I know I’m a couple of days late, but we started our second year of homeschool this week, 5th grade. I don’t know how interested people are in this stuff, but it seems to be a homeschool blog convention, so I am going to list the materials we are using for school this year. None of them are what we started with last year, but a couple are a continuation of what we ended the year using. It has been a process of trial and error that I am sure will continue, but we are starting to settle on things that are really working for us.
We started our journey, after the initial decision that we were really going to attempt to homeschool, by heading to a local homeschool store we had heard about to seek out advice. I think we ended up spending three or four hours there. The woman that helped us was as nice as she could be, she spent plenty of time walking us around the store showing us popular options for different subjects, and I ended up spending another hour or so looking at things on my own. I made my selections based on her suggestions and we purchased.
Then I came home and started educating myself about homeschooling. I read Cathy Duffy’s book and worked through the beginning chapters that outlined different types of homeschooling and different types of learning styles. I discovered that I was drawn to the Classical method, so I started reading more about that. I picked up a copy of The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM). I dived into The Well-Trained Mind forums looking at their reviews and recommendations. I saw that some of my initial choices didn’t fit into the philosophy that I wanted to follow.
I also started to see that some curricula wouldn’t be a match for my son. I took back most of the things that I had bought and started over with fresh eyes. I made new choices based on my research and we started the year. As we worked I still read. The Well-Trained Mind gave way to Climbing Parnassus, The Latin Centered Curriculum, and The Core. I started to refine my view of what an education should be, what it should include. Some of the choices I had made the second time around proved to be wrong again, but I was a lot closer than I had been my first time.
We had chosen to homeschool year round, six weeks on and two weeks off. By the time we got to our first break we could see that a few more changes needed to be made. I sold some of the choices we had made and tried something new. We also refined our schedule. By the end of our two week break we had decided it was too long. So we now go six weeks and then have a one week break. It is gives us a nice sense of being refreshed without being aimless.
I continued to learn. I attended a homeschool convention where I could listen to speakers and actually talk to the people who were creating the curricula. That led to The Abolition of Man, Norms and Nobility, and Beauty in the Word. My ideal of education was further refined. When it came time to choose materials for year two I had a much better idea of what we wanted and what was going to work for us. I honestly don’t anticipate making any changes this year. The changes, if they come, I think will be to our tentative plans for the years to come. We shall see.
I will talk about how our choices have evolved under each subject.
Our first choices last year were Easy Grammar and Wordly Wise. Easy Grammar was just a mistake. I should have caught that in the store without any sort of extra investigation necessary. I definitely want a grammar program that teaches sentence diagramming, and the format of the book just would not work for my son. Easy Grammar was one of the things that was returned before the year began.
I went with Abeka as my next choice because, between the two suggested by TWTM , it was the one that looked the most colorful and approachable. I had also seen people describe Rod & Staff(R&S) as dry, boring, and too antiquated. It took us six weeks of using Abeka to see that it wasn’t for us. As it turns out, we like dry, boring, and antiquated. I had bought Abeka used so it wasn’t a big deal to sell it and get R&S, which has become my son’s favorite publisher. I’m pretty sure he would refuse to do grammar if I ever tried to change publishers. And he loves diagramming, so that was a good call.
As far as Wordly Wise goes, I discovered early that I don’t want a formal spelling or vocabulary program. I prefer those skills to be picked up through lots of reading. It just seems more natural to me and, to be honest, it is how I acquired the vast majority of my vocabulary. If we get into later grades and find that he is behind in those areas, we can shore them up. But most adults who have conversations with my son comment on his vocabulary, so it doesn’t seem to be a problem right now.
I struggled with what to use for writing. I looked at a lot of things like Writing Strands, Writeshop, Writing With Ease, and Wordsmith, but didn’t really like them. I rejected Institutes for Excellence in Writing initially for its price but have seen people claim that, while it does give students a big boost initially, in the long run it produces formulaic writers who have a hard time breaking out of the IEW form. I really wanted a progymnasmata program, but Classical Writing seemed unwieldy. And it had the added grammar component that I didn’t want as we were very happy with R&S. I considered Classical Composition, but could never fully commit to it. These programs seemed designed to last throughout high school and I wanted a program that would allow me to use a formal rhetoric program with my son before he left for college.
I finally found Classical Academic Press’s (CAP)Writing & Rhetoric at a homeschool convention. It has been working well for us. Each step is designed to be done over a semester so we can have it done by the end of eighth grade, which is perfect. We started using it at the end of last year and have really enjoyed it. Appealing graphical design seems to be a CAP hallmark and it definitely shines through here. My son doesn’t complain about the writing because he thinks the assignments are interesting and I have seen an improvement in his writing in the eight weeks we have been using it. I feel confident we will end up using the entire program.
I added Editor in Chief last year because we finished R&S before the end of the year and, while I didn’t want to start the next book, I didn’t want to be without any grammar at all. It has actually been well received and I can see it stretch his mind as he gets to apply all of the grammar rules he has learned in more concrete way. I want to do Reading Strands because I think my son is ready to learn the formal parts of a story and really start reading critically.
We added Latin after the first break last year as I had to talk my son into it. I promised him I would learn it with him and then we could send each other secret messages that most people wouldn’t be able to read. This really appealed to him and he is already envisioning us writing letters to each other in Latin when he goes away to college.
Why Latin? For all the normal reasons given by Classical Homeschoolers. It reinforces the English grammar he is learning, helps with spelling and vocabulary, sharpen mental acuity, and helps with learning the modern romance languages.
Memoria Press was an easy call. I have enjoyed everything I have read from them about the philosophy of education. I have had the opportunity to hear Mr. Cothran speak on several occasions and have enjoyed it immensely. We briefly considered CAP’s Latin for Children series (we actually tried it, they were nice enough to let me return it) but, as with Abeka vs R&S, we favored the more straight-forward, vanilla option. My son has definitely enjoyed this. I sent him a picture of the Memoria Press booth from the homeschool convention and he was so excited he had to call me. This is the kid that I basically had to bribe into giving Latin a try in the first place.
History / Literature
What haven’t we considered here? This has been the most difficult subject to schedule because of all of the wonderful resources out there for it. Heart of Dakota, Trail Guide, Winter Promise, Tapestry of Grace, Sonlight, My Father’s World, Notgrass, Story of the World, History Odyssey, etc. We started with Truth Quest, a Charlotte Mason style study of history. I still love the idea of it but, my son wasn’t ready for it at the beginning of the year. I definitely have it in the back of my mind as a backup if future plans don’t materialize the way we have planned. The commentary that runs through it is phenomenal, the way it asks kids to evaluate the cultures and events in history by God’s truth. I wish I had had something like it when I was a kid.
But, as discussed previously, my son is a no-frills kind of kid. So we borrowed Mystery of History. Easy to schedule self-contained lessons with retention question and cumulative tests, right up his alley. Plus, we really appreciated all of the biblical content. We finished the first book at Christmas time and moved to book two. And then we lost steam.
The long term plan is Veritas Press’ (VP)Omnibus. This series has been stuck in my head since I found out about it. Here is a description in a review of it I found:
“In a culture that derides Christianity and daily bombards us with lies and false information, it has never been more important that we make sure our children have a strong Christian worldview that will enable them to discern the lies of the world around us from the truths of God. This is the purpose of Omnibus – to equip the next generation of Christians with the knowledge and skill to refute the lies of the world and to fight for the Kingdom of Christ. Omnibus is no joke. If you take the task of educating the next generation seriously, you want nothing but the best. Omnibus is a vigorous endeavor, but that’s what makes it great. It confronts you with ideas and questions that other curriculum water down or don’t address at all. It presents challenging activities and projects that are at a level other programs do not attain to. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you give Omnibus your all, what you get is not only a thorough understanding of the thoughts and philosophies of times past and present, but also a well-developed Christian worldview that will help you analyze those philosophies and prepare you to face the world with eyes focused on Christ.”
I want to do it. I want to read the books and wrestle with the questions they bring up. I want that. And how amazing to be able to inculcate that level of philosophical and theological thinking in a student and child before sending them out into the world! And my son agrees. He sees it as a challenge he wants to tackle, so we have been working towards it. We needed to get an overview of history and also cover US history in three years Omnibus starts 7th. How to do it?
When we started using Mystery of History, we decided we would do the series over two years and then do a year of US history. But by the time we were getting to the end of Mystery of History, we were tired of it. We really were not looking forward to doing any more of it.
Looking at what we had covered with Mystery of History, I decided to just go ahead and jump into the Veritas Press system. We ended pretty much where their Explorers to 1815 picks up and it will cover the American history I was looking for. I had him do some reading in Streams of Civilization to cover what would be missed in the transition. I had looked at, and really liked, the VP History cards but didn’t think we had enough time to get them done before starting Omnibus. Still, I intended to use them with our younger two so it made sense to make the jump after we had made up the ground we needed to with Mystery of History. I really do prefer the living books approach to history. It just makes the subject come alive if you can take the facts and place them in a context. Reading about people living in the time periods you study, whether fictional or real, just adds so much and helps you retain the facts so much better.
Why this when Truthquest didn’t work? A couple of things: my son wasn’t ready to do all of that reading at the beginning of last year. Since then he has read forty-two books, most of his choosing. He has had deadlines for reading that has gotten him used to it. But we had to start out gently with selections he was enthusiastic about. After a while I added things I wanted to, books he was most often not excited about, though many he greatly enjoyed once he gave it a chance. Charlotte’s Web, Hatchet, Little Men, and even Shakespeare (adapted) became favorites. So now he is ready to do assigned reading and he has come to see that a lot of the books I assign will be enjoyable.
Truthquest also isn’t as structured as the VP cards. The book presents a ton of topics that the parent has to pick and choose from. Some of the things covered you will add reading from the provided lists, some you will just read the commentary from the manual, but it is up to you to figure out how to schedule everything and make it flow. The VP cards give you 32 topics that you spend a week on. There are references listed for each card and then the catalogue links different literature selections to the cards that it covers. It is very easy for the parent to use and easy for the student. It is much more focused. They need to know these 32 topics and they get to spend time learning about them in depth. We school for 40 weeks so we will stretch some topics to two weeks. And the historical fiction flesh out and fill in the spaces between the cards, adding a lot of background to what is studied.
Lastly, after going through Truthquest (I continued to work through it on my own for a while after we stopped using it) it seems more appropriate for middle and high school. The writing assignments, though not plentiful, require a lot of reflection and introspection, and at a much deeper level than most fourth graders are capable of. To be fair, the earliest the earliest the author recommends starting is 5th grade, which would put the book we were using at 6th grade at the earliest. This seems more reasonable. The VP Cards are written for grades 2-6 and just fit where he is at better.
That said, if Omnibus doesn’t work out for some reason, Truthquest is definitely getting a second try. I think it is right there with Omnibus for cultivating a love and appreciation of the True, Good, and Beautiful. And, more than anything else, that is what I want to instill in my children before they go off into the world on their own. I want them to be strong in their faith and knowledge of God. I want them to love virtue and see it as a worthwhile goal to strive towards.
As far as Literature goes, we are still aiming for forty books this year (he just surpassed the goal last year). Twenty of these will be historical fiction that fit in with the history cards and the others will be fiction, though there will be a much bigger ratio of classics to his choices this year. Actually, the only selections he has asked for that I wouldn’t consider good books are the Middle School books from James Patterson and the Mysterious Benedict Society series. The other selections are titles like the Narnia series, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Swiss Family Robinson, The Hobbit, and Anne of Green Gables. He is actually looking forward to many of these. I think Little Men was the turning point last year. He was convinced he would hate it because it was “old”, but he loved it. After Charlotte’s Web, The Railway Children, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Little Men, I think he finally acknowledged that the “old books” could be good, too.
Saxon. Saxon seems to be the most divisive curriculum in all of homeschool. You love it or hate it, and a lot of people really loathe it. Saxon is actually what my son did in school the last year. He did well with it and I should have just continued along with it. But, when I first started, I wanted everything to be different from school or why were we doing it, so I dismissed it immediately.
We tried Singapore, the one thing I kept from my initial purchase, but I hated the teacher manual and my son was having a very hard time with it. It required it him to fill in gaps, to make logical leaps that he wasn’t ready for. We moved to Math Mammoth because it got good reviews, seemed to be a middle ground between mastery and spiral, and I was able to download the entire series for less than the cost of one grade of Singapore. It worked out ok but, when choosing the materials for this year, I gave Saxon another look.
My son is approaching pre-Algebra and I wanted to know where we were going because Math Mammoth ends after elementary. I had settled on The Art of Problem Solving but conceded its discovery model might not be the best thing for my son. I gave him samples of Saxon and AoPS for him to work through and then we had a discussion about which he got more out of. So, we’re back to Saxon. I decided, since he has used the system before, to go ahead and just get him back into it instead of waiting for pre-Algebra. He has enjoyed it the last two days. It was pretty much the only thing he enjoyed from his last year of public school so I shouldn’t be surprised.
Science was one of the few things I didn’t change last year. I borrowed Apologia from someone and we stuck with it all year. We had fully intended to keep going with it, borrowing what we could and eventually purchasing our own copies (I’ve got two younger children we will eventually homeschool). Then I met Dr. Jay Wile at a homeschool convention and got to see his new science curriculum. I fell in love.
I really appreciate, from a practical standpoint, the way the book is divided in to easy to use lessons. Lessons you actually get done in one day, like every other curricula in the world, instead of lessons you have to figure out how to divide up over a week or two. I like the format of it, learning science chronologically, getting to see how it has grown and changed, and how scientists have built on what their predecessors did. I also have to admit that I like how the topics are varied. I got bored with the unit study format of Apologia, though my son didn’t have a problem with it. My son likes that every lesson contains an experiment. I hope our enthusiasm doesn’t flag.
Yep, after we went away from Apologia’s science we picked up their Bible study. What can I say, Apologia makes good stuff. We do plan on using their middle and high school science, most of which was written by Dr. Wile, so changing to his elementary series kind of makes sense. It doesn’t mean we don’t like Apologia, as this choice shows.
Anyway, we started using Rod & Staff last year but Mystery of History was so heavy on biblical history that it was redundant. We switched to just reading the Bible and doing a devotion together. When it came time to choose something for this year I had found this series. I like the idea that it is a theology study for kids. R&S was good but it was just about learning Bible stories, there was not a lot of application of the truths contained therein. I feel like my son is ready to get beyond simply learning the details of the Bible stories and start talking about how they should shape our lives.
What lessons do they impart? How should we respond to them? What do they tell us about the nature of God? What do they tell us about our relationship with God? These are the questions I wanted to talk about and it seems like this series will help us do that.
We start every morning with “logic”, the Building Thinking Skills book. The goal is to get him accustomed to the ideas of logic so the concepts won’t be completely foreign when we start to study them formally in higher grades.
Communication and Interpersonal Relationships is another offering from the author of Reading Strands. I like his work. If I weren’t doing a progymnasmata program I would probably be doing Writing Strands. This book is designed to give students skill in dealing with others in non-formal situations. It has exercises which teach students skills in both verbal and non-verbal communication.
And the Greek is something I’m hoping he will enjoy. It teaches the Greek alphabet to get kids ready for a study of Greek. It is from Classical Academic Press so it is well designed, and I thought he would enjoy way it is framed as a mystery. I really like the idea of learning Greek as well, but really didn’t know how to do it or when to start. There aren’t nearly as many programs for Greek as Latin. CAP has this for the alphabet, Sing Song Greek, and one year of Greek for Children. I thought I would just let him try it to see if he liked it and then we could go from there. Interestingly, I got the new Memoria Press catalogue yesterday and saw that they now have three years of Elementary Greek. If he likes it and we decide to pursue it, we will probably use those.