A New Year Begins

We began our 2014-2015 school year a few weeks ago and things have been going smoothly. I’ve said that this seems to be our “happiest” new year yet, and maybe that’s just because we’re really into our groove now and we know what works for us. Here are a few highlights from our first few weeks:

Sleepy Students’ Special First Day Breakfast

Official First Day Photos

We’ve got TWO piano students this year.

Elliot will also be attempting to master a different type of keys this year, the computer keyboard. He does typing lessons a few times a week.

He’s also being challenged a bit more with writing this year. He’s learning about different types of essays and will be writing a few on topics he chooses throughout this year. Is it any surprise that his first one is about the history of a baseball team, the San Francisco Giants?

Caroline keeps churning out her own stories for her creative writing journal.She got that passion for writing stories from watching her brother write with enthusiasm these past few years.

I’ve always enjoyed including the occasional random surprise when I can tie it into school. I found these great little Jamestown Setters and Powhatan Indian figures from Hobby Lobby and the kids have been playing with them all the time.

I present to you, “Thinking Putty”, the greatest way to keep hands busy and brains focused during read-aloud time. They say if their hands are moving that it’s easier for their brains to stay engaged on what’s being read, and it has worked like a charm for us. Even Caroline, my more distractible student, can retell me everything she’s heard me read with incredible accuracy as long as she’s been messing with this stuff. My warning would be that it does get stuck on carpet, so take care to keep it off the floor!

I’m trying to be more intentional about having the kids give frequent narrations (verbally telling me in their own words what they have heard after I read to them), so I’ve got a little chart where they earn stars for each good narration they give after I read a chapter of something to them. When we reach 100 stars, we’ll go to the bookstore where they can each choose a new book for being such awesome listeners and narrators.

I often assign them reading of their own or have them read something together. This week we’re doing a little unit on Shakespeare so they’ve been reading together about that, while we’ve been reading children’s versions of Shakespeare’s plays together each day.

This book is an absolute gem if you want to introduce Shakespeare to young children. It gives them a good understanding of the plot of each of the play, while keeping it “child friendly”. The kids are now familiar with The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet and we’ll read a few more before the week is done.

Curriculum: Old Standbys and New Friends

As with every other passing year, we’ve kept some of our old favorites, while tweaking and changing other things as I become more aware of my own personal philosophy as well as what works best for my children. Our Math and Language Arts programs fall under the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” category. With several things I’m beginning “round two” with Caroline, as she is using much of the same things that I used with Elliot at this age. In other areas, like science and history, I’m taking different approaches, but also coming full circle in a sense. We started out with an approach that was heavily literature based, with Five in a Row, and last year, though I still did Five in a Row with Caroline, I also steered us down the textbook path thinking that was what should be next, especially for Elliot. While I’m not absolutely “anti-textbook”, I decided reading through a textbook of dry scientific or historical facts wasn’t the most effective way to engage my kids’ minds and I didn’t want to begin teaching them what so many schools do, which is that learning is boring and a chore. My opinion is they have plenty of years ahead of them for textbook learning. Now is the time to “light the fire”, so to speak, instead of extinguishing it.

Elliot and Caroline are both doing Math-U-See this year, which has worked exceptionally well for us so far.

Pathway Readers have been a “staple” on our bookshelf from the very beginning. These are just fabulous. I’m convinced both of my kids are the strong readers that they are because we’ve used these as a part of our reading program.

Instead of one history book, we’ll be using lots of different books, especially biographies and historical fiction books. This year we’re beginning what will be a two-year study of modern history and focusing quite a bit on American History. We’ll cover up to 1850 this year and everything after that next year.

We’ll be keeping a timeline and history notebooks as we learn about different people and events.

We have loved this simple way to keep a timeline. I was able to download, print, and laminate these history event cards and we simply stick them into the page protectors in our mini-binder as we learn about them. It makes reviewing what we’ve learned super easy.

They have a notebook page about once a week that goes with what we’ve read about.

For geography, it seemed fitting to also focus on the United States, so we’ll be learning about each of the states in the order that they were added to the union, memorizing capitals, and learning about different geographical features such as mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes in the America. These are two resources I’ve found to be be really helpful, along with a good wall map, of course.

Last year we got tired of learning about the same science topic all year long with the textbook approach. This year we’ll be touching on all sorts of topics with some really interesting books, using our microscope, and doing experiments that interest us (as opposed to experiments a textbook tells us we need to do). This gives us so much more freedom to take time with the things that interest us and go off on those “rabbit trails” on certain topics if we feel like it.

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