the nature connection

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.


9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

Add a little oomph to your sunny days homeschool with these spring extras, designed to make learning (almost!) as much fun as the prospect of playing outside.

At Home with the Editors: Amy’s Homeschool (1st Grade)

At Home with the Editors: Amy's 1st 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!

dots.jpg

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 1st grader.

The spine of our curriculum is Oak Meadow’s first grade program, which we use for language arts, social studies, art, and science. For these early grades, I really wanted something that would encourage him to try different things without worrying about whether there was a right answer. I like the way Oak Meadow emphasizes observation and imagination, and I love flipping back through his main lesson books (we have one for science and one for everything else) as the year progresses.

For history, we use Story of the World, which we do as a readaloud. While I read, he’ll draw a picture in his main lesson book related to the topic at hand — the Vikings and samurai were his favorites this year. We spend a little time discussing previous chapters at the beginning of every lesson, but I don’t expect him to remember everything. At this age, for me, it’s really about introducing him to important names and events. (My daughter often joins us for the readaloud — she still loves Story of the World.)

We use Miquon Math, which my son adores, for his math. We usually do a few pages in his book every day together, and he may keep going and do several more pages on his own. I let him set his own pace, though every once in a while, if I notice that he’s making a lot of simple mistakes, I encourage him to slow down. It took me a little while to get the hang of Miquon’s method — this is definitely a program where you will want to read the teacher’s manual in advance — but it’s proven to be a great fit for us. I wish the program continued through high school!

Oak Meadow’s science emphasizes nature study, but we also use The Nature Connection workbook and keep a daily nature journal. Usually, we stick to our backyard for journaling, but every once in a while, we’ll hike along the river or hit a nature center for a change of pace.

We started the year with BOB books, and now we’re powering through the Magic Treehouse series. My son was a pretty reluctant reader — maybe partly because he has a big sister who will pretty much always read him anything he wants — and it was really hard for me not to push him to read because books have always been such a big part of my own life. But I learned with his sister that pushing anything is the fastest way to make a kid avoid it, so I bit my tongue, and this year, he did start reading on his own. (I think it was mainly because he wanted to be able to play Pokemon without assistance, but I’ll take it!)

A lot of our literature comes from readalouds still, which we do a chapter or two at a time each day. We usually start the day cuddled up with a book. I keep a little notebook for each kid with a running list of what we read each year. This year, we’ve averaged about two and a half books a month, including Detectives in Togas, Henry Reed, Inc., The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Fablehaven, and The Island of the Aunts.

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

We use Oak Meadow’s crafts book and art lessons. I am not a naturally artsy person, so having the projects be both open-ended and spelled-out for me is great. (I highly recommend Oak Meadow's art and craft materials for non-crafty parents.) My son has really enjoyed finger-knitting, sewing, soap-carving, and making pinch pots. We are always done with lessons by lunch, so we take a few hours in the early afternoon for project-making.

On Thursdays, he takes a Philosophy for Kids class at our homeschool group, where he works on logic puzzles and discusses things like “Should you get everything you want?” and “What assumptions do you have about candy?” He really enjoys the class — this is the second year he’s taken it.

We also memorize a poem every week (or two, if it’s a tricky or longish poem) for Friday recitations. My son has been using the 20th Century Children’s Poetry Anthology (edited by Jack Prelutsky) for most of his poems this year. I think memorizing and reciting poetry is a highly underrated activity, and I frequently annoy my children by loudly and dramatically reciting poems when we are stuck in traffic.

We’ve also been cooking and reading our way through Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen. Every chapter has a Jewish folktale and traditional recipe, so we get in a little culture and cooking practice.

Writing it all down, this seems like a lot, but we’re pretty relaxed about all of it. If my son complains that he doesn’t want to do anything school-y one day, I don’t push. He’s always free to take the day off to do something else, but he usually opts to do a little work every day. (In fact, on days when I am running late, he’ll often come into my office with a stack of books, asking me when I will be ready for school.) I don’t want him to feel like learning is something you only do when you’re “doing school.”


10 Things We Loved in October

Our favorite homeschool books, links, tools, and resources

Instead of just talking about books, I thought I'd do a little round-up of all the things we've been loving in our homeschool life this past month. (Feel free to share yours in the comments!)

1 :: Cold weather makes me want to knit, and I've been churning out new hats for the whole family. We all have a new Ripley to keep our heads warm. (I love patterns like this, that are utterly simple but have a little twist that makes them seem more complicated than they are.)

2 :: I have become addicted to Fallen London. So much so that my kids have started explaining it as "like Minecraft, for mamas." I blame Suzanne.

3 :: This fall, my best friend and I both celebrated milestone birthdays, and we've been cheering each other up by making mixtapes with Dar Williams' "You're Aging Well" on them. Because, darn it, we are.

4 :: Much reading, of course, is happening. We read The Beasts of Clawstone Castle as our not-at-all-scary Halloween readaloud, and we're still working our way through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn together. I'm putting together a creative nonfiction class for our homeschool group, so I've been reading a lot about writing, including Several Short Sentences About Writing, which I picked up when Patricia recommended it a few years ago and am just getting around to reading. We've also had a lot of fun putting together the skeletons from Excavate! Dinosaurs: Paper Toy Paleontology.

5 :: Do you know about DIY Scouts? We are kind of obsessed with it.

6 :: My friend Stephanie turned me onto this hilarious site that imagines how literary figures might order their drinks at Starbucks. The Hemingway one made me laugh out loud.

7 :: I've been stocking the freezer with heat-and-heat meals for the upcoming holiday crunch. (I actually like cooking, but some days, the prospect of making dinner makes me want to hide in the basement.) So we've been having easy-ish dinners, like quinoa-stuffed sweet potatoes (I often add bacon because, well, bacon) and baked avocado and egg with miso butter.

8 :: I am officially a rabid fan of bullet journals. I have never been able to find a calendar/planner that really worked for me, but I have been using the bullet journal method (with this little Moleskine because I buy them in bulk, but you could really use any notebook) for six months and can't believe how well it works with my life.

9 :: We are really enjoying using The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms by Clare Walker Leslie. I am not a naturally outdoorsy kind of person, and the whole nature study thing sometimes feels overwhelming to me. I like the simple, practical suggestions this book has for studying nature with your kids, and I love that it's helped us make our nature journals a daily habit.

10 :: Of all the holiday gift-making I'm working on right now, I think this little cold-weather outfit by the fabulous Alicia Paulson is my favorite. So much cute!