It’s that time already. Time to evaluate what has worked for us (or not) over the course of the school year, and decide what to change up for the upcoming one.
My initial assessment of our school year is that we did not get as much done as I initially planned out on paper in August. While we have kept up with our core subjects – Math, Language Arts, Science and History – I have found our other subjects dragging behind. I know that this year has been hectic due to the new baby, but I am trying to plan for a better schedule to get more accomplished each day.
We homeschool year round.
Our Science and History co-op follows the traditional school year calendar that runs Fall and Spring. As a result, I do a lot of my planning for the school year with this traditional 36-week schedule in mind. I even view late May as “end of the year” in terms of graduating to the next “grade.”
But I also plan for the Summer session, which typically gives me a ten-week block to cover things that I can’t fit into our schedule during the Fall or Spring.
As I am evaluating our school year and what we managed to cover and what got put to the side, I am realizing that I need to be more realistic in what I think we can cover during the Fall and Spring sessions. I planned the year in August with the idea that we would cover all of our core and secondary subjects (more on this below) during the Fall and Spring, and Summer would be a lighter schedule but still much of the same.
Realistically, though, I need to use Fall and Spring primarily for our core subjects and use Summer for most of the secondary topics I want us to cover. Planning with this schedule in mind will do a lot for my sanity. I found myself getting so stressed out this year when we wouldn’t get to all the stuff I had on our school schedule for the day or week.
Our Core Subjects are Math, Language Arts, Critical Thinking, Science and History.
With our co-op we cover Science and History during the Fall and Spring, following the traditional 36-week school, for the most part. We have one day a week where we do group activities – interactive lesson, crafts, etc. We also have a fair amount of reading during the week for these Subjects. Because we follow the traditional school year schedule for co-op, we don’t have Science or History planned for the Summer.
Language Arts encompasses a lot of things. Spelling, Phonics, Reading Comprehension, Grammar, Writing, and Handwriting – all these things fall under Language Arts. I have to take the long view for something so expansive. I don’t plan our Language Arts studies with just Fall and Spring in mind. This is one of our year-round subjects. We cover Language Arts topics four days a week, and this has been working well for us.
Math is another year-round subject for us. This year we focused on First Grade skills – Addition, Subtraction, Place Value, Fact Families, Geometry and Measurement, Time and Money, and Word Problems. Like Language Arts, we strive for four days a week for our Math work, and will continue this schedule through the summer. We will start Second grade material in the Fall.
Under the umbrella term Critical Thinking, I include Logic exercises, brain teasers, inference activities, puzzles, tanagrams, things like that. We have been using different resources for this, and I think these “brain warmups” as I refer to them are an important part of our schooling. This is definitely one of Kyri’s favorite subjects ! These activities are easy to fit in during a typical school week, so we will be continuing these year round.
Subjects that I would consider secondary include Nature Studies, Five in a Row, Art and Music Appreciation, Foreign Language, Computer Science, Good Citizenship and Bible. Note, this isn’t a reflection on their importance, but rather how and when they are scheduled.
Nature Studies are an important part of our schooling – we participate in different outdoor programs offered by the San Antonio Parks and Rec throughout the year. These classes are offered monthly and Kyri really enjoys them. Kyri also spends a lot of free time outdoors exploring and collecting bugs. While I really want to incorporate a Nature Journal into our routine (Handbook of Nature Study is a wonderful resource for this!), it just hasn’t happened yet. One of the upcoming classes Kyri is signed up for actually involves making and using a Nature Journal. I am also hoping to put together a recurring Nature activity through our local homeschool group.
We use Five in a Row (FIAR) as a supplement, rather than as our main curriculum. We take a couple of weeks to row the reading selection, and then discuss topics from the manual. In addition, this year we started putting together lapbooks that go along with our reading selections. Kyri has really enjoyed this part of our FIAR work and we will continue doing it this way. Since this isn’t our main curriculum, we only row a book once or twice a week, taking two or three weeks to work through our reading and topics. Even though adding the lapbook component has made for more work (rather than just discussing as we go) I think it has been worth it. My plan is to continue rowing once or twice a week, and spending three weeks on one book selection.
This year we starting using Harmony Fine Arts for our Art and Music Appreciation. This is a wonderful curriculum and we have enjoyed it. It is layed out in a 32-week schedule and follows a classical schedule. This year we have been using Grammar Stage Year 1. The way the program is planned out, you spend four weeks at a time on one artist and one composer. We fell behind around Christmas and have only started to get caught up. My plan at this point is to follow the typical schedule as written during the summer months and relax it a little during the Fall and Spring, taking eight weeks to cover each artist/composer combo. This will spread the 32-week plan out to cover the entire year and take the pressure off to get everything done.
This year for Computer Science we started off with Scratch and Python Turtle. We have struggled to keep this as a regular part of our weekly schedule though. Kyri gets plenty of computer time during the week and so I know she is quite computer savvy. However, I think dedicated lessons on Computer language are going to have to be part of our Summer schedule. One thing I do plan on introducing is Minecraft. She loves video games and I think she would really take to it. I am hoping that if we spend our Summer working on Computer language skills she can be more self-directed during the Fall and Summer and it won’t need to be a dedicated topic in our school schedule.
I initially started off this Fall planning to do Bible stories as part of our weekly schedule. However, Kyri started participating in AWANA through a local church this year, so we have used our AWANA reading and memory verses instead as our lessons. She has really enjoyed the experience and we will continue in the Fall (AWANA only runs through early May). I also plan on signing the kids up for Vacation Bible School this summer. I am happy with this setup for Bible lessons and don’t plan to add anything else to our school schedule at this time.
Foreign Language has been tough to keep up with. I started this Fall planning on covering basic Spanish with Kyri and it has always gotten pushed to the side when our schedule has gotten hectic. As a result, we have gotten very little done. I’m still trying to figure out how best to schedule this for us. I am considering scheduling it like our Art and Music – schedule it regularly during the Summer and keep it light during the Fall and Spring.
Here in Texas, we are required to cover Good Citizenship – it’s one of the few requirements we have here and also pretty vague in what is expected. Last summer we covered basic Civics – Symbols of America to meet this requirement. This is definitely one subject that will be done in the Summer months. I am working on my lesson plans now for the upcoming summer. We will cover basic Civics and characteristics of Good Citizenship. I am putting together a 10-week schedule of topics and will post a more detailed write-up of the coursework as we get closer to summer.
Kyri is very much a self-directed learner. She gets interested in something and follows up on it on her own. I try to encourage and foster this as much as possible. I mentioned her being very computer savvy. We have put a large selection of apps on the iPad for her use – educational apps that she loves to play, but we know she is learning at the same time. She has her favorites and I’m working on writing up reviews currently to share our experiences with everyone.
We spend a lot of time exploring the many wonderful opportunities for homeschoolers in San Antonio. She gets a lot out of our library classes, nature classes, museum trips and Botanical Garden visits. I think they are more impactive than sitting around doing worksheets or reading, and I try to remind myself of this whenever I find us falling behind our “schedule.”
As we wrap up our second year as homeschoolers (already!) I am feeling pretty good about where we are at. Kyri is learning and having a great time. She is a motivated learner and I just love being her teacher. I think as we continue to evolve as homeschoolers, we will find our groove; we will find the schedule and routine that works best for all of us.
*** I’ll be reviewing in detail some of the curriculum we have used, or are planning to use this coming year. Look for these reviews in upcoming posts.