Schedule, Curriculum & Rescources 2011-12

:: Rocket Creek Academy’s schedule, curriculum + elementary resources ::
2011-12 is our 2nd year of homeschool (grades 2 & 3, plus some gentle preschooling)

Update: change is good, yes? Yes. It’s also a part of life, so I try to be open to growth and change, and all sorts of scary stuff like that. The paragraphs below were written in 2011, near the beginning of the academic year. I’m adding this note in May 2012, as we’re getting ready for our end of year CAT test (annual proof of progress/legal requirements to the county, the usual.) It’s been a good, full 2nd year of homeschooling, and hey, we’ve learned a lot. I’ll admit to something. Every few months I would have a freak-out moment, wondering if we were doing too much? not enough? I continued to read books/blogs on homeschooling. Which brought me deeper then to books/blogs on unschooling. I’ve been dipping our toes into unschoolish waters over the past few months, and it feels good. Scary, but good. I plan on exploring it further as we wrap up this “grade level” and move into summer. So perhaps we will be deschooling ourselves some more from our own homeschool… (update to come, I’m sure.) But yes, below is what we followed this year, but next year will probably look quite different. Hmmm…

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About Our School
We’ve tried on a bunch of different hats over the past months, but these days we have aligned our preferences and choices along an eclectic classical path, with a healthy nod towards foreign languages and the arts. On my bedside table is a huge stack of child lit for read-alouds and my old copy of A Well-Trained Mind so I can make time to read it again since it’s been a while. There are stacks of books everywhere actually.

We have 8 bookshelves around our home (plus desks & cubbies in the kids’ rooms) stacked with wonderful books. I may have a slight problem, not sure.

Approach & Assessment
In our home, we stick with what works for us. One beautiful thing about homeschooling is that you can customize to fit each student’s needs. So things vary when it comes to the approach we take for our lessons — some topics are best covered using mastery or sequential learning, other times we find it best to spiral or repeat similar lessons for several weeks. So some times we pick up on topics quickly and move on, other times someone needs more time to focus for better understanding. Whatever works. For our age group right now I don’t give grades. The only regular quizzes we have are for spelling words. From time to time I reference the Core Knowledge series (What Your X Grader Needs To Know books), and even more occasionally I reference regional school websites, private and public, to peek at grade-level standards. At the end of the day, I really enjoy making lists, and these resources help with that obsession. I’ve also used some of the Spectrum test prep books, (usually during the winter) — these are great little workbooks. Tests are a part of life, but we don’t let them govern us. The only official testing we do is in late-spring for proof of progress to fulfill our state’s requirements for homeschoolers. No sweat.

Speaking of workbooks, we aren’t that big on busy work, but each kid actually likes their big workbook from BrainQuest or Sylvan. We get them every year. They use these workbooks to warm up in the morning when we first come to the table, and each student also has a workbook in the car in their lap-desks. With fun, clear, colorful graphics on nice paper, they make for an enjoyable and consistent supplement. They are helpful when teaching multiple kids too, so that one can be working on their pages while the other is working with me. The kids progress steadily to finish one or two of these big multi-subject grade level workbooks each year. They aren’t for everyone, but we like using them.

Just like last year, we homeschool year-round, with more of an unschooling feel during the spring-summer. Our energy and approach changes with the seasons, change with the day of the week for that matter. We push deeper academically for fall and winter seasons, then in spring we add more enrichment classes/lessons/sports, and in summer we take some family trips and we spend much of the day outdoors.

I consider us to be relaxed homeschoolers. Maybe I feel we’re relaxed because I’m not stressing any more about the ups and downs of it all. I know we’ll get done what needs to get done. We do have a routine that works well for us, and we are rather consistent with it for the most part. But for the sake of honesty, I confess that there are days when our routine simply isn’t in the cards. I don’t freak out if we take a sick day(s), or enjoy a play-date day, or spend the entire day outside, and every once in a while I’ll take a deep enough breath to go enjoy a big field trip with our three kids. It took us about a year to find our sea legs, but now we are rockin’ this thing.

Mondays are slow to warm up with plenty of morning grumblings to kick off our week, and Fridays are just plain sloppy with lots of projects, games and relaxed reading time. In between, we get some good learning in there together!

Generally speaking, our day follows the same routine. Up around 7-7:30am and breakfast, 8-8:30am is violin practice, around 9am we start at the table with Mind Benders, or a quick workbook & journals (3-5 sentences written about a topic of interest, or using journal prompts or from copy work, they draw an accompanying illustration, then they give a quick presentation). Handwriting is very much a part of the journal exercise too. They used a big handwriting workbook last year for print & cursive, and they continue with penmanship on a regular basis. After journals it is time for math, which is our longest block of time. Then we sometimes take a 20-30 minute recess outdoors (or craft if weather is poor.) Back inside for Language Arts which is another long block. Then memory work review. Next up is lunch, then a lengthy recess outdoors or free play inside, bath, some basic chores. Usually by around 3pm is French or Spanish — we concentrate most on French (we just finished up a basic intro to Latin). The late afternoon is their computer time where they work with their specific programs or play games.

Fall crafts — our chandelier gets a fresh look with each season.

A few afternoons each month we have formal art lessons (but any big messy art projects usually happen on weekends) – I also make it a priority to leave lots of arts & crafts materials on their bedroom desks so they are always crafting and creating and exploring on their own as well. Two afternoons each week are for our history readings. Science is woven in here and there – this is an area we need to buckle down on more for consistency (for us, our official science happens in chunks throughout the month – what usually happens is that I suddenly realize we’ve skipped it and then I go overboard with tons of science stuff for several days in a row, then it trickles back down again.)

My favorite part of the day is when we all pile up on the couch or snuggle in the bed so we can read together – this happens typically during late afternoons or after dinner. Also after dinner, there is the occasional Parcheesi game or chess, or we watch the MythBusters show. And inevitably there is some Wii or iPad that gets consumed. I’m a control freak about the tv — I cannot abide commercials, especially ones that target kids, nor can I stand SpongeBob-Scooby-SpeedRacer kind of shows, so we stick with recording favorite PBS shows like Word Girl or Electric Company or Fetch with Ruff, and they watch a show here or there and move on. I don’t mind them eating their cereal in front of the tv in the morning, as long as it isn’t in front of a super-annoying-rude-mind-numbing-commercial-filled cartoon. Poor things. We do watch our share of movies, edutainment or cultural DVDs though. Right now MissSassafras can’t seem to get enough of Cirque du Soleil, so they are at the top of our queue right now. We love Discovery Channel videos. Popular Mechanics for Kids series has been a recent request for viewing in the car.

Once upon a time I was consumed with researching curriculum choices. I spent so much time narrowing down and revising our top picks. I know that I’m not a veteran homeschool mom quite yet, but I’ve finally earned a star or two. Now that we are here, I am pleased with my collection and have learned to relax about our choices a bit more. I can take a deep breath and focus on *using* our resources, instead of constantly searching for the next best thing. I’ve had to detox just a bit from Amazon and HomeschoolBuyersCo-op!

We start each day at the table together with our books and notebooks and lots of sharpened pencils. We also have a huge stash of art materials, and various musical instruments to explore. We enjoy using the computer in the afternoon and on weekends. Online we use Destination Math, finishing up with Reading Eggs. We also love the Creativity Express program. Last summer we tried Time4Learning online as a general supplement but it didn’t stick. We also visit Khan Academy every once in a while.

This is usually done individually — I work on a lesson with one student as the other student works on their assigned pages, then we switch. For refreshers on money or time or math facts we combine the lessons. MissSassafras uses MathUSee, and YoungMerlin uses Singapore Math (he actually does math for fun.) Along the way, I have also purchased Horizons Math, and Saxon Math is now collecting dust on the book shelf (our math adventures will require a completely new post one day!) The kids enjoyed Life Of Fred for elementary ages, which was silly fun. As mentioned, we use a giant workbook as supplement & extra practice, and we love Destination Math online and Khan Academy. We enjoy using Wrap-Ups, occasional flash cards, dice games and iPad apps for practice. And have you discovered Sonlight’s Math Tacular DVDs yet? (Great math DVDs for the car.)

>> Math update: as of late-April 2012 we discovered Teaching Textbooks! Started with Grade 3 (even though it is a repeat for YoungMerlin at this point, he’s flying through it… almost time to buy him TTGrade4) and both kids are LOVING IT! We finally found our core math solution — it’s a keeper for us, and will replace our Horizons, Singapore, Saxon failed attempts.

The US presidents take over the china cabinet (and hall, and pantry door)

Classical Conversations:
The kids are reviewing US presidents, and the states & capitals along with the other memory work. We went to Classical Conversations group class for one semester (fall 2011), but decided that it wasn’t a good fit. We have woven some of their curriculum into our own here at home. Love the math skip counting songs! Huge help!

Language Arts:
Reading: we love the library and we also have quite the book collection here at home. We thrive on read-alouds/storytime. They also tackle their own formal reading lessons and comprehension work a few times a week. They are reading independently on a daily basis at bedtime (Magic Treehouse series, Chester Comix, Amulet graphic novel series, grade-level readers, QuantumLeapPad books). They also used to present a cereal box book report or make a creative diorama presentation once a quarter or so.

We used Reading Eggs online as a refresher, and a fun boost. We threw in some standard phonics work too with ClickNKids Phonics online. We also used LeapPad phonics products/videos faithfully all last year. Back when we started we used the Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading.

We just finished SpellingWorkout books A & B (we completed them but were not fans… we found the lessons to be dry and visually cluttered.) We are going with Spelling Power, fingers are crossed.  >> End of year update: Spelling Power is working great, we will continue with the same huge book for future.

Grammar and Writing:
Writing With Ease and First Language Lessons, complete with student workbooks. We love this series! I also picked up the Evan-Moor books on writing a sentence, a paragraph, a story. I’m looking forward to adding those this winter.

We love our little timer. So helpful for transitions, journal time & spelling quizzes.

Foreign Languages:
French is our focus for the long haul, and I try to speak it with them as often as possible. My college French is a tad rusty so I enjoy re-learning along beside them. We also started with basic Spanish for fall 2011. We use Rosetta Stone homeschool edition for French 1-5, Spanish 1, and like it just fine. We have some nice apps for our languages on the iPad too. Plus we enjoy videos like Little Pim or Bonjour Les Amis, and we sometimes watch Disney movies set to French or Spanish. Spanish is also a part of our Switched-On-Schoolhouse program which we use from time to time. I’m not a huge fan of SOS, by the way. It’s a bit dull and even though we purchased the updated 2011 edition, the interface & graphics are sadly behind the times (it is this mom’s opinion that there are much better products and more engaging solutions out there for that price range).

Latin: we finished up with Song School Latin, which was such a fun way to introduce Latin to the kids. We also practiced some Latin through CC group. We had the book Minimus, but they weren’t big fans of it. We are taking a break from Latin for now to focus on French/Spanish.

Story of the World vol 2. I’m kind of wishing I hadn’t added on the supplement activity guide this year. We usually just read our SOTW on the couch together, and they eat it up just like an adventure story. They retain it so well too, especially now that we are using CC timeline history cards each day — we really got bit by the history bug this year! But each time we try the SOTW activity-workbook stuff, it falls flat. (Just not our thing I guess. We aren’t fans of lapbooking either, go figure!) We have recently discovered that we all love American history too. This is probably because we live near Richmond, Charlottesville, DC, Williamsburg, Jamestown. We are some field-tripping fools to these places in the summer. Chester Comix has been a fun spring board for us. We also rented Liberty Kids this past summer, and they enjoyed most of that as well.

Science is mostly interest-led, with monthly experiments, plus iPad apps, and reference from Kingfisher and DK books. We use our membership to the science museum, and enjoy Discovery Channel videos. Our bookshelf holds books on the body, nature, animals, space, earth. We have an affinity for rocks and crystals, so our collection is always growing. Then there is always robotics and Legos and contraptions. There is the backyard creek to explore. Cooking and baking. Gardening. Nature walks.

Practicing “Song of the Wind”

We are doing great with violin lessons, with daily practice and an hour long sibling lesson with their teacher each week. Formal piano lessons lasted for one summer, so for now it is self-taught using Alfred books. Music theory isn’t so scary after all. We also enjoy listening to classical music during various lesson times, and they have enjoyed taking theatre classes and choir. The kids have recently discovered opera, Bjork and The Beatles!

We love making fun crafts, but we also enjoy art history and diving deep into art projects — sculpture, painting, mosaics, paper, fiber, clay, drawing skills. There is kid art all over this house! Love it. We visit our beautiful art museum on a regular basis, and we use tons of wonderful books for our creative discovery. We also love Creativity Express on the computer — it’s awesome for kids to get started with some art history. We purchased a subscription to Meet the Masters online, but have yet to explore it.  >> Update on Meet The Masters: meh, it’s just OK. As an artist, I know how to develop this path on my own going forward. I won’t be going back to this one again.

A Tad Bit More
We enjoy learning about world cultures & religion & Bible stories. Along with the timeline, and US map/states & capitals, we also learn about world geography using an amazing kids atlas that we have, and we love our world globe, and of course the computer is a good resource. Scattered in amongst all this, there is also some basic yoga and meditation, and lots of running laps/foot races in the front yard. We love origami, though we aren’t very good at it yet. And everyone around here takes pictures or directs their own little movies or puppet shows. They are showing interest in cooking, and want to learn how to sew and knit too — yay!

A bit of this and that at the homeschool/dining table

Let’s face it, it adds some complexity when you also have a toddler or preschooler in the mix. There is plenty of tickle-time or a quick one-on-one storytime together in the morning after breakfast. But once we get started at the table for lessons, I rotate things for our preschooler so that he has a happy day too. At his seat at the table are his coloring books and crayons, plus safety scissors and scraps of paper. After he loses interest there, I set up his pattern blocks and math shapes. There are books and puzzles, watercolors and play-doh, cars and trains. Play-play-play! And when all else fails, I tuck him in on the couch for some quiet tv time or a movie. This household is not against screen-time, but it is carefully managed and quite limited during the week.

When you list it all out like this, perhaps it seems like a huge amount of stuff. It really isn’t overwhelming, especially when you think that we go year-round, all day through — for us, homeschooling is a way of life. And this is what works for us right now. We are having a good time together, learning and playing and making some fun projects. Again, it has taken over a year to settle into a routine that works for us. I imagine they will be shaking it up again before too long. But no worries. I’m up for whatever we can throw at each other around here. We opt for stress free and chilled out as often as possible, we break into song on a daily basis, and our weeks include plenty of silliness with insane amounts of recess & free play.

Sending warmest wishes for your homeschooling adventures!

We have come to this curriculum selection after much research, and trial & error. I have not received any product samples or freebies from any vendors in exchange for reviews.