janice vancleave

At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy's 3rd Grade

He also took his first official standardized test (I gave it to him at the table in the art room).

Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time.  If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 3rd grade this year.

Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 3rd grader. (You can see what 1st grade and 2nd grade looked like for us in the archives.)

You would think that having homeschooled 3rd grade before (we pulled our daughter out of school in 2nd grade), homeschooling 3rd grade would be a breeze. You would be wrong. The part where you worry that you’re going to ruin your child’s life because you won’t teach him what he needs to know is mitigated a little by the fact that you didn’t actually ruin anyone’s life last go-round, but all the stuff you figured out by the end of 3rd grade with one child may or may not apply at all to your new 3rd grader. In our case, 3rd grade with my son looked completely different from 3rd grade with my daughter, so we were still figuring everything out as we went.

The part where you worry that you’re going to ruin your child’s life because you won’t teach him what he needs to know is mitigated a little by the fact that you didn’t actually ruin anyone’s life last go-round, but all the stuff you figured out by the end of 3rd grade with one child may or may not apply at all to your new 3rd grader.

I’ve read a lot about the “3rd grade transition”—the place where homeschool materials stop being “fun” and start feeling like work. We didn’t really have that problem—maybe because we haven’t really used a lot of traditional materials, so there wasn’t that moment where we opened a book and everything was black-and-white and tons of fine print and we felt like “what happened?” We did shift gears to a little more academic work, though—3rd grade is when I like to start Latin and more thoughtful writing and reading—which had some challenging moments. All in all, though, I’ve enjoyed 3rd grade with my son, and I think he’s enjoyed it, too, which is really one of my big goals for each year.

 

History

We started Build Your Library’s 5th grade last year, so we just continued with that this year. (I explain my reasoning here, but it’s really just that I wanted to do U.S. History so that I could sync up readalouds with my daughter’s Georgia history last year and U.S. History this year.) The slower pace worked well for us—I like taking my time with a subject—and we added a bunch of nonfiction books to our reading list. (That’s my one complaint about Build Your Library, which I think is a nice program overall—I’d love to see more nonfiction on the reading list, especially because there’s so much great nonfiction out there.) Before this year, we’ve just done the reading for history—my son had a main lesson book, and sometimes he’d draw pictures as we read, but it was just because he felt like doing it and not something I asked him to do. This year, we’ve tried to be a little more deliberate. I’ve mentioned a few times how I rely on Patricia’s dictation method (if you have a reluctant writer, it will change your life), and we’ve been using that pretty heavily. I’ll say “so what do you think is the important thing about what we just read?,” and he’ll answer, and we’ll talk about, and then together we’ll summarize the main idea in a couple of sentences. I might prompt a little—“So what did a state have to do to get readmitted to the United States after the Civil War?”—but mostly I tried to let him focus on what felt important to him. It helps to know that we’re going to be revisiting these parts of history at least twice more in his educational life—so why not let him be interested in the parts that interest him? I do most of the actual physical writing, but he tells me what to write. It’s working well for us.

 

Math

We’re still doing Beast Academy, and it’s fine. We loved Miquon Math so much that I’m sure any math we did after it would seem less great by comparison, but Beast Academy works reasonably well for us. I like that it focuses on mathematical thinking and understanding bigger concepts and not just on learning how to deal with one particular kind of problem. My son likes that there are usually some genuinely challenging problems in the mix and, of course, that it comes in comic book format. My daughter would have hated this program, but it’s proven to be a good match for my math- and logic-loving son.

 

Language Arts

Ecce Romani Book 1 and 2 Combined (Latin Edition)
By David M. Tafe, Ron Palma, Carol Esler

We started Latin this year, and I’m using the same method I used with my daughter: We use Ecce Romani and just work as far as get into it each year. In the fall, we’ll start over again at the beginning and do the same thing. My son hates writing, so I have him dictate his translations and I write them down—it’s slow going but not unpleasant. We do the exercises the same way, but he does write his own vocabulary cards. Studying Latin is my favorite way to learn English grammar.

We read all the time—mostly readalouds, since my son still isn’t a huge fan of independent reading. (He does read on his own more every year, and I love catching him reading in his room or in the backyard. I’m not sure that pushing him to read more would kill his potential love of learning, but I know that not pushing it seems to be—slowly—working out.) I don’t want to be the book police, but I will admit it was easier to manage this with my daughter, who always read so widely that I never worried whether she was reading junk or literature. It’s harder to be as relaxed with my son—since he’s such a reluctant reader, it’s tempting to force him toward the good stuff. But I remind myself that my goal isn’t for him to make it through a checklist of books but to develop an appreciation for the power and possibility of reading. Only he can decide what books will do that for him. 

George and Martha
By James Marshall

He did start his own official book log this year—again, he usually dictates, and I do the actual writing. Some of his favorite books-for-fun this year have included George and Martha, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, Frindle, and Peter Pan. And we’ve continued our weekly-ish poetry memorization, which I love and my children tolerate.

 

Science

We still do our nature journals pretty much every day. This is one subject where I don’t take dictation unless my son specifically asks me to—he’s usually happy drawing what he sees and writing the identifying labels or temperature or whatever. My son has gotten to the point where he likes to feel like there’s some “purpose” to his journaling, so we have projects: Right now, we’re checking the barometer every day and noting different cloud formations. I’m noticing that my son is the first person to pick up on when he’s ready for something more academic or more structured—this fall, he said he wanted his observations to “actually do something,” so we came up with a few projects we could do with our nature journals. (I borrowed some ideas from Handbook of Nature Study, some from Whatever the Weather, and a lot from the Nature Connection workbook.)

We also worked our way through Janice VanCleave's 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre, & Incredible Experiments, picking up books to go with experiments as they piqued our interest. Next year, we’ll probably do something a little more organized, but for now, I’m happy to be able to emphasize the scientific method and just follow our interests. I made up a very simple, minimalist lab report form and used my beloved padding compound to make it into a little lab report notepad for him. 

 

Philosophy

Philosophy has been my son’s “favorite class” for a couple of years now. He loved Philosophy for Kids at our homeschool group, and this year we moved on to more structured logic lessons. (Logic is his big philosophical passion right now.) My best friend is a philosopher and one of my son’s favorite people, so we’re kind of spoiled when it comes to philosophy—she does one-on-one lessons with him. 

 

My son does not always enjoy working on things like reading and handwriting, but this year, he’s started to appreciate the way that being able to do these things gives him more space to learn independently.

Our schedule has always been a work in progress, but we usually have a pretty consistent rhythm to our days. I don’t plan to start at any particular time—my kids wake up when they wake up (usually around 9 a.m. for my son), have breakfast and what we like to call “morning acclimation.” Then, when he’s ready—which might be at 9:30 or 11:30—he brings me his little stack of things he wants to work on. Usually, it’s history, math, and Latin, and I add whatever readalouds we’re doing together. He tends to be interested in science in bursts and starts: He’ll want to do it every single day for a week or two and then not be interested at all for a couple of weeks. Sometimes he wants to do just math or just philosophy. I try not to dictate what we do and to let him take the lead. (There are definitely days—usually a couple a month—where he just says “Can we do nothing today?” and I say “Sure.” I really don’t worry about that at all—there are definitely times where I want to take a day off, too!) We work together, usually on the couch or on the back porch but sometimes at the table. Some days we’re fast and get a lot done, some days we take a lot of time and end by putting in a bookmark for the next day. Usually two to two and half hours of hands-on, active time like this is a full school day for us. 

After lunch, we have our “crafternoon” projects. (I’m usually doing work with his 9th grade sister during this time, too.) My son enjoys soap carving, making art, crochet work, building marble runs, playing chess, and sorting his Pokemon cards, so he might do any of those things. Occasionally he reads, which fills my soul with delight. Often, he plays outside. I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but that makes sense, since this year he’s also been a lot more independent and interested in doing things on his own. My son does not always enjoy working on things like reading and handwriting, but this year, he’s started to appreciate the way that being able to do these things gives him more space to learn independently. There’s nothing dramatic to report with 3rd grade—no huge challenges or confetti-worthy accomplishments—just measured, steady progress. It’s been a good year.


At Home with the Editors: Amy’s Homeschool (7th grade)

At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy's 7th Grade Homeschool

Shelli and I both passionately believe that our magazine should be inclusive of lots of different homeschool motivations and methods. We continue to strive to bring you a variety of resources that will inspire you as you consider what is best for your family. Because we know most homeschoolers enjoy sharing the resources and insights they have learned through homeschooling, we thought we would start a series on our blog about our own homeschools. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!

Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 7th grader. (You can see what 1st grade looked like for us here.)

Seventh grade is very different from 1st grade. In some ways, it’s easier — after years of learning together, I know my daughter’s strengths well. I know how she learns best. I know what’s likely to frustrate her. In some ways, though, it’s harder. This is new territory for us. I’ve never homeschooled a college-bound (at least that’s her plan right now) teenager, and I spent a lot of last summer worried that I was going to mess up something important. Honestly, I still worry about that. But ultimately, this is my daughter’s education, not mine, and letting my worries get in the way of her learning — well, that’s pretty silly. So we’re sticking with what works.

And what works for us is a pretty collaborative process. Every summer, my daughter and I have a little “planning retreat.” (Ice cream and My Little Pony movies are usually involved.) We talk about what she’d like to focus on in the coming year — usually her list is way too long, and we have to pare it down. I also bring a couple of lists — usually one of books I’d like her to take a look at and one of those “What your X-grader should know” lists so that she can see what other kids at her grade level are working on. (Next year, I’ll add a list of college entrance requirements because we’ll be doing short- and long-term planning for high school.) Together, we come up with a plan for the coming year. Here’s what we ended up doing for 7th grade:

Latin

My daughter started Latin in 3rd grade, and at this point, we have a good rhythm down. We use Ecce Romani as our Latin textbook. It’s unorthodox, but we’ve been using the first two books since 3rd grade — every year, we just start over at the beginning and work our way through again, getting a little further each time. We’ve gotten to the point where we just breeze through the first book, but I feel like it ends up being a good review and a confidence-booster. Ecce Romani has you working on translations from the very first chapter, which I know goes against the methodology of some Latin purists. For us, it works. We start each chapter by making cards for all the new vocabulary words and doing an oral translation of the new passage. The next day, we do a review of all the vocabulary cards in our stack, and my daughter copies out the Latin passage in her notebook, leaving space under each line for the translation, which she does the following day. We spend the rest of the week (and the following week, if we need it) doing the exercises in the book for that particular passage, and finish up with another oral reading and translation of the passage.

 

Literature/Grammar

We don’t do grammar as a separate subject anymore because, honestly, I think studying Latin is one of the best ways to learn English grammar.

This year, my daughter wanted to focus on poetry for literature. She’s been writing a lot of poetry and was curious about what made something a great poem rather than just a good poem. I rooted out my old high school copy of Perrine’s Sound and Sense, which I remembered helping make that difference click for me, and we’ve been working through it together. I think the book might be just a little advanced for her, so we’re just taking our time with it, and if something feels frustrating or too difficult, we’re comfortable just moving on to the next topic. She keeps a notebook where she copies down poetry she particularly likes and occasionally answers some of the questions in Perrine. (I don’t assign her questions to answer or anything — she just sometimes likes to answer them in writing.)

She’s an avid reader, and at this point, I let her read what she likes and don’t worry about it. (If we were doing more traditional literature this year, I’d probably assign her a few specific books to read. I let her assign me books, too.) In the past I’ve done things like reading bingo cards or scavenger hunts with book recommendations, but she doesn’t really need me pushing reading these days. I do still keep a notebook for her with a running reading list, and she’ll jot down titles and authors in it as she finishes them.

I also cruelly force my children to memorize and recite poetry every week or so, so my daughter has been choosing a lot of pieces from Perrine and from The Rattle Bag (edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes and probably my all-time favorite poetry anthology) for her recitations this year.

At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy's 1st grade

History

My daughter’s want-to-study list started with the history of fashion this year, so we kind of cobbled together some resources for that, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100 Dresses (a gorgeous compilation), What People Wore When (a bit dry but informative), lots of Dover fashion coloring books, and some intrepid Google-fu. We’ve had some great conversations about how fashion may have shaped women’s roles at different points in time. She keeps a notebook, where she sketches dresses and makes notes about the time period or construction details. If she’s inspired, my daughter sometimes tries to make a historically accurate-ish dress for her American Girl doll. She’s a decent sewist, but we often work off an existing pattern. Probably our most fun project this year thus far was making gigantic hoop skirts.

This is the last year my kids will be doing the four-year history cycle together. (Next year, my daughter and I will do state history, then start back over with the ancient world for 9th grade.) So we’re all studying medieval/Renaissance history this year. My daughter still likes to sit in on Story of the World readalouds with her little brother. I’m always impressed by how much she remembers! We use Medieval Europe: A Short Sourcebook by C. Warren Hollister as a spine of sorts. I like this book because it includes primary sources but makes them easier to swallow with detailed introductions that give lots of context. (We’ll do medieval history again in high school, and we may well use this book for that, too.) We’ve done history different ways — this year, we take turns “leading the discussion.” One week, I’ll read ahead and do a mini-lecture before we dive into conversation; the next week, she’ll do the reading and the mini-lecture. She keeps a notebook where she takes notes, jots down questions and rabbit trails she wants to come back to, and copies maps. (She loves drawing maps. This is not something she inherited from me.)

 

Math

I did something a little controversial with math and let my daughter take two years off from studying it. I know! But she just hated it so much — it stressed her out way more than any kid should have to be stressed out. So I told her we didn’t have to do any more math until she wanted to. She didn’t live in a math vacuum — she still halved recipes and figured out if she had enough money for new headphones and a Totoro plushie — but we didn’t do any structured math. This year, she said she wanted to try math again, so we eased in with Life of Fred Fractions, and it’s going great. She’s had no problem working on the assignments, and when she has run into problems she couldn’t easily solve, she’s been relaxed enough to try different approaches to solving them. I don’t know that I would say everyone should skip two years of math, but for us, it worked out better than I might have hoped. (I wondered, and you might, too, how skipping math would affect her test scores: It didn't. She scored well in math both of our math-free years. I'm not sure what that says about learning math, math standardized testing, or anything else, but I thought it was worth sharing!)

 

Science

We had a pretty intense chemistry class last year, so this year, we opted for fun science, and we’ve been making our way through Janice VanCleave’s Science Around the Year. My daughter is probably at the tippy-top of the age range I’d recommend this book for, but she’s really enjoyed it. It’s not the most challenging of our classes, but she’s getting good practice writing lab reports, and it’s a lot of fun. She also keeps a daily nature journal (she is our resident cloud-noticer!) and usually participates when we do activities from The Nature Connection workbook.

 

Etc.

My daughter does handwork pretty much every day — she’s a good knitter and enjoys sewing. She’s pretty self-directed with these things now, so I just let her take the reins. (She likes to watch Mythbusters while she’s working.) She likes to cook, and she’s trying to make all the recipes in Nigella’s How to Eat. She enjoys drawing — I’ve mentioned it before, but she has loved the Manga for Beginners series this year.

She also is part of a Destination Imagination team that meets every week (and which I love because all the other parents involved with the team are so fun to hang out with), and she takes a creative writing class at our homeschool group.

One thing that’s important to me is that my daughter not feel like learning happens in some kind of discrete compartment — I want her to feel like it’s just part of life, like making dinner or watching anime. I try to model this by making learning part of my own everyday life (maybe that’s easier when you edit a magazine that forces you to brush up on Napoleon or learn about the history of NASA), but I also try not to get too attached to getting things done at a certain pace (or even at all). I want my daughter to feel like her education is hers to direct, and I’m there to offer support, input, and direction when she needs it. We have monthly check-ins, where we sit down over tea to make sure things are going the way she wants them to and make any changes she thinks we need to make. (This year has gone pretty smoothly, which may be because we’ve started to figure out generally what works or which may just be because of luck.) One thing that’s been a big change this year is her schedule — my daughter has turned into a night owl, so she often doesn’t emerge from her bedroom until almost lunchtime. That’s fine with me, so we adjust accordingly. Like everyone, I worry “Am I doing too much? Am I doing enough?,” but my daughter genuinely likes learning, so I figure I’m at least doing something right.