A Native American history reading list for your middle grades homeschool, including fiction and nonfiction books.
Making the transition from elementary to middle school can feel intimidating, but try to see it as a dress rehearsal: Here’s where you lay the groundwork for high school and your child’s learning future, whether that includes heading off to college, mastering a trade, or starting her own business. These are the years when you’ll try lots of different materials, projects, and methods—go in knowing that some of them won’t work. You will fail sometimes, and it will be okay. If there is one overriding message for your middle school years—for you and for your tween—it’s that messing up is just part of the process.
By middle school, your child probably has mastered his educational basics. He can read. He can add and subtract, multiply and divide. He knows some history and some science. He can write a paragraph on a given subject. If you look at lists of what a 6th grader or a 7th grader needs to know, you won’t find a lot of traditional skills listed. Instead, you’ll find an emphasis on analysis: The middle school years are when knowledge takes on meaning—messy, open-to-interpretation meaning—and encouraging your child to question, analyze, and critique the world around him is one of the most supportive things you can do as a homeschooling parent. Here’s what to consider as your child moves into middle school:
Look for outside classes. The tween years are an optimal time for kids to test-drive different kinds of teaching styles and evaluation methods. Different teachers with different expectations give your child the opportunity to discover her strengths and weaknesses in a safe space—and that self-knowledge will play an important role in her future learning.
Don’t drop physical education. Even more than little kids, tweens need active time. Between ages 9 and 16, kids develop their lifelong attitudes toward exercise: Kids who get regular exercise now are more likely to exercise as adults. Regular exercise also gives kids a healthy way to cope with the emotional overload of adolescence and can develop the parts of the brain that help them learn—and remember what they’ve learned—more effectively.
Hand over the reins. If you haven’t already started giving your homeschooler decision-making power about what and how he studies, now’s the time. If you’re committed to covering certain subjects every year, stick with your plan—but let your tween weigh in on how you cover those subjects, and give him space to decide what outside classes or other interests he pursues. While you’re at it, hand your tween her own calendar, and let her start to handle scheduling her activities and keeping up with homework and deadlines. Let her practice keeping (and keeping up with) notes and materials for her classes. Yes, your child may muck up an assignment or miss a meeting, but she’ll be learning how to organize and manage her time while the stakes are still low.
COURSE OF STUDY
Be ready to nitpick everything because that’s where your tween’s academic inclinations will point him. Middle school is all about taking things apart and looking at them from different perspectives. Don’t be surprised if your child is quick to latch onto other perspectives, especially those of his friends.
Language arts: Steer your student toward the nonfiction section of the library. Biographies make a great starting point—the Childhood of Famous Americans series or the DK Biography series include a wide range of historical figures. Encourage tweens to look beyond the story in fiction, considering topics like character, setting, plot, and theme.
Middle school writers should start to practice the art of revision. A good writing book, like The Elements of Style or How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, can help this process, or consider a writing curriculum like Cover Story [Editor's Note: There are a few traces of religion in Cover Story, most notably in the section on conducting interviews, in which the example interview is one with a missionary in Sudan, and an occasional Bible verse as an example of sentence construction. Religious references aren't the only examples, and there's no proselytizing or anything like that, but you should be aware.] , which guides kids through several different types of non-fiction writing, or Moving Beyond the Page, which is a practical option for kids and parents who want step-by-step guidance.
Learning how to find, use, and correctly cite sources is important now, too. (The Purdue Online Writing Lab has a handy online guide to help cite sources—from personal interviews to webpages— correctly.) Research papers that combine original thinking and opinions with thoroughly researched information from a variety of sources are a key achievement of middle school language arts.
Math and science: Your tween will make the leap from memorizing facts to analyzing data during middle school. Expect him to get familiar with scientific notation, charts, and graphs, as well as tools like calculators, protractors, and compasses. In math, you’ll be moving beyond the basics into algebra and geometry, including solving lots of word problems, getting a grip on the concept of negative numbers, and figuring out fractions, decimals, and percentages. Often, this is when parents start to feel insecure about our ability to teach math—if you’d like a program that does the teaching for you, consider Teaching Textbooks, which delivers lessons via DVD, or an outside math class. (But keep in mind: a smart math curriculum can also give you back the math confidence your own middle and high school math classes may have taken away.)
In science class, break out the microscope and telescope to explore the micro- and macrocosm. Explore technology and how things work. Pandia Press R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Level 2 may be the best traditional middle school science curriculum out there, or take a literature-based approach with The Story of Science series.
History and social studies: If you haven’t already made current events part of your routine, get plugged in now. CNN 10 (formerly CNN Student News) makes a good check-it-every-day resource for keeping up with world events, and you can find in-depth ideas for exploring current news topics via The New York Times Learning Network.
Your middle schooler is also ready to dig into meatier issues, including social justice, environmental ethics, historical conflicts, and more. Trying to see historical events from different perspectives is a mind-expanding experience.
It’s been a challenge to find books that my 10-year-old son likes to read or listen to, but we have hit gold with the first book of a very long series: Redwall by Brian Jacques. It has everything that my son likes: nature (the characters are all animals), adventure, and rebellion (he is a Star Wars fan, after all).
Redwall is an ancient stone abbey, inhabited by peaceful mice that take care of and offer comfort to all the woodland creatures living in Mossflower—the forested area around the abbey. Unfortunately, an evil, one-eyed rat named Cluny and his followers are on their way to Redwall, aiming to conquer it and seize control of all of Mossflower. The mice of Redwall and their friends have to band together to save their home. Among them, a very special mouse named Mathias is on an epic journey to find the sword that belonged to Martin the Warrior, an ancient hero in Redwall history. He knows that if he can find this sword, he might be able to save Redwall.
This book is on one hand a classic story of good versus evil, but it’s also a very intelligent book. I love how unlikely characters are brought together and become friends in order to fight against injustice. Female characters take on key roles in the fight too. The author shows how pride, arrogance, and greed will eventually send a character to his or her doom. This is a book that as an adult, I enjoyed just as much as my son. We are now reading the second book in this series, Mossflower, and oh my, there are twenty more books after that! I’m pretty sure my son will want to read them all.
Between 5th grade and high school, your child will discover her passions and her own voice.
Provide plenty of physical outlets for your child’s energy. Organized teams, private lessons, or even a new bike can help set tweens on a healthy route toward adulthood.
Give your child plenty of freedom now so that he can learn to use it responsibly. Now is a good time to make mistakes.
Give your child lots of opportunities to express himself. Write papers, make movies, create petitions.
Set deadlines and goal without serious consequences. These are the years to teach your child how to follow through on a project or assignment, but you don’t want to create homeschool stress by setting the stakes too high.
Some days, your child will act like a toddler. Some days, he will act like he’s in college. This is normal.
Your child is navigating big emotional changes. Try not to take it personally.
Schedule plenty of time for hanging out with friends. Kids this age care about social relationships more than almost anything else.
Let your child set up and decorate her learning space however she wants.
Plan lots of hands-on projects and activities.
Take dance breaks.
Travel whenever you can, wherever you can.
Make rules together. Talk about them. Enforce them.
Try lots of different activities. See which ones stick.
Keep reading together.
Make time for volunteer work.
Be as patient with yourself as you are with your child — and vice versa.
Explore other options, like charter schools or private school, to see what they offer. You can borrow some of their good ideas.
Take more field trips. By high school, scheduling will be a challenge.
Focus on teaching your child how to learn, not on teaching her a set of facts to memorize.
You will have bad days. Move past them.
Take some personality tests — such as the Myers-Briggs test or an emotional intelligence test — together, and compare your results. Use the opportunity to get to know each other and the best ways to work together.
Keep a reading log. Looking back at it will remind you that you really are doing a good job.
Resist the urge to compare your kid’s progress to anyone else’s.
Listen to your child’s favorite music in the car.
Take the day off sometimes, just because you can.
Hug your child every chance you get. These years will fly by.
This list is adapted from a feature in the summer 2015 issue of HSL.
Lewis Carroll. Thomas Pynchon. David Foster Wallace. They’re best known now as writers, but all of them started out as mathematicians — a fact that delightfully dismantles a piece of the divide between “math people” and “book people.”
In fact, math and literature have more in common than you might realize. One of the first novels about math was written more than a century ago. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott, published in 1184, is both an exploration of the nature of geometry and dimensions and a satirical analysis of Victorian social structure. Abbott’s story — about a Square whose world view expands when he meets a Sphere from three-dimensional Spaceland — inspired several similar works, including Flatterland by Ian Stewart and The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster.
Bloomsbury offered a $1 million prize to the first person who could prove Goldbach’s Conjecture within two years of the publication of Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, a novel by the Greek writer and mathematician Apostolos Doxiadis. No one claimed the prize, which is no real surprise since the life-shaking difficulty of the conjecture (which postulates that every even number is the sum of two primes) and its affect on one mathematician’s life is one of the key points of the book.
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series posits a system of mathematical sociology that can predict the future. Mathematical sociology — also called psychohistory — works a little like economics and can only be used to predict large-scale events. Thanks to mathematical sociology, the mathematician Hari Seldon is able to predict the collapse of the Galactic Empire and the Dark Ages that will follow it — and to safeguard human culture and scientific achievement.
In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, former math prodigy Colin Singleton is obsessed with proving his theorem, a formula that predicts which of two members of a romantic relationship will be the one to end the relationship. Colin grapples with the challenge that confronts many kids whose early giftedness does not clearly manifest itself as genius as they get older and with the mathematical mindset that failure is just as likely — and ultimately just as important — as success when it comes to proving mathematical theories. Similarly, the autistic narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime uses mathematics to make sense of his world. But making sense doesn’t mean making simple, as Christopher explains in one chapter-long rumination on the Monty Hall program, a probability logic puzzle that baffles even some professional mathematicians.
Colin Adams — you may know him from the Mathematically Bent column in the Mathematical Intelligencer (and if you don’t, perhaps you should) — has collected some of his funniest math stories in Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories. In “The Deprogrammer’s Tale,” families seek help from a professional when their children are tempted to major in mathematics. In “A Killer Theorem,” a detective investigates a series of murders committed via an irresistible proof method for an unsolvable theorem.
This list is excerpted from an article in the winter 2015 issue of HSL.
Now that my daughter is in middle school, I want to start giving her real grades on her essays and papers—but I am really not sure how to decide whether an essay should get an A, B, or C. Do you have any tips?
You can make yourself crazy trying to grade essays because there are so many possible components to consider. So make it easy on yourself, and determine the purpose of your essay upfront: Is your essay an analysis of a story? Then your grading should focus on how successfully your student analyzes the story. Is your paper a traditional research paper? Then your grade should focus on how well-researched and organized the paper actually is. This does mean that you’ll be mentally shifting gears with each essay assignment, but that’s really the key to thoughtful essay grading. Beyond that, here are some practical tips for grading essays that will help keep your grading consistent and helpful for your student:
Know what makes a good essay. It seems dorky to write a rubric for a single student, but you really should. Write down what differentiates an A paper (all sentences are well constructed and vary in length and structure) from a B paper (most sentences are well constructed and vary in length and structure) from a C paper (most sentences are well constructed but have similar structure and length). If you’re new to rubric-writing (and most homeschoolers are), this example from readwritethink.org is a good starting point that you can tweak as you go.
Let your student know your method. Say “For this book report, I’m going to be looking mostly at how well you explain the strengths and weaknesses of the book. You can use the plot to help support your argument, but you don’t need to summarize the plot for me.” If you make a rubric for grading essays, you should definitely share it with your student.
Don’t play copyeditor. Your job isn’t to correct every misspelling and grammatical gaffe in your student’s paper—this isn’t a manuscript, and you aren’t an editor. Pick two or three grammatical concepts to focus on per paper (using quotes correctly, for example, or including citations appropriately), and limit your red-penning to these specific concepts. Look for patterns rather than specific instances—it’s more helpful to say, “I notice that you’re having trouble trying to squeeze too much information into one sentence, and you’re ending up with a lot of run-ons and hard-to-read sentences” than to mark up every awkward sentence. If your student seems to be backsliding on a grammatical or structural issue that should already be old hat, return his paper and ask him to do the grammatical revisions before returning the paper to you. (“It looks like you didn’t break this essay up into paragraphs—why don’t you fix that before I grade it?”)
Look for things the writer is doing well. I think you should always try to point out two things your writer is doing successfully in a paper, even if they feel like small or unexceptional things to you. It’s not that you want to cast faint praise or give a participation ribbon to your kid, but young writers need to know what they are getting right as well as where they can improve.
This Q&A was originally published in the winter 2016 issue of HSL.
As the mom of three budding young scientists, each time I open one of Ellen McHenry’s popular books for homeschoolers, I grow more excited. Writing for children ages 8 to 14, McHenry introduces areas of science often deemed too advanced for young students—chemistry, botany, and neurology to name just a few. McHenry recognizes what many homeschoolers quickly come to realize—this science stuff is too much fun to put off till high school!
The Brain, An Introduction to Neurology is one of McHenry’s earlier texts. Although it lacks the colorful content of her more recent works, this is not a resource that you will want to miss. The author is also an illustrator and her black and white sketches are as detailed and informative as the text that they accompany. The result is a superbly balanced layout that succeeds in providing detailed information for older learners, and avoids overwhelming younger readers with text-heavy material.
A reproducible student booklet, a teacher guide and answer key, and a CD rom are the cornerstones of this resource. They come packaged together.
The student booklet is 10 chapters. Topics include a history of brain research, brain anatomy, brain cells, learning and memory, and a look at various brain disorders. Each chapter is divided into two sections. The first section introduces a new topic and is followed by several activities that reinforce new concepts. Wide-ranging activities include viewing videos online, reading additional materials, cross word puzzles, mapping parts of the brain, word searches and more.
The second section of each chapter was developed for more advanced learners or for anyone wishing to delve a little deeper. Additional activities, similar to those found in section 1, follow. Your family may choose to do all of these advanced sections, or you may pick and choose those that most appeal to your child. An answer key for both sections is also included.
The student booklet is followed by the teacher’s section, which opens with a list of recommendations for additional neurology books and websites. From here, McHenry provides unique activity suggestions to accompany each chapter. As one who is forever perusing Pinterest and homeschooling blogs for innovative science projects, I’m certain that McHenry has among the most original ideas out there. Do an MRI of an orange, make a hemisphere hat, memory games and neuron art are just some of the project ideas she includes in the teacher’s section of this book. These activities require minimal materials and prep time. Many of the activities, such as making a human neuronal network, would lend themselves nicely to a co-op setting.
The accompanying CD contains a vocal and instrumental version of “The Brain Song,” to cement the brain’s different functions in the minds of your students. This disc also provides a copy of the student booklet making it easy to produce copies for multiple siblings or co-op students.
McHenry’s books are an ideal resource for groups containing multi-age learners. The Brain contains interesting readings and informative diagrams that are paired with hands-on interactive projects. McHenry’s work is likely to appeal both to academic, bookish learners as well as to active, kinesthetic learners. There is plenty of room for flexibility with this program, however it is realistic to assume one could work their way through all of the material in 10 weeks’ time.
The Brain is available for sale on McHenry’s website. The paperback version is $17.95, and the digital download is $14.95. While you are there, check out all of the free resources McHenry shares with her readers. It is an informative website with lots of great ideas to make your lesson planning tons more fun. The Brain is available at other online bookstores as well.
McHenry’s writing is succinct, engaging, and easy to follow. She has a gift for providing substantive information with a comprehensible delivery. Potentially daunting subject matter, in McHenry’s hands, quickly becomes accessible, relevant and loads of fun.
For more information about Ellen McHenry’s work, see the spring issue 2016 of home/school/life magazine for my review of her book, The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe.
Another school year is about to begin. I can’t wait! For the first time, all three of my children will be homeschooling together. Like many of you, I’m contemplating how to best address my kids’ individual learning styles and interests without breaking the bank buying curriculum. I also know that the lessons and projects we enjoy most tend to be those that we work on together as a family. Both of these factors point to unit studies as an option worth considering.
Unit studies are a series of activities organized around one theme. Homeschoolers can design their own unit studies or save time by choosing from the enormous range of options that can be purchased.
For those buying unit studies, the Layers of Learning program may be just what you are looking for. Authors Michelle Copher and Karen Loutzenhiser have created a series of unit studies focusing on history, geography, science, and the arts. Their program is designed for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Year One begins in Mesopotamia and ends with a look at the Roman Empire. Year Two continues from the Medieval Period (400 AD) to the Renaissance. Throughout Year Three, students focus on the Age of Exploration and the Colonial period. Year Four, still in development, will focus specifically on the past 200 years. According to the website, it will be completed this year.
Here’s how it works. Regardless of age, students begin with Year 1 Unit 1. Each unit takes approximately two weeks to complete and contains a wide range of activities and suggested book titles. Students simple pursue the topics, projects, and readings that are of greatest interest. It takes four years to cycle through these materials once. Upon completing the cycle, students return to Year 1 Unit 1 moving on to some of the more challenging materials included in the unit. In other words, students who begin Layers of Learning as first graders would go on to cycle through the full program 2 more times.
For this review, I looked at the year two-unit one Layers of Learning guide, which focuses on Byzantines, Turkey, Climate and Seasons, and Byzantine Art. Jam packed with maps, art, and other eye catching visuals, the unit’s pages are not overly text heavy. Throughout the program, additional information is provided in a series of sidebars with headings like “Fabulous Facts” and “Additional Layer.” The “Teacher Tips” provided in the margins are relevant and helpful. “Writing Workshop" boxes contain writing prompts that will appeal to a wide range of age.
A booklist with recommended readings connected to the unit’s theme is also included. These book suggestions are grouped for readers in grades 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12.
Layers of Learning has something for everyone. Each unit includes hands-on activities, creative writing projects, science experiments, and art projects that can be adapted to suit a variety of ages and learning styles.
In the unit that I reviewed, in order to better organize and assimilate information, students are encouraged to reference a Byzantine timeline. Thoughtful points for discussion are provided and include questions such as “Do you think there should be a state church or state religion? What are the pros and cons of religion mingled with government?” There is an opportunity to play a traditional Byzantine board game, make Byzantine clothing, and to work on Venn diagrams while exploring the similarities and differences between the Romans and Byzantines.
The geography section of this unit features hands-on map work, a look at Turkish sports, and the opportunity to prepare a Turkish feast, as well as sections on the Turkish flag.
Opportunities to make a sundial, keep a weather log, and examine the greenhouse effect are just a sampling of the concepts explored in the science section of this unit. Many of the projects are hands-on and will especially appeal to younger learners.
A study of Byzantine era art is the perfect launch for a study of mosaics, gold leafing, and embroidery. The authors provide innovative project ideas to cultivate appreciation and understanding of these traditional arts.
Layers of Learning is a fun and flexible program that can simplify the process of teaching multiple ages. It would work equally well with one child. Families may find working through each of the four-year cycles works best for their situation. However, single units, which can be purchased separately, could also be used as a standalone unit or to supplement another curriculum.
Visit Layers of Learning’s website to purchase PDF downloads of all available units. These downloads can be ordered separately for $4.99 or in bundles for $78.80. Hardcopy versions are also available from selected retailers listed on the website.
With the new school year comes inevitable change. Whether you are introducing your new kindergartener to the wonderful world of homeschooling, watching your homeschool grow smaller as older children leave the nest, or find yourself somewhere in between, best wishes for the year ahead. I hope you find curriculum that sparks wonder and curiosity, makes your workload lighter, and most of all brings joy.
Editor's Note: Rebecca's review focuses on the medieval year, which includes secular science, but we've discovered that some of the Layers of Learning curricula include problematic "neutral science." Because of this, we do not recommend using Layers of Learning for your science curriculum. —Amy
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 8th 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 8th grader. (You can see what 7th grade looked like for us here.)
If I had to sum up 8th grade in one word, it would be “transitional.” We did a lot of learning and had a lot of fun, but we also spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the transition from middle school to high school. My daughter is opting to homeschool through high school, which thrills and panics me, but I wanted to make sure that whatever she wanted to do, she was prepared. So we spent this year working on skills that don’t always come up in homeschool environments but that are important for higher-level learning. I’ve mentioned note-taking, which is essential for lecture-based classes that she’s bound to run into at some point. We’ve also slowly shifted responsibility for deadlines to her shoulders. Homeschooling tends to be open-ended for us, which means projects get done when they feel done—which can be a couple of hours or a couple of years or never. This year, though, I made a point of giving my daughter due dates for some things and letting her keep up with them. We’ve talked a lot about due dates for things like research papers, where you’re really excited and just want to keep going and going but have to figure out a logical stopping point in order to get it done on time. My daughter also found that having a deadline made her second-guess herself—she’d wrap up a perfectly good project well in advance of the deadline and start to worry that she hadn’t put enough time or effort into doing it—shouldn’t it take her until the deadline to complete the project?
We’ve also started experimenting with grade feedback. I am not a fan of grading—honestly, a lot of things we do in our homeschool defy traditional grading, and I really like that fact. But at some point, we’re going to have to pull together a transcript, and while I think the pass/fail solution would be ideal, it doesn’t always work well for GPAs if you want to go to a more competitive school. So we’re playing with grades. I don’t give her grades in subjects like math, where it’s easy to see from how many problems you got right how you’re doing with a particular concept. I try to give input in the more nebulous areas, like history essay questions, where I can say, “This answer is good, but I would probably give it a B—it would be an A if you’d gone on to explain why the Treaty of Indian Springs was so controversial instead of just telling me that it was a controversial treaty.” Interestingly, I was all stressed out about the idea of grades, but my daughter doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.
As far as what we studied, here’s what we used:
Eighth grade was our year to study state history. We used the free online textbook Georgia: Its Heritage and Promise, which did an impressive job of making a pretty fascinating subject almost completely boring, but it was a good spine. We read a lot of supplementary books together and—once I was mobile again—took a lot of field trips. A few years ago, we did a study of women in Georgia history, so it was fun to revisit some of those figures again from a slightly different perspective.
My daughter kept a notebook, which she filled with facts, thoughts, sketches, taped-in photos, and other notes from our studies. Every few weeks, we’d come up with a big-picture question for each other: How was Georgia different from the other twelve original colonies? What was Reconstruction like for people living in Georgia? We’d answer each other’s questions and chat about what else we might have included or any particularly good points someone made. (I like writing essays, which not everyone does, obviously, but we had a lot of fun working on these together.)
Our last year of Latin (sigh) was a continuation of what we’ve always done: We used Ecce Romani (though we jumped to books 3 and 4 this year) and did vocabulary cards, translation, and exercises for each chapter. Latin is the place where my daughter learns most of her English grammar, and that was true this year, too. If my daughter wanted to continue, she’d definitely be well-prepared for more advanced Latin next year.
We tackled Life of Fred Prealgebra with Biology this year, but it was slow-going. I feel like I’m not very good at teaching math—I know my one way to solve the problem, but I’m not good at explaining how to do it or helping someone find another way that works better for her. We made it through, but it was definitely harder than it needed to be for both of us—I’m really glad Jason is here to take over math for high school.
We read a lot of books that tied into our Georgia history study (Some of our favorites included Juliet Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, Cold Sassy Tree, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.). We also thought this would be a good year to explore an author’s complete body of work, so—like many people—we focused on Jane Austen, working our way up from Love and Friendship through Persuasion. (We didn’t read the unfinished Sandition.) For me, this was really fun—I love Austen and all those lovely Austen film adaptations—and my daughter really enjoyed it, too. She worked on a big paper over the course of the year about mean girls in Jane Austen, which turned out to be very interesting. I loved seeing it develop over the course of the year—as she read more and thought more, her ideas got deeper and more nuanced. It was very cool to watch.
We used The Story of Science this year, and we loved it. I found The Story of Science through Rebecca’s review (thanks, Rebecca!), and it was the perfect combination of readaloud and hands-on for us. I wish we’d discovered it sooner because I would have loved to use this series throughout middle school. I didn’t get the student workbook—my daughter usually just keeps a notebook for classes—but I did get the teacher’s guide so that I could have the lab instructions.
My daughter was the copy chief for her creative writing class’s magazine—though all the stories came in so close to deadline that she didn’t get to do as much actual copyediting as she was hoping. She took the class at our local homeschool group.
My daughter also got really adventurous with her cooking this year, inspired, perhaps, by our obsessive viewing of The Great British Bake-Off. She continued her knitting and sewing, having a brief fling with cross-stitching followed by a return to plushie making. She practiced her piano and guitar (almost) every day, did nature walks and kept a nature journal (not daily) with me and her brother. She wrote and illustrated comic books, got really interested in Maria Mitchell (the astronomer), and made all her own beauty products. (Her bathroom smells really good.) Sometimes these interests superseded “regular academics,” and that’s always perfectly fine in our house. Sometimes, she just wanted to read all day or had a shiny new video game that had to be played immediately and obsessively, and so that’s what she did. She really loves reading aloud and doing all the different voices, so I’ll often find her in her little brother’s room, reading to him. To me, all of this is part of homeschooling—as much as math or history or science.
Our schedule was hard to find a rhythm for this year, but eventually we fell into a routine that worked. Some of that difficulty might be because of my injury through the fall, which made everything kind of janky, but I think a lot of it was because we were trying lots of new things and it took a while to find the ones that worked and to get the hang of some of our new patterns. In some ways, our routine was the same as always: My daughter gets up when she gets up (later and later every year!), we do our structured work together after she has breakfast, then she does her independent work and whatever else she wants during the day and evening. (It’s weird to go in her room to say good night and see her sprawled on the bed at 11 p.m. writing essays or doing math problems, but that seems to be her prime creative thinking time.) But it was hard for us to find a balance that felt like the right mix of hey-we’re-learning-stuff and hey-this-is-fun, and I’m really glad we decided to tackle that challenge this year instead of waiting until 9th grade. I feel like this year has helped us know better what we’re doing as we move into high school.
As far as testing goes, we went ahead and did the PSAT this year—I signed her up to take it at our neighborhood high school, and while dropping her off at that cafeteria all by herself was both heart-wrenching and terrifying, she did just fine—on the test and in the strange environment. (I’ve done testing at home every year since Suzanne suggested it, and while I tend to think testing is annoying and not at all representative of what someone knows, I think Suzanne was right that just doing it every year takes the anxiety right out of it for prone-to-test-panic kids like my daughter and gives them practice sitting for so long without being able to take a break.)
Writing all this up is kind of reassuring because this year felt particularly hard, like trying to find my way through an unfamiliar terrain in the dark without a map. But looking back, I think we did a good job—we shifted some of the big pieces in our homeschool, but we were able to do in ways that let us keep the things we love about homeschooling. I guess transitions always feel messy and uncertain while they are happening. And, of course, when I asked my daughter how she thought this year had gone, she grinned her adorable grin and said “Great!” So that’s all right.
We’re so excited about our new online classes, and we thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peek at what’s on the lineup for this summer. Today, Rebecca shares her plan for the Art of Wildcrafting—a really cool class that will let kids get hands on with identifying and using herbs.
What Is Your Class About?
Wildcrafting is the term used to describe the harvesting of wild plants for culinary or medicinal purposes. The main focus of this course is on identifying, harvesting and using herbs found in natural settings.
What Will Students Learn?
This class will be highly interactive with weekly opportunities to practice new skills through home-based projects. Students will be encouraged to share their results with the class. Together we will:
- explore the history of wildcrafting and the work of contemporary wildcrafters.
- discuss elementary botanical terms and concepts.
- use a plant identification book.
- consider sustainable methods used to harvest and process herbs.
- practice storing herbs.
- cook with herbs.
- prepare herbal infusions and decoctions.
- consider plant conservation.
What Is Your Favorite Thing About Teaching This Class?
Wildcrafting is such a fun and meaningful way to connect with the natural world. It’s exciting to discover that our humble backyard weeds actually have medicinal properties or taste great in soup! I love watching students’ excitement as their understanding of nature’s resources grows deeper.
Why Did You Decide To Teach This Class?
Summer is the perfect time to experience nature in important new ways. Wildcrafting gets us outdoors, slows us down and helps us to look more carefully at our surroundings. In doing so, young people gain an understanding of their place in the natural world and are more likely to become stewards of the environment. It’s a privilege to help introduce young people to the joy and rewards of wildcrafting.
Looking to add a little more critical thinking to your homeschool life this summer? We’ve got the scoop on some useful resources, from online games to full-blown curriculum, that will help you out.
nature study: What's At Stake? #18
Turn your next geocaching adventure into a test of logic. (You don’t have to be in Pennsylvania to play, but if you like the idea of playing closer to home, why not create and submit your own geocaching logic puzzle?)
board game: WFF’n’PROOF
Lots of games teach critical thinking skills, but this board game was developed specifically to introduce students to the fundamentals of symbolic logic.
computer game: FTL: Faster Than Light
Your goal in FTL is always the same: deliver an important message to the Federation without getting captured or stalled by ship malfunctions along the way. But thanks to a pretty darn sophisticated game matrix, this 2-D game never plays the same way twice. Every decision you make, from quests you agree to take on to what upgrades you give your spaceship, affects your gameplay. This is a game that rewards thoughtful, intelligent playing over shoot-and-run-as-fast-as-you-can strategies.
book: What Is the Name of This Book?: The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles
Add mathematician and logician Raymond M. Smullyan’s puzzle labyrinth to your summer reading list, and your brain will get a serious workout. (The book includes solutions—with detailed explanations.)
workbook: Mind Benders
I know! We never recommend workbooks. But this series (with books for ages from preschool through high school) encourages to students to deduce increasingly sophisticated connections between people, places, and things to solve puzzles. It’s pretty awesome.
curriculum: Building Thinking Skills
It’s easy to find critical thinking resources for younger kids, and by high school, students are ready to tackle inductive and deductive logic—but what about middle school? The Critical Thinking Co.’s Building Thinking Skills curriculum is the perfect critical thinking resource for this in-between age.
class: How to Think Like a Philosopher
The University of Hawai’s’s Philosophy for Children program developed a toolkit to help kids break down big ideas by looking at some of the assumptions, implications, examples, and reasons behind them. Shelly Denkinger uses the toolkit as a basis for exploring everything from pop culture to Plato in this five-week class for high school students. It’s a great first step to more in-depth philosophy studies.
I teach a creative writing class at our homeschool group. It’s one of the best parts of my week because the class always comes together like an explosion of creativity. (Also all my students are just fantastic humans.) I’ve been lucky to watch the students I’ve taught get accepted to college, find professional writing jobs, and even go from mumbling that they hate to write to telling everyone that writing is their favorite class. I like to think that my students have picked up some knowledge over the years, but the truth is, I’ve probably learned more than they have—and all these lessons have proven helpful in helping my own kids to be better, more engaged writers.
- It’s smart to go back to basics. The first time my class turned in a story assignment, I realized that some of them had never turned in a written assignment before: No one wrote names on papers, and some kids wrote on the back side of the paper instead of the front. Obviously that’s no big deal in a class like mine, but I made a mental note that I wanted to be sure to talk to my daughter about how to set up a paper that she’s turning in to someone else.
- Deadlines are your friend. My first class, I didn’t want to risk curbing creativity by being hard-core about deadlines and encouraged kids to submit work on their own timeline. But I realized that my writers did better when they had a firm deadline—otherwise, like me, they would just keep poking and poking at a piece until long past its best-by date. Setting deadlines gave them permission to finish a story and call it done-for-now. I still believe writer’s block is a legitimate excuse to miss an assignment, but now I set lots of deadlines and students consistently rise to them.
- Spelling and grammar are easy to fix. I don’t worry much about about grammar and spelling in creative writing—that’s not really the point—but I do mark recurring errors in spelling or grammar, no more than two or three per story. And you know what? Probably 80 percent of the time, students don’t ever repeat an error after I mark it once.
- Good writing does not only happen on the page. When I was planning my class, I envisioned kids bent over their notepads, the sound of their furiously scratching pencils echoing through the room. Instead, I found myself surrounded by non-stop conversation. (I even attained a dubious level of fame for having the loudest class in our group.) But I soon realized that all these conversations—even the ones that seemed the most off-track—found their way back into what the students were writing—and their work was better because of them. Lesson learned: Creativity doesn’t have to happen in vacuum.
- You cannot give too much positive feedback. My students like to tease me about all the little green comments I leave on their work. (Also about my obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that’s another story.) When I was a teenager, my papers would usually come back with As scrawled on the top and sometimes “nice work” or “good job.” But I wanted more feedback—I wanted to know where my word choice had been spot-on and where my arguments had been particularly strong. I wondered if my teacher had caught my allusions or gotten the joke I’d tried to make in my conclusion. So I mark up papers with that memory in mind, making a point to note great sentences, smart ideas, and interesting constructions. If I think there’s a place where something could be stronger, I definitely note that, too, but the majority of my notes focus on what the writer is doing right—which is usually a lot.
I talk with a lot of homeschooling families – it’s one of my favorite pastimes! A reoccurring concern among many is a shortage of comprehensive history curricula.
More than many other subjects, history typically requires home educators to scramble unaided to scour libraries, bookstores, yard sales, and the internet for engaging works. Piecemeal-ing a course of study only to find selected titles that are cost-prohibitive, out of print, subjective, or, worst of all, boring is a time-consuming disappointment.
If you can relate to the scenario described above, I’ve got some good news for you; it is Pandia Press, a producer of secular history curricula created with home educators in mind.
The History Odyssey series combines a classical approach to teaching with a thoughtful reading list and hands-on activities for grades 1 through 12. The classical method expects that students will cycle through a study of historical periods three times throughout their education. With this in mind, Pandia’s curriculum provides three levels: Level One, for grades 1-4, Level Two, for grades 5-8, and Level Three, for grades 9-12. Each level provides four programs lasting one year apiece; they are Ancients, Middle Ages, Early Modern, and Modern Times. If a student were to start with this program in grade one, completing the entire twelve-year program employing the classical method, she would revisit each history section three times.
For this review I looked at the ebook version of History Odyssey Ancients, Level One, which is a look at world history from 6000 BCE to 500 CE. A hard copy edition of this work is also available; however it is not a bound book; rather, it’s a set of loose leaf papers, which for some might be disappointing.
History Odyssey is not a textbook but rather a guide. Think of it like this—your closest homeschooler friend, the organized, well-read mother you so admire, mentions what a great year of history studies her family has enjoyed. She tells you this is thanks to all of the great resources she managed to glean from hours of exhaustive research. She happens to have recorded all of the details in a digestible, comprehensive format and over of cup of coffee she offers to share it all with you—this is what it’s like to thumb through the pages of this guide.
Each chapter of this guide is a complete week-long lesson plan organized and presented in a straightforward fashion that harried home educators will appreciate. An instructor’s prep list, a lesson plan chock-full of readings, map work, writing assignments and project ideas, and animpressive reading list are all provided.
Elementary level guides are for use with children 6 to 10 years old. Understanding that the range of skill sets in this age range varies dramatically, the author provides lesson ideas that can be easily adapted to suit the needs of individual students.
As there may be more suggested readings and project ideas than a family could complete comfortably in a year’s time, there is no need to acquire all of the suggested resources in advance. Take time to gauge your child’s level of interest and select the resources that will be most appealing. The author acknowledges that families will choose to approach these materials in number of different ways; for this reason she has designed flexible lesson plans that can be modified accordingly.
History Odyssey is not a canned curriculum, and parental involvement is required; however, I’m pretty certain you’ll enjoy the process. Along with overseeing lessons, time enough to locate all of the books and project materials referenced is also required. The good news here is that these titles are generally easy to come by at libraries and online. This guide also eliminates countless hours one might spend trying to identify history’s most important themes and organizes them in a linear, practical manner.
Secular and religious homeschoolers are likely to feel equally at home with History Odyssey’s respectful approach to world religions.
Kinesthetic learners who learn best through movement and hands-on activities may not find this curriculum is a fit. Although there are opportunities for projects and map activities, History Odyssey is primarily a book-focused curriculum that entails a great deal of reading and listening.
History Odyssey is bit pricey. At $46 for a loose leaf series of pages and $37.99 for the e-Book, you’ll want to be certain your library can provide the bulk of required reading materials.
A unique program, History Odyssey makes wearisome, lifeless textbooks a thing of the past. Children for whom this program is suited will enjoy tremendously the compelling stories of people, places and customs of the long ago past. Parents who know the labor involved in compiling resource lists such as these, will be deeply appreciative of the time they’ll save using this guide; they’ll be equally impressed with the quality of resources explored.
Have you had a hard time finding a good, up-to-date, well-researched resource for your homeschool history studies?
I wanted to let you know that my husband, Dr. George Pabis, Ph.D., has created History for Homeschoolers, a FREE website with audio lectures that he uses as a part of his U.S. and World History college courses.
What qualifies my husband to teach history to homeschoolers? He is a trained historian with a Master’s degree in Russian history and a Ph.D. in American History. He has written many book chapters, book reviews, and scholarly articles in environmental and engineering history, and he wrote the book Daily Life Along the Mississippi. He has been teaching history at the college level for over 18 years.
In other words, he’s not just a history enthusiast or journalist writing about history, he’s a real scholar.
For the last three years, he has been teaching online, so he’s been creating audio lectures, and his students have given him positive feedback on them. We think middle school children and up could probably follow the audio lectures on their own, and parents who are teaching younger children might find it an easy way to brush up on their history.
After all the audio lectures are uploaded (U.S. History is complete, and he’s adding a new lecture to World History each week), Dr. Pabis is going to add other resources to the site that will help you continue with your exploration of the past, such as key terms; suggested videos, books and reputable websites; photographs and more. You can follow the site’s blog, What’s New, to receive notices when something is added to the site.
This is a long-term, ongoing project, and over time, we hope to make the site very robust, but even now, just the audio lectures are enough to give you a complete course in both U.S. and World History. We hope you will enjoy it and let us know, if it works for you.
I am the site’s Webmaster, so if you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments below.