Why is it so easy to hate England's notorious King John? Oh, let us count the ways in this trash-talking unit study.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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!)
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.
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.