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Tag Archives: Homeschooling

Literature

We’re moving away from adaptations of classical stories. These books are not written to be great literature, they’re written to explain what happens in great literature. They have a sort of this happened, and then this happened, and finally, this happened feel. They’re boring. The vocabulary is stilted. The language is bland and does not excite the imagination. They leave us feeling cold.

Yes, it’s great that Isa knows who Robinson Crusoe is and understands that Nemo isn’t just the name of a fish, but he doesn’t need to know all that now. I’d rather he read great books that were written specifically for children. You really only get one shot at capturing that magic. Once he’s older, he’s not going to want to read those stories. If he does, he may enjoy them, but they just won’t have the same effect.

I remember re-reading some childhood favourites as an adult, and while they were great books, I didn’t get that captivated, swept-away feeling that I did as a child.

So, what’s on Isa’s reading list now? Here are a few:

  • The Family Under the Bridge
  • The Bears on Hemlock Mountain
  • The Door in the Wall
  • Follow My Leader
  • The Great Brain
  • Bunnicula
  • Henry Huggins

I think being exposed to great literature, rich language…learning to think and analyse on a basic level, using stories that children can sink their literary teeth into, is far better preparation for the grown up classics to come than reading adaptations, even good adaptations.

I read Deconstructing Penguins a while back, but I didn’t completely “get” what they were teaching until I started studying creative writing, so if you need help, pick up a few books on writing, such as The Art & Craft of Fiction (also available in Kindle).

We use the following three questions when analysing literature:

  1. Who are the main characters?
  2. What is the problem or problems they are facing?
  3. How do they solve their problems?

We began by analysing favourite movies and books. Now Isa can pick out the “problem” (or lack of) easily. He looks purposely for it. Doing this is also teaching him about creative writing and he understands some of the elements that he needs to have in his own stories.

In time, you can add more elements. Here is a more expanded list:

  1. Who are the main characters? (protagonist/ antagonist/ contagonist/ guardian, etc. more info here)
  2. What is the viewpoint? First person, second person, third person? (viewpoint)
  3. What are the characters like? (characterisation)
  4. Where are they? (setting)
  5. What is the problem or problems they are facing? (conflict)
  6. What obstacles are in their way? (tension)
  7. How do they solve their problems? (climax & resolution)
  8. Did the protagonist changed in any way? (character arcs)
  9. Was it a good ending? (Most often, if an ending is poor, it’s because the protagonist did not solve his or her own problems. Did someone else swoop in and save the day? Did the protagonist come into a bit of luck? Stories that end this way are often a let-down.)
  10. What kind of book was this? Funny? Serious? Fantasy? Science fiction? Historical fiction? (genre)
 
3 Comments

Posted by on February 12, 2012 in Books We Love, Reading

 

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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: http://spillinthebeans.wordpress.com/

 

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All About Spelling

I have learned that the worst thing you can do…a sure-fire way of ruining a curriculum…is to tell everyone how great it is. At least, that’s been my experience. Several times I have posted about a curriculum, singing its praises to the sky, only to find a few weeks later that it’s no longer working for us. Okay, this hasn’t happened every time, but it’s happened often enough that I should know by now to hold my tongue until we’ve used something for a good long time and are sure we’re going to stick with it.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. And a few months ago, I ranted and raved about Sequential Spelling, which we were half-way through at the time. Well, guess what? We’ve dropped it.

It just became such a drudgery. We both dreaded doing spelling and there was evidence that not much learning was taking place any longer. It became necessary to do a lot of drill because there isn’t enough built-in review. One of the things that I really don’t like about the programme are all the homophones. Lesson 97, for example, contains all these:

  • Heel
  • Heal
  • Peel
  • Peal
  • Steel
  • Steal
  • Serial
  • Cereal

Then, a few lessons later:

  • Brake
  • Break
  • Steak
  • Stake

And it continues, throughout the book.

How on earth is a young student supposed to keep all of those straight? It’s craziness.

Esa and I both became so sick of it. It was eating into our time to do other things, and as I said, the lessons just weren’t sticking very well.

We dropped spelling and the sun came out once again. It was like this huge weight had been lifted…we both looked forward to lessons more and we had so much more time for other things.

However, I wasn’t comfortable having no spelling in our homeschool for too long, so I decided to have another look at All About Spelling.

I was tempted by  this programme before because I really like the idea of learning the rules behind spelling. There were times during our phonics lessons when I wondered why a certain pattern is followed…I could see the pattern, but I didn’t understand why.

We’ve begun with level 1, and even though Esa can already spell all of the words presented in the first level, there are skills and rules presented that he doesn’t know. He also couldn’t tell me all the sounds that the letter “A” makes…or any of the other vowels. It’s also a good way of getting him used to the programme before moving on to more difficult material. We’re cruising through the 24 steps, doing about 2 a week. We’ve just finished step 4 and so far Esa’s enjoying it. I’m allowing him to do all the writing on the dry erase board, which makes a nice change from paper and pencil. It’s too early to say if it’s working, but it’s fun.

We’ve been doing a lot of phonics review because even though Esa’s reading well, there are certain phonics rules he’s forgotten or hasn’t mastered. I was going to order Explode the Code and work through that series from level 4 onwards, but AAS is not only a spelling programme, but works to reinforce phonics instruction as well.

I wasn’t really looking forward to using manipulatives and cards, but it’s not as fiddly as I’d feared. It’s scripted so I don’t have to spend ages reading and planning the lesson ahead of time.  Esa really looks forward to spelling, and honestly, so do I. ♥

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2011 in Second Grade, Spelling

 

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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:

Math

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.

Latin

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.


Science

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.

Handwriting

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.

Reading

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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Grammar for Grown-Ups, Wasting Time, and Pop-Factor Novelists

We had a week off from lessons the week before last, and during that time I did a fair bit of grammar. I’ve set Harvey’s Grammar aside for now. I got to a lesson and had little idea what I was doing. The lesson gave a one-sentence definition of some grammar term (that I now can’t recall), then launched in with the exercises. I was pretty lost. I managed to muddle my my through and get about half of the exercises correct, but it was really frustrating and I don’t feel I learned anything.

The other thing I realised was that I still don’t quite understand what a predicate is. The definitions in Harvey’s are difficult to decipher, there isn’t enough explanation, and few examples are given. I’ve decided to work through some other resources, then maybe use Harvey’s for further practice. I’ve recently purchased:

The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need (Kindle edition)  I’m not sure if I agree with the title here, but it does look like a sufficient book for my needs. Eventually I may purchase the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the be all and end all of grammar and usage manuals, but I think it would just overwhelm me if I had it now.

If I’m struggling with that book, I’ve got Painless Grammar to fall back on. This is a children’s book that explains grammar in a delightful, and as the title suggests, painless way. This will also make a great resource for Esa when he’s a little older.

But my favourite resource, the one I keep picking up and drooling over flicking through is Grammar by Diagram. I ordered this workbook, only to discover that you need an accompanying textbook. The only place I could find it at a reasonable price was from Alibris. Apparently, the book shipped on the 14th, but it’s been a week and it still hasn’t arrived.

This chunky workbook is packed with diagramming exercises. Fortunately, the key is at the back, so there’s no emailing publishers, trying to strike a balance between sufficient grovelling and proving that I’m not a pimply teenager looking for a cheat sheet.

I’m convinced that the best way to gain a thorough understanding of grammar is through diagramming. I liken it to translating exercises when learning a foreign language. If you’re learning say, French, you aren’t just going to memorise lists of words everyday. You’re going to spend a good amount of time translating stuff. That, after all, is the whole point: to be able to read and understand French (or take some English, wave your translating wand, and turn it into French.) Diagramming is the same. It’s taking what you’ve learned and putting it to use. Okay, it may not be useful in a practical sense, but it will cement those grammar points. Then, when you sit down to do some real writing, you’ll have the necessary grammar know-how. After diagramming a few hundred thousand sentences of increasing complexity, you’ll have a firm grasp of grammar.

Alright, you don’t need to diagram that  many…just a few hundred. (I ♥ grammar.)

If you’re wondering whether grammar is worth studying, you’ve got to listen to this podcast; it’s informative and humorous: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/does-grammar-matter.aspx

Sadly, I did waste a lot of time on the computer during our week off, playing Green Farm, Zen Garden, Flower House, and Barn Buddy on hi5,  but it was nice to have that luxury, and I think it was therapeutic. I can sometimes stress myself out by trying to make every minute count. I have so little free time and I have so many things that I have to/want to do…I need to get the most out of every day and it can get tiring. I enjoyed lazing about a little. I also spent a lot of time looking at Latin curricula for myself, sorting out answer keys, reading, and working on my grammar study, so it wasn’t a total waste.

This week I began my Latin study. I spent a good 20 minutes lovingly covering my copies of Wheelock’s Latin, Wheelock’s Latin Workbook, and Collins Latin Dictionary with book-covering film. The softcover Wheelock’s books are quite thick and not sturdily-bound, so they will need the reinforcement. I’m happy I didn’t go for the Kindle edition, because I find myself flipping back and forth a lot in this book.

I’ve also put a notebook together using a 4-ring binder (they come in 2- and 4-rings in the UK), dividers, a snap pocket (they don’t have the kind of folders you get for binders in the US), and paper. (I ♥ notebooks.)

I’ve finished How Not To Write a Novel. This book could have been subtitled How to Piss Off Crappy Writers. While I found this book helpful (somewhat) and hilarious, at times it felt like a bit of a rant. I think the editors were tired of seeing certain things in the novels presented to them, and this book was a way to vent that annoyance. I found many of their writing faux-pas to be no-brainers. Take, for example:

  • Men Are from Cliché; Women Are from Stereotype: Wherein the characters are built solely of broad gender stereotypes

Melinda picked up Joe’s beer-stained sports  section with a wry smile, replacing it with another saccharine-berry scented candle. As she sat on the pouffe to enjoy her copy of Brides’ Shoe Monthly, she wondered if he would remember to call for their third-date anniversary.

Meanwhile, across town, Joe gave the jailbait waitress a sly wink, letting the caveman in him take over…

The passage goes on a bit, but you get the idea. A few others:

  • I Mean This!! It’s Important!!: Wherein the author punctuates hysterically
  • Linearity Shrugged: In which the author assembles the novel in no particular order
  • Gibberish for Art’s Sake: Wherein indecipherable lyricism baffles the reader

These writers aren’t going to get published even if they do fix these problems; these are merely symptoms of a bigger writing malady. I also suspect that some people writing in this way won’t even admit that they’re making such hideous blunders. It reminds me of those people who audition for shows like X Idol and Pop-Factor. They launch into heartfelt, yet horrendous and interminable renditions of I Will Always Love You, and when they are booed off the stage they throw themselves at the presenter, crying angry, hysterical tears, and insisting that they CAN sing ’cause  mamma said, and they are going-to-be-famous…just-you-wait.

Clueless…the lot of ’em.

Having said that, the book was an entertaining read and I did make a few notes. But it certainly won’t be the only book I read on how to write a novel.

I will be posting about homeschooling soon…I promise.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Grammar, Latin, Michelle, Resolutions: 2011

 

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Latin for Older Students

I had a go with the Latinum curricula, but it’s not for me. It’s more geared for learning to speak Latin, which isn’t really what I’m interested in. I do plan to learn pronunciation as I go along, but it’s reading-fluency that I’m after.

I was planning to purchase So You Really Want to Learn Latin,  but decided to go with something a little more grown up. I’m almost tempted to delay Esa’s Latin instruction for a few years; there are some great programmes available for older learners.

Lingua Latina

I’ve not looked in depth at this set of books, but from what I understand, it kind of throws you into the deep end as it’s completely written in Latin with no English instruction. Something like this just won’t work for me just yet. I need a systematic approach. I want a combination of reading and drill.

So then I looked at:

Wheelock’s Latin

This programme has been around for donkeys’ years and is well-loved by many. There’s a plethora of supplementary resources available for Wheelock’s, some of which are free:

The text includes answers to some of the exercises, but not all. You can request the answer keys by filling in the forms here: http://files.harpercollins.com/Wheelock/wheelockslatin.html. (I was given approval within hours, although I had to set up an account, download Adobe Digital Edition, AND discovered that I’ll have to re-download the files every 60 days.)

There’s an online study group that I’ve joined here: http://www.quasillum.com/study/index.php, and a new beginner’s group starts in a week or two.

One frequent complaint about Wheelock’s is its heavy emphasis on decoding rather than reading. Many students come out of the programme knowing lots of grammar, but unable to read fluently. In an Amazon review, one reader recommended:

Learn to Read Latin

(Bless you, dear Reviewer!) This, from what I gather, is an amazing Latin programme that teaches grammar and vocabulary, and has you reading lots and lots of original Latin literature.  It comes with a workbook for drill and seems to me to be the best combination of reading and drill. Together, the set is over 1,000 pages.

More information, including how to get hold of the answer keys, can be found here: http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/latinfaqs.html#top (again, I was given approval within just a few hours and the files were simple, saveable pdfs.)

I’ve decided to go with Learn to Read Latin. It isn’t cheap, but for what you get, I think it’s amazing value.

Knowing what to buy is a little confusing. You can purchase it as:

  1. A complete paperback set (ISBN: 0300103549)
  2. A complete hardback set (ISBB: 0300109377)
  3. Paperback Textbook OR Hardback Textbook PLUS workbook (paperback)
  4. A two-part set, each, for the textbook and workbook:

It took me quite a while to figure all this out, so I thought I’d post it here for anyone looking to buy this programme. I know I have UK links, but you can search your preferred seller by copying and pasting the ISBN that appears on the page to which I’ve linked.

I’ve gone for option #3, with a paperback textbook. Wheelock’s 500+ page book was only £3.99, so I threw that one in with my order to provide extra practice, clarify any areas on which I may be stuck, and give me the spoken element as well, with the audio files. A Kindle edition is available, but for something like this, I want a hardcopy that I can flip through and mark up easily.  Later, I will use the Wheelock’s reader and Lingua Latina.

AND…the authors of Learn to Read Latin are putting out a similar series for Greek! It’s due to be released in June of this year.

If, like myself, you’re of an enthusiastic nature, or just looking for some good Latin resources, here is a great page bursting with links: http://www.frcoulter.com/latin/links.html

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 9, 2011 in Latin, Michelle, Resolutions: 2011

 

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To Jab or Not to Jab

Vaccines are a hot topic for many parents, especially here in the UK, and especially amongst homeschooling families in the UK. I know many homeschooling families who have chosen not to have their children immunised, and one mother even claimed that the rise in measles was due to immigration. I had to bite my tongue and go to my happy place to avoid responding to that.

I know immunisations aren’t without risk, and I’m well aware of what those risks are, but not immunising is also full of risk: brain damage, paralysis, heart failure, and death. Yes, for some children the immunisations don’t ‘take.’ But if all children, who are able to be, are immunised, their immunity provides protection for the unprotected ones, as they will not catch and pass on the illness.

I feel that many parents have become complacent because we don’t know what it’s like to live in an age full of communicable, deforming, deadly childhood diseases. We don’t know what it’s like to worry that our child will catch polio or diptheria…and this is because vaccinations have just about wiped them out. We now fear the result of the immunisation more than the disease itself. That’s understandable; I always felt a little nervous whenever Esa had another vaccination, and I, too, worried about any long-term damage. But I knew the risk of him catching measles and suffering complications was higher than the risk of a severe reaction to the jab. I also didn’t want to put other children at risk but leaving my son unprotected and allowing him to not only catch a disease, but pass it on to another child who is not immunised.

I’m not posting this to spark debates or condemn parents who don’t immunise; it’s just one of the many tough choices we parents have to make and to each their own. I’m just voicing my own opinions on vaccinations,  and I wanted to post a link to an article that may be of interest:

Doctor Behind Autism-Vaccine Link Study Accused of ‘Deliberate Fraud’

It turns out the data in the study linking MMR to autism was fudged and Dr. Wakefield’s been banned from practising medicine.

After the study was published,  many parents stopped administering the vaccine to their children, and the cases of measles increased, as did measles-related deaths.

This passage, in particular caught my attention:

“We had a measles epidemic in Britain, a drop in immunization rates in [the United States]. I personally know of children who were brain-damaged as a consequence of their parents deferring immunization as a result of this concern,” Wiznitzer said. At the same time, he said, “[autism] research monies were diverted to disprove a hypothesis that was never proven [in the first place] rather than invested in exploring issues that would be of benefit to the public and to children with the condition.”

Not all children who are immunised actually gain immunity, so he can’t really prove that all the children he’s come across have suffered brain damage because of not being immunised, but surely some of them could have been spared such a horrible outcome had they been immunised. Not only have many children suffered from preventable illness, but autism research has suffered, which is such a shame.

What are your thoughts on vaccinations?

*****

Since posting the above, I’ve had a comment that I wanted to share:

HI, Michelle,
Oh, I agree with you!
Yes, there is risk in any immunizations and for that matter in taking any medications.
But, as a Polio survivor, I know what it is like to live a life after getting one of the diseases that today we have an immunization for. I lived in a time when many, many children came down with Polio every year! Our parents lived in constant dread that their child would be the next victim. I was one of the very must lucky ones: My experience with Polio as a four year old child left me to learn to walk all over again and then with little or no problems until I hit age 50 and became one of the generation of Post Polio Syndrome victims. No one knew about PPS and no one predicted its results. I went from being an active adult to walking with a cane, from a practitioner of yoga to one who could not get into the most easy pose, from an independent person to one who has limited mobility. Yet, I’m still one of the lucky ones: others suffer breathing problems, depend on wheel chairs and scooters, or have great difficulty swallowing food or liquids. Almost every family had one or more polio victims when I was a child: our family had three. One cousin spent her life in steel braces, on crutches and in the end in a wheel chair. Children spent years in “iron lungs” just to stay alive. All life has risks, yet we have polio immunization now, we no longer have whole hospitals filled with children and teens with polio.
My mother lost two little sisters, one in the morning and one that same afternoon, to diphtheria when Mama was a child. The whole community was hit. My grandfather dug the graves and buried the girls himself as no one else would for fear of the terrible disease. (early 1900′s)
My grandmother lost two siblings with in one week to scarlet fever, in her childhood. We NEVER want to go back to that time. There are risks in taking ANY medication, but to go back to a time before immunization we just do not want our children to do that!
Keep Esa safe as our medical level can!
Love,
Elsie

 

 

 
6 Comments

Posted by on January 6, 2011 in About Us, Family Life, Hot Topics, Michelle

 

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