long time ago. I’m very pleased to see it includes sentence diagramming.

First Language Lessons was another disappointment. Isa dreaded it (and so did I, actually.) It either skipped around too much, or made your eyes glaze over with boredom. He retained nothing from it. I decided grammar wasn’t a matter of life or death at that moment in our schooling, but that saving ourselves from drowning in a sea of ennui was.


We’re still using All About Spelling, which is without a doubt my favourite curriculum. We’re just starting level 3, and I love it. Isa’s spelling is progressing and he’s retaining what he learns. The customer service is amazing, too. I placed my last order on a Friday and it arrived on Tuesday. From the States. To England. The shipping’s not cheap, but I order 2 levels at once and it’s more economical. I also emailed them because I’d run out of magnets and didn’t realise I’d need more. I didn’t want to pay over $20 for magnets and shipping. I received a reply within a few hours, offering a half sheet of magnets for free plus a nominal fee for shipping. They then shipped the magnets the same day. With tracking. I can’t recommend AAS highly enough (and I’m not being paid to endorse them).


We’re on level 3 of Singapore Math. It’s going well, and would have gone better over the past 2 years if I’d had my head screwed on tighter. Isa was forgetting skills. We’d do addition for a few weeks, then subtraction, then multiplication, etc. Then when we came back to addition, he’d forget how to carry over. Or how to borrow when subtracting. Whenever we’d come to review pages, I’d have Isa do them all that day. It occurred to me that instead of having him do all of the review on one day, I’d have him do a few problems everyday as a warm up. Problem solved. Seriously wish I’d thought of it sooner.


Science has been kind of lacking. We hit a point with Building Foundations where we were getting confused. Not just Isa, but me as well. We were reviewing things, but it just felt too complicated. I got tired of wading through the text to figure out what we were supposed to do. I’d really like an outline or some bullet-points and some little boxes that paraphrase the scientific concepts being taught. I’d created study sheets as we went on, and they were helpful, but only up to a point. BFSU is high on concepts, but low on content. I think we need some factual learning on which to hang the concepts; it’s too intensive as-is. All of these scientific concepts are going in, but falling out. We’re not engaged. We’ve put it away for now and we’re reading through the Usborne Complete Book of the Human Body. He reads a 2-page spread, then gives me an oral narration. I’ll push science more in 5th grade when we use Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science series.


His reading skills are good–to the point where I can give him something to read, like science, and he can go off and do it by himself, and he can give me a written narration without help.


We’re using Lively Latin. As it should be, Isa hates it and I love it. Okay, he doesn’t hate it, but he doesn’t enjoy all the drill. No matter what programme you’re using, there’s drill in Latin. But it’s good for him. Although, I told him the other day that when we have our next break from lessons, he still needs to do his math review and he said, “I’d rather do Latin!” Not sure if he was kidding or not.

So, yeah, our lessons aren’t fun-filled laugh extravaganzas. They’re hard work. For both of us. But it’s one of those “it’s hard work because it’s worth doing” kind of scenarios. Hard work, but rewarding. We love it more than we hate it.

Looking to the future

I do think Isa will go to school, but not for another 4 years. There are some excellent secondary schools in our area, and I want him to have more of a social life. I’m not very good at getting him into activities. We don’t have time during the day and weekends are hit and miss. The schools also provide academic opportunities that I cannot. We’ll see. It’s a long way off yet. But I know it will go quickly.


Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Latin, Math, Reading, Science, Third Grade, Writing



Spring Fever

I’m still trying to figure the direction in which this blog is moving. I just can’t bring myself to do weekly round up-type posts. Although I enjoy reading them at other blogs, I find them boring to write. I already do something similar for my records, albeit in a very abbreviated format, and cannot get myself to do another, more detailed version here. I prefer to have something interesting and stimulating to write about; witty if I can manage it. But lately our homeschooling just isn’t providing adequate material for posts. We have a routine, and to be honest our homeschooling is a bit like an old married couple: comfortable, unexciting (usually), and a little dull. You might even say we’re in a little bit of a rut.

We’re really enjoying spelling (cause it’s new) and science, but everything else is just a little stale. Even history isn’t thrilling us anymore. Esa’s disappointed with the colouring pages in the Story of the World Volume 2 activity book, and I have to agree that they’re not that great. (The ones in activity book 3 are even worse; the drawing is terrible.) Math is going well, but we’re not doing much supplementing with stories or activities. We’ve not done art or poetry in weeks. He really dislikes Writing with Ease, in particular dictation. I think it’s a fantastic curriculum, but it can be a little dull. Okay, very dull. He enjoys the narration, and the reading selections have provided us with introductions to books that we otherwise might not have discovered, which is great. Handwriting is a boring but necessary evil. We’ll be starting cursive writing soon, which will liven things up a bit.

I think the real problem is that we’re feeling a little burnt out. If I made a little more effort to supplement, or take him on educational visit somewhere, we might be able to inject some life into our homeschool. But I just don’t have the “umph” for it right now. Spring is here, the garden is blooming, we’re planning to go to the US in a few days, and my mind is just elsewhere. Maybe what we need is to just unschool for a while. Lots of read alouds (also lacking right now), lots of time in the garden (if only it would stop RAINING!), read about herbs using A Kid’s Herb Book, maybe do some nature journaling, and just have an overall relaxed approach for now.

In other news, I have started yet another blog. 🙂 My interest in veganism is providing me with a lot of material to write about, and since I don’t want to bore my readers, who mainly come here to read about homeschooling, I thought a separate blog was a good idea. If you’re interested, here’s the link:


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Half-Way Through the Year

We’ve been plugging away happily with our school work, and we’re three weeks shy of the midpoint. Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to:


We have just begun Singapore level 2. I cannot emphasise enough how great his curriculum is. It truly does develop mental arithmetic skills. Esa does not work out math facts on his fingers; he is able to add and subtract 2-digit numbers in his head. My own math skills have even improved. He has nearly all of his addition facts memorised now.


Song School Latin is such a light and fun introduction to Latin. The little stories with Latin words mixed in help to bring it to life. If there isn’t a story for the chapter we’re doing, I make one up. Esa really enjoys doing SSL, and he especially enjoys the online drill.


We’ve done lesson B-4 of BFSU, but this one was a bit of a dud for us. It was on life cycles and it didn’t really cover anything Esa doesn’t already know. However, I chose not to go into too much detail with regards to human life cycles. Esa’s very innocent when it comes to the differences between boys and girls and knows nothing about the birds and the bees, and I’d like to keep it that way for a while; I’m just not ready for that innocence to be quashed, and I honestly don’t think he’s ready yet, either. He’s not asking questions. Well, a while back he did ask me where babies came from, and I just told him, “from God,” which is the truth according to our beliefs. When kids ask this question, they aren’t always looking for a full breakdown, complete with diagrams and a viewing of “The Miracle of Life”. He was satisfied with this answer and hasn’t shown any further curiosity. When he does, I’ll go into a little more detail.

Lesson B-4A is one of those on-going ones, so I’ve taken a few notes and I’m preparing for lesson D-4. I’ve posted the study sheets for B-4 and D-4 on the curricula page. I’ve also posted our sequence of study.


Esa’s moved on to book C in the Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting series. In all honesty Esa’s handwriting isn’t great. It can be beautiful when he takes his time, but it’s often a mess. The italic font is lovely, I just wish he’d make more of an effort to use it when he’s doing his spelling, copywork, and dictation.


Esa’s reading well, but he gets sloppy sometimes. He often forgets some of the phonemes, so we’re going through The Road to Reading and reviewing everything briefly, focusing on weak areas.

He’s currently reading Fantastic Mr. Fox and is addicted to The Secret Garden. He listens to the audio book for at least an hour a day and he has me reading it aloud in the evenings. It’s his new favourite.

I knew some things needed to be cut out of our schedule, and although I was loathe to do it, I have put the axe to a few things. Here’s what we’ve cut and why:

British History: This was always scheduled for Friday, and for the past several weeks it’s been omitted because we’ve needed to finish up something else that got bumped earlier in the week. I’ve decided to leave British History until we’ve finished our survey of world history, then do a year of BH, go through world history again, then do BH again. By that point Esa will probably be doing A-levels..

  • Picture Study: This was such a great addition to our homeschool last year. But for some reason we’re just not into it any more. ARTistic Pursuits contains some picture study, so for now we’ll content ourselves with that.
  • Handicrafts: This has been on my lesson plans sheet since we began homeschooling 3 years ago. We’ve never done any handicrafts, so I’m ditching it until Esa’s older.

I’d like to say that these cuts have lightened our load, but they haven’t; these things weren’t getting done anyway. However, I feel less over-scheduled and less guilt over missing so much out, now that there’s less to miss out.


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Focus (Part II) (Or: I’ve Always Gotta Be Tinkering…)

I’ve been thinking a lot about where we’re headed as well as Classical Writing and Harvey’s Elementary Grammar and Composition (which I hadn’t heard of until recently…Harvey’s, that is) which we plan on using later, and realised that we’re leaning more towards a Latin-Centred approach, which I’m quite happy with. I strongly believe in the concept of multum non multa– not many, but much…in other words, quality, not quantity.

Although our homeschooling is going well, I think it could be better. We’re doing a lot, and sometimes we’re digging in deeply…but not as often, and not as deeply, as I’d like us to.

I was looking through the curriculum presented in The Latin-Centered Curriculum (refered to here as The LCC, which is different from LCC, which just means a Latin-centred curriculum) and I found myself, eyebrows furrowed, frown in place, searching the table of contents and index for any mention of spelling. There’s no spelling! I hissed. No grammar, either, from what I can see!

No, there’s no spelling or grammar curriculum in The LCC, because those things aren’t needed when you’re using Classical Writing, although the authors of CW recommend Harvey’s and the use of a spelling programme…so I’ll have to take a closer look and evaluate as we go.

Could we really drop spelling and grammar?

Well, we’ve dropped grammar (First Language Lessons) for now, until Homer, then we’ll begin using Harvey’s, which is supposed to be the best, most thorough grammar programme ever written.

Spelling? Yes. We are going to drop spelling when we begin CW. Sequential Spelling is fantastic, but I think with CW it’s just going to be overkill. Plus, spelling takes about 30 minutes each day. That’s a lot of time in a homeschooler’s day. If I see a need for a separate spelling programme, we can always add Sequential Spelling back in. But with all the writing and Latin he’ll be doing, I don’t think we will need it. CW takes a total of an hour a day, plus we’ll be spending about 30-45 minutes each day using Lively Latin and Minimus. Plus we’ll have handwriting practice and reading. That’s around 2.5 hours each day of English and Latin, and we’ll still need to do science, history, and math. Something’s gotta give, and it’s going to have to be spelling.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, what I’m about to say may come as quite a shock, but here it is: I don’t think studying grammar at this age is necessary. We’ve spent over a year doing grammar, and Esa pretty much knows what a noun is, but he’s still shaky with verbs and shakier still with pronouns.  I’ve been taking a close look at Harvey’s, and it starts from the very beginning with nouns, what a sentence is, and the different types of sentences. What is point of doing it now and doing it later, when we can just do it later? I’m not going to teach him to read twice, so why should I have to teach grammar twice? When he’s a little older, it’ll all make much more sense and the information will stick, because he’ll be able to practice the concepts more. The time previously spent on grammar will be much more wisely spent on something like math or reading.

I’m also thinking of making some changes to our history studies. Well, more so when we begin our studies of the ancients again, in fifth grade. I like some of the resources recommended in The LCC, and I’d like to take a slower, more in-depth study of the great books. The Well-Trained Mind recommends a dizzying number of books to read each year. I know they don’t intend for the student to read all of them, but when I look at that list, it suddenly becomes a necessity and I feel I’m leaving something vital out if I don’t.

I really like the idea of taking our time and going slowly through the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths. I also want to learn more about Greek and Roman history, and  from next year make Latin our main focus, now that phonics instruction is complete. The following passage from The LCC really struck a chord with me:

Classical language study increases our knowledge of the past and of our own history. It’s quite impossible to study classical languages without delving into classical history. What is a ‘gladiator’? (If you know the meaning of the common second-declension noun gladius, you’ll have an important clue.) Who was Caesar? What is an aqueduct and why were they built? What is the meaning of ‘democracy,’ and where was it first practiced? This history is our history, the history of the West. We cannot understand the roots of our own government, legal system, or religious traditions without reference to Greece and Rome. (emphasis my own)

Many of the resources recommended in The LCC are Christian, so inappropriate for us, and the study of science isn’t seen as important and is fact-based in the early grades, so The Latin-Centered Curriculum won’t be our homeschooling bible, as such, but we will probably follow it more than we do WTM (which I still love).

The changes I’d like to make aren’t huge, really. We’ve already begun leaning towards a Latin-centred approach without really trying. I’m just going to give it a little nudge. To sum up, here’s what I’m planning:

  • Math: Continue with Singapore. This programme really instils and promotes mathematical thinking and mental math skills. This curriculum comes highly recommended in The LCC.
  • Writing: Continue with Writing with Ease for now. Re-evaluate at the end of second grade. Move on to WWE level 3, or progress to Classical Writing.
  • Poetry: Continue enjoying and memorising poems. Begin Poetry for Beginners in fifth grade.
  • Handwriting: Continue as we are with Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting. We have just begun book C.
  • Grammar: Stop FLL. Restart grammar in fifth grade using Harvey’s.
  • Spelling: Stop spelling when we begin CW. If spelling becomes an issue, resume Sequential Spelling and omit the spelling element of CW.
  • Latin:
  • Science: Continue with Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, having one lesson per week, or every two weeks and one day of science reading.
  • History: Continue as we are with SOTW, cutting back on the supplementary reading. Instead, we will read Greek and Norse myths, medieval tales, and fairy tales this year. We will also continue working through British history, very slowly, using Our Island Story audio book, The Usborne History of Britain, and Britannia: 100 Great Stories from British History
  • Reading: Phonics instruction is complete. We are going to make a phonics chart to help cement learning. I allow Esa to choose his own reading material, but he often goes for the same books over and over, so I occasionally choose for him.
  • Art & Music: Weekly art lesson from Artistic Pursuits, plus plenty of self-initiated art projects. Esa’s recently expressed an interest in learning to draw realistically, so we may pick up Drawing with Children again. We play classical music during art times. For picture study, we’ll be using the Page-a-Day Art calendar.

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Focus (Part I)

When we first started out, I had this dream that Esa would learn to read quickly, love to read, love to write, love grammar, love foreign languages…in other words, I wanted him to like what I liked. Although he loved being read to, and had an amazing working vocabulary, he was very interested in history and science during first grade and we spent a lot of time on history. Science was a little hit and miss, unfortunately. Reading was a hard slog and not enjoyed much. He didn’t mind writing, but learning to read was slow and painstaking.

Gradually, towards the end of first grade, I began to notice some changes, and over the last few months those changes have become more pronounced. He still enjoys history and science, but he seems more engrossed in words- reading and writing. (Remember the book?)  He’s even picked up my habits of list-making and eating during meals, and he almost always has an audio book playing.

And he writes. A lot. Last week, for instance, he said that instead of doing science, he wanted to write and draw a comic. He spent hours on this project.

Making Arrays

He’s also loving math. It’s pretty much his favourite subject and he’s asking to do more and more. He’s also making up his own math problems and adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing any numbers that get thrown his way.

And this got me thinking…

When he asked me if he could ditch science to do this writing, I hesitated…but only for the merest fraction of a second. Yes, science is important (and it will get done), but we need to have a focus. I’m not terribly worried about well-roundedness. I don’t want him to just touch on things lightly. I want him to dig into something and not just be good at it, but be great.

I think part of this stems from the fact that I, myself, am fairly well-rounded. I’m good at several things, but I’m not great at anything. I can write, draw, knit, crochet, cross-stitch, bake, sew, read music…but I’m not fantastic at any one of those things. I don’t have a focus. And although I’m happy that I can do all of those things, I’d love, really love to be truly proficient at just one of them.

So, if he wants time to develop his budding talent for writing, I’m going to give it to him, even if it means something important, like science, gets postponed.

I’ve also been thinking about a Latin-centred curriculum again. The Well-Trained Mind is very well-rounded. It has everything. Its focus is more on language and history, but it covers all the bases, and covers them well. Once you reach the high school years, however, the child does get to specialise and drop a few things.

But I want to take it further than that. I want to pick just a few subjects and really dig deeply, savour, and master them. I want for us (and I do mean US) to be fluent in Latin and maybe another language…to not just read, but immerse ourselves in the best of the great books and be able to discuss them intelligently…to understand mathematical concepts and go beyond basic algebra and geometry…I want us to have a good grounding in logic, and most of all…I want us to be able to write…really write, proficiently, persuasively, and with authority.

In order to do that, we must be focused. We cannot give equal attention to all subjects. I’ve been trying for too long to dig into science and history as much as we do math and English, and it just won’t work. I get caught up in others’ enthusiasm for science and history and think we must be missing out on something. But by trying to do it all, we’re missing out on almost everything, because we haven’t the time to get to the cream of any one thing.

As for myself, I think I know why I haven’t settled on any one thing and really pursued it. I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid of only ever being mediocre. Some of my hobbies haven’t become passions for good reasons: waning interest, cost, practicalities. But for a few of them, writing and painting in particular, I’m terrified I’ll never really be very good.

This is a guarantee if I don’t focus on something and apply myself.  (I’ll be addressing this in another post.)

Let me ease up on the octane for just a minute to make something clear. I don’t intend to become a pushy, obsessive teacher who insists on academic perfection. I’m thrilled that he has a bent for writing, but I’d be just as supportive if his interests laid elsewhere. And if his interests do change, well, I’ll be right behind him. I may not pursue the subjects with the same vigour, but I will help him to.

I’m also not saying that we’re dropping science and history- certainly not. They are very firmly placed in our schedule…they just won’t be the focal point. We probably won’t do much in the way of supplemental activities or reading. And I still love the WTM…it certainly isn’t getting pushed to the back of the shelf.

So, what changes will we be making? I’ll talk about that in part II.


Posted by on December 26, 2010 in Latin Centered, Second Grade, Writing


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Science Woes…Again

During our latest R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey lab, we used corn syrup and other various food items to construct a model of blood. When we were finished, my son looked up at me with one side of his little nose wrinkled up and said,

“Is that it?”

My thoughts exactly.

RSO hasn’t exactly wowed us. It’s been nice having everything laid out for me, and having little prep work, and Esa has been learning (a little) from it, but…there’s just something a lot missing.

It’s too textbook-y, too fact-based, the labs aren’t great, and it isn’t thorough enough. We’ve been supplementing quite a lot with The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Encyclopedia, which is great, as well as many other books, but we’re just left with that underwhelmed feeling that comes from learning a few facts and little else.

I’ve decided to bring BFSU back out. I had reservations about shelving this, and those have proved well-founded.

I know I complained about the amount of prep work involved with BFSU, but having tried something else and not liked it, I’m more motivated to put in the extra work. The grass was not greener on the other side, and BFSU is well worth the effort. I may make it a point to do science on a Monday, to ensure it gets done. I tend to cook something simple on Mondays, so my afternoons are mostly free.

My other issue with BFSU was the demonstration-like lessons and the lack of “experiments”. Esa felt as though he didn’t have much to do. He just watched and we talked. This is something I’ll have to remedy as well, but I think I’m creative enough to work it out.

What makes me sigh is that next year (or the year after) we’ll probably be using Classical Writing. I’ve bought the first half of Aesop (at 25% off…had to jump on it), and it’s very teacher-intensive…fantastic,  but a lot of work. I’d also hoped to add in Philosophy using Little Big Minds. Next year could prove to be our most time-consuming year of homeschooling. I know that soon Esa will be more independent in his work and my load will lighten, but I’m going to have to be super-organised and cut back elsewhere.

For anyone wondering about ordering Classical Writing in the UK, I’ll share my experience. They use Lulu, which is a print-on-demand company. You place the order, the books are printed and shipped out. Because of this, you cannot return the items. The shipping was about £5 and despite the fact that the 3 books were coming from America and had to be printed beforehand, the books arrived at my door within 7 days (5 business days) of ordering. I was very impressed.

I’ve also discovered that the second volume of BFSU is now available on Amazon, which is great news for BFSU users.


Posted by on December 3, 2010 in Philosophy, Science, Second Grade, Writing


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And Here I Was, All Worried…

I was concerned, prior to the start of second grade, that I’d scheduled too much writing for this year. Handwriting, copywork, spelling, dictation…it seemed like quite a lot. Esa’s been handling it quite well, but I’ve been really careful not to give him any extra writing.

I needn’t have worried, though. Look at what he’s been up to during his free time:

In the span of 2 days, he’s written over 3 pages.

Yes, he has issues with spacing and the spelling is terrible. But the grammar is pretty good and I can see his phonics at work. I’m not bothered about the invented spelling. The fact that he likes to write and has all this creativity seems more important right now. Just about anyone can learn to spell;  not many develop the desire to write. The spelling will come.

Having said that, I did write some words for him on the wipe board that he’s using frequently in his story, but spelling incorrectly.

It’s a Hot Wheels story. Here’s a teaser:

The cars lined up at the starting line and revved their engines. Vroom vroom. Smoke came out of their exhaust pipes and they took off faster and faster. Soon they were out of sight. They went through a tunnel. The tunnel was big. Soon the cards came out of the tunnel…then it started to rain. One of the cars slid off the track. One car was out of the race. Then the checkered flag came into view…

I don’t want to spoil it for you, so you’ll just have to wait until it comes out in hardback or Kindle to read the rest. (That and I can’t make out most of the rest of it.)

Another worry that I can lay to rest…and really, this was my biggest worry when we began following a classical method of homeschooling…is that I would kill off his love of learning and the desire to pursue academic activities. Clearly that’s not an issue. What we’re doing is not only working, but nurturing his interests and enabling him to pursue this creative outlet.

And best of all…he won’t have a leg to stand on if he starts moaning that he has too much writing to do. 🙂


Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Classical, Second Grade, Spelling, Writing


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