Homeschool Curriculum Review: UberSmart Math Facts

ubersmart header pic

Have you heard of the “unschool” method of homeschooling? It’s basically taking “delight directed learning” (teaching kids what they want to learn) to a crazy level (my apologies if that’s they way you homeschool…) and saying that that’s all you will teach them. If they don’t want to learn to read yet, that’s okay. Eventually they will, and then you can teach them. Kids not interested in adding, even though they’re 10? No problem. They’ll decide to at some point.

We do not subscribe to that philosophy in our home.

There are some things you just have to learn whether you like it or not. Math facts are on that list. And you might recall from a previous review I did that math facts are something my kids and I struggle with regularly. So when the opportunity for another approach to learning these facts came up, I hastily requested this product.

What is it? It’s called UberSmart Math Facts and is offered by UberSmart Software. [Read more…]

Homeschool Curriculum Review: Hewitt Homeschooling

HH Reports 2
I mentioned in a previous post, the one where I talked about what we’d accomplished in the 2013-14 school year, that I wanted my kids to take the summer “easy” rather than “off” in order to keep their skills sharp. When the option for reviewing items from Hewitt Homeschooling came up, I thought this was just the ticket for the writing portion of our “summer school.” I chose My First Report: Sports (retail price $8.95) for us to work on because both boys enjoy sports (although Seahawk more so than Munchkin). I knew they’d be interested in learning more about a variety of sports and games. After all, knowing the hows, whys, and rules of games will make them more fulfilling to play. The age range for the My First Reports were perfect for both of my kids, too – grades 1-4. Seahawk just finished up 4th grade, but he can use a bit of remedial work in a few subjects (including writing), so I had him use this product, even though he was on the very edge of the age range. Munchkin was right in the middle of the age range, and this was a good product for him. [Read more…]

2013-14 Homeschool Year in Review

hs year in reviewThis school year was an amazing one for us, and I want to take a few moments to document it here.

As you may (or may not) know, homeschooling is something I always knew we would do with our kids. For the first several years, however, I didn’t know how to do it well. Sure, my kids learned how to read and what a noun was and the basic concepts of mathematics. But they learned all of that stuff in what was probably the driest way possible: from workbooks. During Munchkin’s Kindergarten year, which was Seahawk’s 2nd grade year, they each had 5 workbooks, and we did all five every. single. day. (Don’t even get me started on Seahawk’s early years.) I’d heard all about these homeschool kids who loved school, were ahead of their peers in pretty much every subject, and didn’t “do school” at home. But I didn’t know how to make that happen. So we bought the workbooks for $9.95 apiece. And they got the job done.

But none of us was enjoying the process.

Last summer, leading into this school year, I spent some time online doing research and found a great resource that provided an awesome curriculum outline for homeschooling in the Charlotte Mason method, Ambleside Online. I wrote about it in my Homeschool Prep post last August, and we faithfully used that program until January of this year, and used it off and on from January to June.

In November, I was accepted as a part of Schoolhouse Review Crew, and that has opened up countless opportunities for the boys that we a) wouldn’t know about otherwise and b) might not be able to afford to give them. Since I got that gig, we’ve split our time between Ambleside and doing review products.

Here’s what we accomplished this school year:

  • We read the New Testament in its entirety.
  • We read most of The Burgess Animal Book for Children. (We’ll finish that either this summer or next school year.) We looked at pictures of the animals we learned about on Wikipedia.
  • We read Understood Betsy aloud together.
  • We read 40-something chapters of An Island Story: A History of England for Girls and Boys. To go along with this, Will watched a British history documentary that we got on DVD from the library with the boys (he’s a huge fan of British history).
  • We read kid-friendly versions of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet.
  • The boys read Tree in the Trail by Holling C. Holling.
  • We went on several nature walks.
  • We learned/are learning French with Mango Languages.
  • The boys learned all kinds of things in the “science” world from Science4Us.com including but not limited to: Earth and Space, Physical Science, and Life Science.
  • Seahawk worked on his spelling skills with Spelling You See. He still has a lot of work ahead of him, but he’s getting there.
  • We learned about several different kinds of sea creatures and where some of our produce comes from with Curiosity Quest DVDs.
  • We replaced our math workbooks with a similar-but-different program, CTC Math.
  • Munchkin learned to write in cursive, and just as importantly, to read it.
  • We learned why and how to be good stewards of what God has given us.
  • We read Little House in the Big Woods and did a study on it. We are currently about a third of the way through Farmer Boy.
  • We read Around the World in Eighty Days.
  • The boys mastered their multiplication tables with Learning Wrap-Ups.
  • The boys read The Whipping Boy and did a unit study on it.
  • We did a unit study on Sound.

Whew! We had a productive school year!

Normally we take the summers off, but this year we’re taking it easy instead of off.

  • They’ll keep their writing chops up by doing one report per week on a different sport. Seahawk is starting with basketball (of course!), and Munchkin has chosen badminton.
  • They’re earning prizes for reading through the library’s summer reading program.
  • They’re going to keep their math and language arts skills sharp with Learning Wrap-Ups and Learning Palettes.
  • We will continue our study of French.

For more on any of these topics, head on over to Ambleside Online or to my Reviews page.

Blessings,

Wendy

Essay Contest Winner

Back in April, the boys both entered an essay writing contest through the local public library. The topic/title of the essay was “What I Liked About {title of book} and What I Would Change About It.”

essay reading

Seahawk chose Bone: Volume 6. Munchkin chose Elmer and the Dragon. In addition to the topic of the essay being assigned, there were also word count restrictions, which were assigned based on age/grade. Seahawk, being in 4th grade, had to have between 100 and 200 words. Munchkin, in 2nd grade, was to write between 50 and 100 words. Here are their essays. Munchkin:

I read Elmer and the Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. I liked the part where The Canary King was sick of curiosity. In that part, Elmer got a secret treasure chest. That’s what the King was so curious about. He wondered what was inside it. I really liked it. I also liked the part where Elmer and The Dragon were on Tangerine Island. I would change the ending. I would have ended it with Elmer saying good-bye to the Dragon.

Seahawk:

I read Bone Volume 6: Old Man’s Cave. It is not the best book Jeff Smith has ever written. It was sort of cool though. I liked it because it tells you who The Hooded One is. It is very chaotic. Everyone is deciding who to choose for their team, and meanwhile Phoney Bone is making bad decisions. His decisions are causing the other characters to hate him. I would change the fact that Rock Jaw the huge lion is trying to kill Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone and capture Thorn. Instead of this, I would have Rock Jaw on their team. That way, they could all work together to beat The Lord of the Locusts. Overall, I liked the book – in fact, I love the whole series – but this one little change would have made this volume better in my opinion.

A few days after we submitted their essays, I got a phone call letting us know that Seahawk had won 3rd place in his division! We were very proud of him. The library had a ceremony the first week in April where all of the winners had the opportunity to read their essays. There was also a local published author there who made a presentation, which I found interesting. (Her topic was “where do authors get their ideas?”) On top of bragging rights, he won a gift certificate that was good at any number of stores in town; the only catch was that it all had to be spend at one time, at one store. After a trip to the toy store yielded no satisfactory results, he decided to take his prize to the bead store. In the past year or so, he’s decided that he really likes beading. Unfortunately for him, I don’t really know how, so I can’t teach him beyond a single strand threaded version. But that’s okay – he’s happy with that for now. And as he improves, we’ll get him some library books to learn more. The gift certificate was for $10, which as you might imagine bought a lot of beads! The first thing he made was a bracelet for our neighbor across the street. She’s like a grandmother to the boys, and her birthday was about a week after the essay celebration. bracelet

He has plans to make a bracelet for each of his “real” grandmothers, too (my mom and Will’s stepmom). We’d hoped to have them done for Mother’s Day, but that didn’t happen. Will’s stepmother is recovering from surgery, so perhaps we’ll make hers a “Get Well” present later this week. And my mom has a birthday coming up in August, so that’ll likely be when she gets hers.

Blessings,

Wendy

 

Simplicity: In the Homeschool

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Homeschooling our children is very important to us. It’s something we knew we wanted to do from the time I found out I was pregnant with Seahawk. We never considered any other option, and now that we’re ten years (almost eleven!) into parenthood and five years into homeschooling, I’m so glad we made this choice. I wrote on the “School at Home” page of our 2013 family yearbook that teaching our children at home is one of my greatest joys as a mother, and I truly mean that. Of course there are days when I wonder what it would be like if the older two were off at school for 8 hours a day. Then I come to my senses and remember why I wanted to be a mom! (Hint: It wasn’t so I could ship them off somewhere the minute they turned five so I wouldn’t have to “deal” with them until they were 18.)

So, how do we balance living simply with homeschooling? There are so many different styles of homeschooling out there – almost as many styles as there are homeschooling parents – and it’s all just a matter of finding a balance. I’m going to go over the way I teach today. This is not a tell-all, do-it-this-way-or-you’re-awful kind of post. This is just what works for us, and if you can take some or all of what I say to make your homeschool day easier or better for you, then that’s awesome. If not, that’s awesome too. But enjoy a little glimpse into our day.

We wake up between 8 and 8:30 each morning. I prefer to be the first one up so I can have a little bit of quiet time before the day starts. That doesn’t always happen though. I’m working on getting the kids into a routine that involves them getting dressed, making their beds, and reading a chapter from their Bible before they come out for breakfast, but that’s still a work in progress. We eat breakfast around 9 (typically just cereal or toast, but sometimes biscuits or pancakes). On the days he’s working from home, Will takes Small Fry out in the mornings so the older kids and I can do school more easily and efficiently. (He works in the afternoons on those days.) Ideally, by 9:30 we’ve started our school day.

I’m a visual person, so I need my kids to “do” something for school, not just read a bunch of books and call it a day. I do know that they can learn so much from reading different books – and we run a very literature heavy school – but it still gives me an odd peace of mind when they do paperwork or projects. We’re somewhere between “school at home” and “natural learning.” The first thing we do is bring out the schoolbooks. After reading a blog post last year on homeschool organization by Jamie at The Unlikely Homeschool, I totally took her idea and bought magazine racks – one for each kid. These have been worth their weight in gold for the simplicity it’s brought not only to our school day, but also to the bookshelf in my sewing room where I keep all the school stuff.

schoolbooks

 

Everything we need for a given day (except for the read-aloud books and pencils) is in those racks. Right now, our main focuses are:

  • Spelling – Spelling You See
  • Bible – Apologia’s What on Earth Can I Do?
  • Literature – Little House in the Big Woods study by Progeny Press
  • Cursive Handwriting – This is different for each kid. Munchkin just finished up Logic of English’s Rhythm of Handwriting, so he’s been writing a letter to someone each day; so far this week he’s written to his pen pal in Utah and his great-grandmother in Southern California. Seahawk is working through Patriotic Penmanship, a practice workbook that we received for another review. He likes it because the lessons are very short.
  • Math – Learning Wrap-Ups

We’ve been working our way through An Island Story: A History of England for Girls and Boys and The Burgess Animal Book for Children this year, too, but we’ve got so much other stuff going at the moment that we’re taking a break from those for a while.

On a normal day, we manage to finish all but one of our subjects before lunch – which one varies from day to day. I don’t let the kids choose what they learn per se, because they’re still young enough that there are tons of things that are non-negotiable (times tables and proper spelling, for instance). To help them feel like they still have some control over their own education, then, I let them help decide what order we do the subjects in.

At the end of the school day, all the books get put back in their magazine racks and the racks put away on the shelf until the next day. And that’s how we keep things simple – and organized! – in our homeschool.

What’s your favorite homeschool organizational trick?

Blessings,

Wendy