Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Curriculum Choices (2014 - 2015)

You know what August means?  It means September is just around the corner!  Even though we do some version of lessons all year round, there's still a special magic to September that makes one dream of "bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils..."  

photo credit: my mom  (my kids made the pencil flowers, though :) )
Our plans for the "new" school year are mostly set.  There haven't been too many drastic changes since last year, so that always helps keep things a little easier.  I've never figured out how to write these types of lists out clearly, so I hope you're able to make your way through it without too much confusion :)

(Don't forget, if you click through a link to Amazon here and buy something, I'll earn a few pennies to spend on more great books!  Thanks!)

The state calls him "3rd grade."  I call him unstoppable (when armed with scotch tape and a handful of Legos, that is.)

Aaron will be starting his third year at the homeschool study center.  They follow the classical approach by way of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum.  At the study center they are tutored in Literature, Grammar/Writing, Latin, and History.  Among many "lesser" books for literature and history, the more significant "core" books they'll be using are:

Grammar/Writing: Shurley English, Level 4, Brenda Shurely

Latin: Latin for Children, Primer B, Classical Academic Press

Aaron will also be using:

Math: Math U See (finishing up Beta book, beginning Gamma)

image from

Reading: Aaron's still not a very strong reader, though he's better than he lets on.  It's my goal this year to find more age-appropriate material for kids that are older but can't manage "older" level reading material yet.  I wrote about a few finds here.

Spelling: This is where I need your help!  We need spelling/phonics rules without TONS of parental involvement.  It sort of seems like All About Spelling is what I need for Aaron, but I don't have the time/focus to dedicate to that program right now, so I'm thinking that (maybe ??) Sequential Spelling is a good second choice.  Anyone out there familiar with the program and can speak to me about its strengths (or weaknesses...)?
(Grammar of Spelling wasn't a good fir for us last year - it was easy enough to use, and I liked some of the exercises Aaron was doing (Look, Say, Flip, Write, and some serious alphabetizing) but it didn't teach spelling/phonics rules as concisely as we need right now.)   
Please help me!  Let's talk spelling if you've got any programs to recommend.

Handwriting: I taught Aaron the Handwriting Without Tears cursive method on my own this past year, but now he'll start using their workbooks for additional practice and to master cursive this year.  It was fine for one semester "creating" handwriting work for him, but it was time consuming and I really rely on both of the boys doing their handwriting practice almost independently, so the workbooks are invaluable for that :)
Aaron's in his second year of having a pen pal, so sometimes he gets to write to his friend in Ohio instead of a handwriting lesson.  (I'm hoping they can meet before this year is over!!)
*Also, Handwriting Without Tears has a new Keyboarding Without Tears program that we will consider using in the next couple years. 

Science: Elemental Science: Physics for the Grammar Stage   I chose Physics, because we need to get on board and actually do some more scholarly science around here, and I think Physics will hold the boys' attention best.   And I'm actually tired of "studying" animals and plants over and over again :)

The state calls him "2nd grade."  I call him incomparable (when he gives us generous doses of his sweet spirit.)

Dominic is also attending the study center again this year and will be loosely following the Tapestry of Grace program for History and Literature.

History: Story of the World, Vol. 1, Susan Wise Bauer

(we'll also be using the audio companion for memorizing poems, grammar rules, and lists, etc...)

Latin: Song School Latin, 1 and 2, Classical Academic Press  (I love this program!)

Math: Math U See, (Still working on mastering the Alpha book and have no expectations of moving on to Beta any time soon.)   I'll be relying heavily on their skip counting/math facts CD this year for Dominic, as he's a strong auditory learner and struggles in math more than in any other subject.

Reading: Still using and loving Flyleaf Publishing Books to Remember Emergent Reader Series and Decodable Reader Series.  Read my reviews of each here and here.

Spelling: Building Spelling Skills, Grade 1 and Grade 2   (I use some more "creative" methods of doing spelling with Dominic, which I'll hopefully share in a future posts since they seem to work well for him and may for other kids who are "slowed" down by the "write-it-five-times" method.)

Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears, Second Grade printing and intro to cursive.
And writing to his new pen pal who lives in Germany!!

Science: Elemental Science: Physics for the Grammar Stage (along with Aaron)

Kindergarten-ish.  She's not on the grid yet as far as the state is concerned. But she's on my grid and I call her Sweetie.  

It's all very loosey goosey around here when it comes to Kindergarten.   Ruth's not even five yet, so whatever I do with her will only last as long as she's interested, is taking it in good spirits, and we can fit it in.  For the most part, I consider Ruth pretending to read a book to Clare or teaching Clare about cicadas as the girls "doing school."  

If Ruth wants more, while the boys are at the study center twice a week, I'll snatch a few moments here and there to do the following with her:

Math U See, Primer level

Handwriting Without Tears, Letters and Numbers for Me

image from

Clare is 2 and can already count: "One, two, three, six, nine, ten, twelve."  And she can hum a tune by Beethoven and sing the days of the week in Latin.  So as far as I'm concerned, she needs no academic attending to until she's 11 or 12 ;)

All the Other Stuff that we Fit into our Days One-Room-Schoolhouse-Style:

Phys Ed: The boys did summer swim lessons and are in a weekly soccer clinic now.  We also took a tip from Kendra, and last year started going outside for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, followed by jumping jacks, squat thrusts, and races to the corner and back.  In the winter they hurl snowballs at each other (shot put) and go sledding (luge).  So gym is covered.  

Religion: For general instruction and  First Penance and First Communion prep, we'll use:
New Catholic Picture Bible, and our library of picture books about the saints
St. Joseph First Communion Catechism
The Weight of a Mass, Josephine Nobiso

The King of the Golden City, Mother Mary Loyola  (except I tried reading it this year and remembered how much I don't really like spiritual allegory, sooo even though I've already bought the book, I'm going to spend more money on the audio version so that we can hear it and learn from it but i don't have to read it.)  (the audio download is just $10)

Copy Work: (sometimes it's for school sometimes it's for a disciplinary consequence...)

Quotable Saints, Rhonda Chervin 

Poetry:  (the best place to get inexpensive poetry anthologies for kids is at library used books sales.  I've gotten about three or four there.)

Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems
The New Oxford Treasury of Children's Poems

audio anthologies:

Favorite Poems for Children (link is to Audible edition, $5.95)

Favorite Poems for Children (Dover Collection) (link is to Audible edition, $1.95)

A Child's Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson (I don't love this, but we still use it.  Here's a copy of a review I left on Amazon to tell you why...

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Critique of the AudiobookOctober 8, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A Child's Garden of Verses (Audio CD)
I recently purchased this production of Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses" with the intention that my children would use it to listen to the various poems they were memorizing throughout the school year. I'm so incredibly disappointed that there is no listing of which poems appear on which tracks. It's terribly inconvenient and annoying to have to listen to each track, almost in in its entirety, to find out where specific poems are, as there is more than one poem on each track. The simple omission of a track identification list has rendered the CD nearly useless for the purpose I had intended.

These are the books the we use depending on what suits us at any given point:  
Draw, Write, Now, books 1 -8 

These titles from Usborne:  
   What Shall I Draw
   I Can Draw Animals
   I Can Draw People
Drawing With Children, Mona Brooks (I took this out of the library last year at a friend's recommendation.  It's pretty intense (and a little intimidating to looks through!) but the kids liked the lessons we managed to do.  I think we'll try parts of it again this year if I remember to order it from the library ahead of time...)

And... I think I'm going to break down and buy A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels, Tricia Hodges and Lucia Hames (Nana)  Last year we did lots of Nana's free online chalk pastel tutorials and I think we'll stick with chalk pastels as our preferred medium this year.   The boys like Nana's accent (video tutorials!) and they loved art with the chalk pastels (especially Aaron) so I'm looking forward to checking out the book.

image from

Art Appreciation:
I wrote about our method of art appreciation here.
This year, we are going to "appreciate:"

Paul Gauguin (minus the nudes :) )
Paul Klee
Mark Rothko 

* These choices were based on calendar availability (!) and also on the fact that our local art museum  has works by Gauguin, Klee, and Rothko.  So... field trip!!  (I just hope that the ones we want to see are actually on display.)  Probably the most famous is Gauguin's Le Christ Jaune:

We'll also be studying Louis Comfort Tiffany  (there is an Episcopal church in our city that has several Tiffany windows, so we'll definitely be planning another art field trip!) 

St. Cecilia (Trinity Episcopal Church, Buffalo, NY)

Music Appreciation:

I wrote a four-part mini series on how we study music which you can check out here!

Haven't quite got it ironed out for this year - think we'll be "appreciating" Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Aaron Copeland, and Gershwin?  Maybe??  Still working it out.  (Mom - any suggestions for me??)  

Music / Singing:

Still using and recommending some of the same things as last year to learn patriotic songs, folk tunes, and church hymns:

Wee Sing: America

Praise Baby Collection (our favorite cd's are God of Wonders, Born to Worship, and Praise and Smiles)  The kids have learned many praise and worship songs as well as traditional hymns from these cd's.  I highly recommend them - they are well-performed and the vocals are clear (so that means it's easy for kids to learn the words!)

I think that about covers it.  I love, love, love, chatting about books, and programs, and schoolish things, and I'm so happy to answer any questions you have about how we do what we do or why we do it.  So ask away and let's chat!  Please share your great curriculum find also with me as well.  I'm always interested in new ideas and perspectives!

If you're still reading and want more, here are a few other posts I've written about homeschooling:

"Education in the Hands of Amateurs"

Curriculum Plans, 2013-2014


  1. You're a gem because I was racking my brain two weeks ago wondering what the music tape I had when I was little was called. It was full of patriotic and folk songs and came with a book with stories and history in it perfect for my 8 year old self - Wee Sing!

    Also, which of the poetry anthologies you mentioned would you consider most appropriate for preschool aged kids? I babysit (hence the need to find the Wee Sing) and sometimes it's handy to change up my standard repertoire of nursery rhymes for ones the littles may not have heard yet. :)

    1. So glad to help with the CD! We really love it - I especially think it's great how they sing so many verses. There aren't too many kids who can sing 4 verses of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but mine can ;)
      As for the poetry books - I think either would be fine. Both books have simpler poems as well as more advanced/longer ones. I've used both of them with Ruth, who is 4. Another poetry book that she loves is called "Omnibeasts" by Douglas Florian. I think all of his poetry books are about animals, but they are quirky and clever and funny. And most of them are short. His illustrations are fun also!

    2. Gotta love the Wee Sing. I heard good things about Omnibeasts so I'll try to find it at the library and see if it's what I'm looking for. I'm definitely interested in "Sing a Song of Popcorn" though.

      Thanks a bunch!

  2. Re spelling (cause you asked;)- You're not going to like my answer;) I have sequential spelling and my kids really didn't learn much from it at all. Still haven't ever seen anything to beat AAS, and really you could do say a couple of lessons a week for about 20 min. They really dig deep and understand language, to see the lightbulbs click, it's worth it. Just my 2 c after trying everything and having appalling spellers, this is the only thing that's made a difference. My younger kids are far better spellers than my older kids as a result

    1. Ok Erin! You've almost won me over. I spent the better part of the afternoon on their website checking it out and trying to convince myself it doesn't look too complicated. I was wondering how you manage to use it with more than one child, each working at a different pace - especially as to how you sort out the phonogram / words cards that each has mastered or still needs to work on. I think I'd be starting both the boys at level 1 but I know that they will progress at different paces. Any tips or last words of encouragement?!?!

    2. Was thinking about you today during our lesson (combined 8 & 10 year olds, both later readers) anyhow I told the children that next week I'm going to video me/them doing a lesson to send to you. So that I think will show you how it doesn't have to be intimidating.
      Now truth time, I don't use the cards, my mind is not wired like that, more stuff to keep track of. I use the books and a blackboard. Have used the whiteboard in the past happily too. Though I have used the letter tiles at the beginning back in Book 1, now though it's moving along kids.
      Really they should pay me a commission;)
      oh and no way around it, start them together but if quickly different move older boy along. I recommend you commit to doing 2 days with one boy, 2 with the other, and a day for wriggle room. That's 2 lessons a week, good progress.
      So do you want me to do a video? (never done one- nothing else you can tell me if I have an Aussie accent;)

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  4. Replies
    1. Oh goodness, Ann-Marie! My first thought was "Oh no! If I'm inspiring I must be giving the wrong impression of what's going on here!" I mostly feel like we're just trying to keep it all together. But thank you for your kind words!! I appreciate them!


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