Since we’re in the final stretch of our homeschool year, it’s time for me to give a homeschool year review for the 2019-2020 school year. Rather than discussing every curriculum choice we made, I’ll simply highlight the changes we made, along with any especially good or bad points.
Interested in our curriculum choices for the 2020-2021 school year? Then you may be interested in these articles:
- 6th Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2020-2021
- 3rd Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2020-2021
- 1st Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices 2020-2021
Group Work Changes
For the last couple of years, we’ve done some religious studies (mostly memorization), poetry memorization, and read-alouds as a group. We were successful with our memorization work, but it became less and less enjoyable and very much a time suck. While many families see their group work as the highlight of their days, in our family it just wasn’t a good use of our time.
I think a problem with our group time was partly that I didn’t keep it short and sweet and instead started adding too many activities. So I asked myself, “What’s the most important activity that we do during our group time?” The answer I came away with was read-alouds since the other activities we did were either unnecessary at this point or covered in other ways.
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So the changes I made during the last part of the year were:
- to completely let go of our group time for the most part. This gave my kids more free time to play/create after getting important work done.
- do read-alouds either one-on-one or with an audiobook. I’d been reading The Green Ember aloud, but, as much as I love reading, I have a hard time with reading long books out loud to the kid and end up avoiding it. So I switched to the use of an audiobook so that I can work on a puzzle with the kids while listening. This has turned out to be a much better bonding experience since I’m enjoying something with the kids and not talking at the kids.
- to add some physical activities. I’ve never done P.E. as a separate subject since it’s not required for us and I feel that simply playing outside (riding bikes, running around, swimming, jumping on the trampoline) is a more natural form of exercise for kids. But as my boys grow older (my oldest is about to turn 11!), I’ve noticed that they’re doing less active play outside. So we’re having more conversations about the roles nutrition and exercise have in physical health. The kids know that I expect them to be physically active in some way each day. They can run around outside, jump on the trampoline, ride their bikes around our property, walk with me, or swim if we decide to get into the pool. If the weather doesn’t cooperate with us, they’ll exercise with a video – these videos are awesome for kids!
- Morning Work – In addition to calendaring, I’ve added personal info copywork to his Morning Work binder. He’s been focusing on writing both his first and last name.
- Bible – We finished reading through (shared reading) The Beginner’s Bible, which was excellent as always and such a help in learning to recognize sight words. Since my little kindergartener loves to be creative, we started using the early elementary New Testament portion of The Picture Smart Bible. We spend four days on each coloring/crafting page.
- Reading – After reading through all the Bob Books sets that we have (you can see my review of Bob Books here), I added some reading from a list of books that I’ve used with my older boys. So four days a week we work with Hooked on Phonics (he’s almost halfway through the first grade book – see my review of Hooked on Phonics here), and then read for about five minutes from a “real” book.
- Handwriting – After completing his Handwriting Without Tears workbook (see my review of Handwriting Without Tears here), I considered moving him up to the next workbook. But rather than do that, I decided to try a handwriting practice packet I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ve been happy with it because it aligns well with Handwriting Without Tears and has a similar way of going about things, although it does use different terminology.
- Writing – Since my kindergartener is a bit of an advanced reader and was eager to start writing, I decided to get him started on sentence writing. I chose to use a sight word journal from Lakeshore, which he works in once a week. It’s been a great option for him since we can focus on basic sentence-writing rules – beginning with a capital letter, putting spaces between words, and ending punctuation.
- Art – I came across the YouTube channel Art for Kids Hub and love it! My little kindergartener loves to draw, so I was looking for something to nurture that interest. The dad in the videos teaches one of his kids (or his wife!) how to do a drawing in each video, and makes a point of stressing that it’s fine that their drawings look different and that it’s important to just have fun. He also teaches drawings for different skill levels, so I try to find the videos with his youngest child so that my son doesn’t get super stressed out. I like this channel so much that I went to their website and purchased some of their printable e-books, which even my oldest likes (which is saying a lot!).
Favorite Kindergarten Curriculum Choice for This Year
My favorite curriculum choice for my kindergartener this past year wasn’t curriculum at all, but rather shared reading with “real” books to supplement his phonics learning.
The way we do shared reading is that I let my student read and sound out words that he knows, and then simply supply (and have him repeat) the words that he doesn’t know or can’t sound out. At first, I end up supplying or helping with a lot of words, mostly high frequency or sight words. But by the end of kindergarten, they know most of their high frequency words simply by seeing them so, well, frequently. I’ve found that this method of learning high frequency words – seeing them in context when reading aloud daily – works much better than flash cards, copywork, or any other method that I’ve tried.
As for the reading list, I start off with very easy books, but then progress in difficulty throughout the year. I also don’t shy away from books a little above his reading level if I think he’ll like them. I keep a spreadsheet of books to be read that includes their Lexile measure (I use the Scholastic website to get that info), and sort it by difficulty.
Biggest Struggle of the Year
Our biggest struggle this year was not curriculum-related. Rather, it was a natural result of his maturing and increased independence.
I think it’s funny that everyone talks about the Terrible Two’s and the dreaded Teen Years, but ignore other challenging ages. In our house, we’ve been surprised by what I call the Theatrical Three’s and the newly-dubbed Fearsome Fives. Those ages have been rife with challenges to parental authority in every area, which is a real problem when you’re homeschooling. My little one and I have both grown a lot this past year as we’ve worked through the importance of submitting to loving, reasonable authority.
2nd Grade Changes/Highlights/Lowlights
- Spelling – After trying Spelling Power, I realized that it was not an appropriate curriculum for this particular child because it requires daily one-on-one work. So I changed pretty quickly to Evan-Moor’s grade 2 Building Spelling Skills workbook, which is a much better fit for my independent learner. I did add in some extra sentence-writing practice since I feel that the workbook was lacking in that area.
- History – We started off the school year with BJU Press’ Heritage Studies, but I upgraded to the distance learning option pretty quickly. It was a great choice for us because it allows my second grader to do history mostly independently. The videos are great – my other kids enjoyed them, too. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the distance learning teacher incorporates the teaching of study skills into the lessons.
- Reading – My second grader loves learning and reading, so on his own he started doing some independent reading every day, separate from the shared reading that we do. He worked through all of the If You Lived… books that we have, getting in extra history learning. I’ve also started putting age-appropriate science books in his reading drawer to read on his own.
- Handwriting – After completing his Handwriting Without Tears workbook (see my review of Handwriting Without Tears here), I considered moving him up to the next workbook. But rather than do that, I decided to try a handwriting practice packet I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ve been happy with it because it aligns well with Handwriting Without Tears and has a similar way of going about things, although it does use different terminology. I also like that the author gives you different options for printing it out. For my second grader, I chose to print it out with two pages per printed page.
- Writing – I felt that my second grader needed more writing practice than he was getting with the story writing book I chose for him, so I added in a writing prompts journal that focuses on different types of writing and paragraph writing. It also has a space with each writing assignment for drawing pictures, but my second grader just hates that. Instead, we use that space for planning his writing assignment and writing words he doesn’t know. He works out of both the story writing book and the writing journal once a week for each.
Favorite 2nd Grade Curriculum Choice for This Year
The big curriculum winner for my second grader this past year has been Evan-Moor workbooks (we used the Building Spelling Skills workbook and Grammar & Punctuation workbooks this year). I love Evan-Moor workbooks for the following reasons:
- They are systematized with new learning once a week or so, followed by several days of practicing the new words/concepts learned.
- Concepts are broken down to bite-sized chunks appropriate to the learner.
- Pacing is slow but steady.
- They contain a variety of activities that are both manageable and interesting for my student.
- The practice worksheets require minimal help from me, allowing them to be done mostly independently.
Biggest Struggle of the Year
After the changes that we made, I would say that our biggest struggle this year was math. I love Math-U-See but my second grader didn’t, so I switched him to Horizons this year. It’s an ok curriculum but not my favorite because I had a hard time building a system around new teaching with a child that does not like one-on-one teaching. I also found that it’s not a good option for an independent learner or a student that struggles with transitions because each lesson jumps around from topic to topic. In short, it confirms my utter dislike of math curriculum that uses a spiral approach.
We made it work by dropping up-front teaching altogether. So instead of me giving him a math lesson every day, he works on his own and skips anything that he hasn’t learned yet or doesn’t understand. After he’s done what he can of the lesson and realized that he needs my help, he’s more willing to listen to my teaching. It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s what’s worked for us this past year.
5th Grade Changes/Highlights/Lowlights
- Bible – My fifth grader completed Kay Arthur’s How to Study Your Bible for Kids and just hated it. I’d hoped that her inductive Bible study method would appeal to him, but I suspect that it was too word-heavy to hold his interest. So I moved him on to read Louie Giglio’s Indescribable devotional independently, also requiring him to write out a short prayer each day and copying the focus verse for that day. He loved the science focus of Indescribable, so it was a good option for him. (You can find my review of Indescribable here.)
- Handwriting – After completing Cursive Writing Practice: Jokes & Riddles (you can find my review of this cursive writing practice workbook here), we tried a couple different ways to practice cursive. For a while, we kept with the jokes theme and he copied a joke (in cursive) out of a joke book every day. But then I found this cursive handwriting practice bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers and fell in love. It consists of interesting facts that interest little boys (and this mommy, too!). It’s short and sweet handwriting practice because he traces the fact one day and then copies it the next.
- Writing – My fifth grader completed IEW’s Student Writing Intensive (which I believe has been replaced with Structure & Style for Students) before Christmas (he started it last year). Rather than starting something new, I decided to let him continue practicing writing the IEW way with writing sources that I found for him. I also created a Key Word Outline graphic organizer and customized the recommended writing checklists for him, which has helped his writing immensely.
- Technology – We started off the school year with him learning Python (a programming language) and he just hated it. It differs from Scratch (which he did last year) in that it is a text-based “real” programming language and not a visual block-snapping program built for kids (like Scratch). I wasn’t surprised – as a computer engineer, I suspected that he didn’t have the personality or enough interest to learn programming just yet. And who knows, that may never change. So we decided to drop it.
- Spanish – I decided to switch my fifth grader to Rosetta Stone for language learning. He doesn’t love it – he gets very frustrated and is not a natural language learner – but I only require that he do 10 minutes a day every other day. It is helping him to build some patience in learning difficult things, which is an important lesson for everyone!
Favorite 5th Grade Curriculum Choice for This Year
I asked my oldest what was his favorite part of schoolwork this past year, and he said reading! That was a shocker. I thought he would say that science was his favorite (he did Minecraft homeschool lessons for science this past year), but he informed me that, while he enjoyed the science lessons, the Minecraft builds got old.
Anyway, back to the reading – this past year he has done mostly Literature Units from Confessions of a Homeschool. Each day he read a chapter or so and completed a minibook for a lapbook, a worksheet, or some other hands-on activity. He really loved these. This past year he read and did the accompanying literature units for Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, the Classic Starts version of Oliver Twist, the Classic Starts version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, Charlotte’s Web, and he’s currently working through the Classic Starts version of The Swiss Family Robinson.
Biggest Struggle of the Year
My fifth grader’s biggest struggle this year was learning how to learn from a textbook, aka traditional learning methods. He’s very much a hands-on, interactive learner, but as he approached middle school I saw the need for him to learn how to learn from a textbook. As homeschoolers, we employ many types of learning methods and relish our freedom to customize curriculum to our kids, but traditional learning methods aren’t going away. One day, most of our kids will be confronted with textbooks, so I wanted to help my son learn how to learn from them.
To that end, I chose BJU Press’ Heritage Studies 5 for his history studies. I didn’t use the distance learning option for him because I was concerned that a video lecture wouldn’t work for him. (In hindsight, and after seeing my second grader’s videos, it might actually have worked out.) Instead, we experimented with different learning methods with this curriculum. We tried note-taking, drawings, games, and flash cards. I judged the effectiveness of each method by his test score for each chapter.
After experimenting, I saw that using flash cards to play games was the most effective for him. So I looked for an easier way to do flash card learning, preferably independently. That’s when I came across the app Quizlet and I love it!
Quizlet is basically a flash card app, but also so much more. It provides different activities and games to learn facts and keeps track of your learning. Bonus: you can see flash card sets created by others, and BJU Press Heritage Studies sets for each chapter were readily available.
Using Quizlet turned out to be a highly effective learning method for my son. It was much more effective than anything else, especially the worksheets in the activity manual, so I ended up dropping most of those in favor of doing a couple of Quizlet rounds each day. Quizlet was so effective, we’re also using it to help him with Spanish vocabulary and Boy Scout topics.
While we had a couple of hiccups during the beginning of the year and ended up making some changes, there weren’t any big surprises. I attribute that to the planning I did for the year and my focus on each student’s Learning Preferences and Difficulties, Dislikes, and Delights. As a homeschool mom, I see myself as a student of my boys – every year I learn more and more about them. And so I’m using what I’ve learned about each of my students this past year to inform my curriculum choices for next school year.