Our First Week of School: Schedule, Curriculum, Record Keeping
Back in March, on my main blog, I wrote an article about our family's plans for the 2010-2011 school year. (You can find that here: What We're Doing for School Next Year (The Big Switch!). We've pretty much finalized most of the details already, and, in fact, we have already started our school year! We had two full months off after co-op ended, and I want to do a six-week-on-one-week-off routine this year, so July seemed a reasonable time to start. One of my teenage daughters has been doing Algebra 2 and Web Design 2 on-line with Florida Virtual School this summer to get a jump on things, so I guess she never took any substantial amount of time off. My two older boys, who are in middle school, had basketball camp at church the week of July 5, so I decided to ease into the new schedule that week with just the three younger kids, who are 9, 7, and almost 5. This proved to be a great decision, especially since I'm starting a new kindergartner who wants (but does not get!) all of my attention. Then this past week, the big boys started, too.
The Morning: History & Science
We generally spend the first part of the morning, from 9 - 10:30 AM, reading from the Bible, singing, then doing history and science together. Then until 12 noon, each of the kids has individual assigned reading related to our American history topic. The older ones are supposed to write a paragraph or two about whatever they read, but this usually turns into a page or two. I won't complain about that! The younger ones -- ages 7 and 5 -- do an oral narration or a few sentences of copy work about what we read.
I must say I am really glad we are doing school all at home this year instead of the co-op. We need it just now. I love the direct teaching approach. I love learning together as a family instead of just overseeing assignments someone else has given them. I love the flexibility. I love how we can pack in a lot of content just reading on the couch. Yes, it took a few days of getting used to sitting still and not interrupting too much. They still have a bit of the summer wiggles. It's good that our assignments have been a little light this week just to break back into things, but we've still covered a lot.
Our American history resources are books and videos we have on hand (hundreds of them), as well as library books and A Beka American history texts at each grade level. (Next month, I'll try to write a blog post about teaching American history.) We are taking several weeks on each major historical period: Explorers, Colonial, the Revolutionary War, the 1800's (Pioneers and Civil War), Early 1900's (World Wars and Depression) and Late 1900's.
We are using Apologia's Human Anatomy and Physiology text and notebooking journals for science for grades K-6th. Read my review of this excellent curriculum by Jeannie Fulbright here: Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology. Having this organized science program is going to make my year so much easier, and the kids' year so much more interesting and productive. We do have other books about the human body to supplement the text for individual reading.
If we have any time left over, I read from whatever other book looks interesting. This week, we started What Would Jesus Do? by Helen Haidle. It's the children's version of Charles Sheldon's classic In His Steps.
The Afternoon: Math & English Skills
After lunch, they do their math and English skills assignments. For grades K, 2nd, 4th, and 6th math, we are using Horizons. I also bought Comprehensive Curriculum workbooks at Sam's Club for some of them during the summer, and there are still plenty of language arts pages for them to work on. I just tear out a page or two from each section (such as Spelling, Reading Comprehension, etc.) and put it in their Current Week notebook, which contains all the assignments for the week.
My kindergartner's assignments are obviously different. I do phonics with her almost every day. She already knows how to sound out a lot of simple short vowel words, so we practice tandem reading with little stories in a basal reader published by Scott Foresman that I picked up for 50 cents at our library's used bookstore. You can read more about my "tandem reading" method in this article, Learning to Read, or in my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade. We also do Italic handwriting and Horizons math together. She's zipping through the pages of both. I also give her coloring pages from the Bible Story Coloring Pages book related to whatever Bible story we have been reading. Each picture has a simplified story to go with it. When we read about God creating the world, I had her circle the word "God" wherever she saw it on the page, and she copied a sentence or two. I pick out picture books from the library to read to her, usually two or three a day. The older ones can listen along if they like.
When they are done with their schoolwork as well as any chores, the kids can have free time for the rest of the afternoon. This includes outside play, computer time, PBS or videos, card or board games, crafts and hobbies, inventing things, etc. We might also go to the YMCA or run errands. At the moment, my 6th grader is trying to camouflage a fish tank filter in a large bin of water (making a frog pond), and my kindergartner, not wanting to be left out of wet fun, is floating boats made from plastic cups in another bin. It's a good thing we have a back porch.
Planning and Record Keeping
What about planning and record keeping? I like to do mine on the computer since my kids are doing so much of the same things. For each week, I type a list of what I plan to do as a group, broken down by day and then subject. This makes it easy for me to follow as I'm sitting with them.
A typical day for our group work might look like this:
• Bible: Read Genesis 4 and sing "For the Beauty of the Earth."
• History: Read & discuss The Secret World of the Aztecs pages 20-26.
• Science: Read pages 30-33 of anatomy text and draw diagram of cell on page 18 of journal.
I give each child a page with individual assignments, too. They keep these in their notebook so they can check what they need to do each day. The assignment pages are broken down by subject, then by day. Here are the history and English assignments for my 4th grader.
Finish reading Leif the Lucky: Discoverer of America (LL) by Erick Berry:
• Mon: Read chapter 4-5 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Tue: Read chapter 6-7 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Wed: Read chapter 8-9 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Thu: Read chapter 10 in LL and write a paragraph.
• Fri: Color Leif Ericson page in your notebook.
• Mon: Start CC pg 79-82 (Reading Comprehension)
• Tue: Finish CC pg 79-82 (Reading Comprehension)
• Wed: CC pg 192 (Sentences)
• Thu: CC pg (Capital Letters and Periods)
• Fri: None!
I keep a copy of all of the assignment sheets in my own notebook, so I can check off what they are doing as we go. When the week is done, we transfer completed work from the Current Week notebook into an archive notebook. The Current Week notebook, along with their math workbook, science journal, and history books (for individual reading) go in a plastic bin with their name on it. The bins are usually stored on a shelf in the dining room, but they often get left in the living room, where most of them do their work. If I find anything left out, it's easy just to pop it back into their bins. I have my own bin with my planning notebook, a Bible, history and science books for group reading, etc. You can read more about my bin system here: "Bin There, Done That" (Or How to Keep School Clutter from Turning You Into a Basketcase)
Home Schooling on a Trip
We are leaving on vacation soon, but counting it as school time since we will be taking field trips to Monticello, the National Zoo, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Valley Forge, and the monuments and museums in Washington, D.C. After we get back, we'll pick up the pace on the more formal school assignments. When we go on our trip, we will bring along minimal schoolwork. Each of them will have one notebook with lined paper for writing about the places we visit, photocopied coloring pages about the Liberty Bell and other landmarks, a laminated US map (folded page, designed for a notebook) and simple workbooks (from Target's Dollar Spot) about U.S. Presidents and/or the 50 States. I copied U.S. maps (blank and filled in with state names) so they can memorize the location of the states or mark them in when they see a license plate from there. I may bring along some books to read aloud, too, especially if they are about the places we are visiting. We aren't bringing any math at all. If you would like to read my article about vacation preparation, click here Tips for Your Trips: Planning a Vacation to Enjoy Rather than Endure.
I guess that's enough for now!
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