Last week, for various reasons, I called an official Winter Break. "Breaks" for us basically mean that I don't require anybody to do math, or spelling, or handwriting. I still try to read aloud to the kids every day, although I may read books that are a little less challenging than our current "school" selections. Ask my kids what they do for "school", however, and they are unlikely to include any read-alouds in their answer. That's because they don't consider our reading to be "school". School comes from a text. All that other stuff we do is apparently "life".
The distinction between "life" and "school" has stood for a long time now in our house, and it's something that always gives me pause for thought. In fact, it's an issue I grapple with quite often. Right now we are probably using more textbooks than we ever have. We have phonics books, handwriting books, grammar books, and math books. We have spelling lists and Latin lessons. This list is not so different than that of other homeschoolers. In fact, Gareth and Katydid spend two hours or less going through this list of work every day. I read to them for an hour to an hour and a half, and I assign some independent reading just to make sure they're reading something other than Star Wars books and Junie B. Jones. (They usually are anyway.)
Theoretically, we could get through all of this work in a morning, and I know that many homeschoolers happily learn this way their entire homeschooling careers. But I am a little dissastified with our program. To be honest, I am feeling somewhat burned out, and I'm not sure the kids are really learning too much in those two hours they spend working through "school" work. In the past, I would be quick to ditch the whole package and spend a few weeks with my nose in a stack of homeschooling books while the kids forgot all their math. I'm a little more experienced now, a little more prone to observation, and most of all, more aware of the differences between my school-age children. With that in mind, here's our three-quarter mark report card:
Literature: I'm still trying to get a handle on assigning reading. Right now I'm using Sonlight as a source of readers, but I'm not sure this is working the way I want it to work.
Phonics: Katydid is using MCP Phonics C, and Gareth is using MCP Phonics D. Neither finds their workbook terribly hard and neither is really complaining about it. BUt I'm not sure that I see much transfer between using the phonics in the workbook and real life spelling, which is what I was hoping for. Katydid in particular can do four pages concerning a particular rule, recite the rule perfectly, and then ten seconds later ask how to spell a word which she ought to be able to figure out using the rule she just recited.
Handwriting: We're using Kolbe's handwriting workbooks. More practice than Handwriting Without Tears, but cluttered and somewhat confusing.
Grammar: Voyages in English is more interesting than Rod and Staff, thankfully, but in some places -- particularly in the letter writing section -- it is very outdated. (I had no idea that zip codes were a post 1960 invention.) We haven't gotten very far into these texts yet, but the kids have enjoyed some of the exercises which involve role-playing or riddle creation, and it has become very clear that Gareth does need direct teaching and practice when it comes to punctuation and capitalization skills.
Spelling: AVKO is working. Slowly, but it's definitely working. It's a keeper.
Math: Trouble, thy name is Math. Battles with Gareth over math and his Saxon book sometimes color the whole day. On the one hand, he's made a lot of progress with Saxon this year. But math is the one BIG reason I won't be sending in actual grades to Kolbe. To be honest, he'd probably do better -- as far as percent of correct problems goes -- if I gave him the whole mixed practice to do every day. But then his head would explode. So if he's demonstrated that he knows a skill, I don't include those problems every single day. Instead, I focus on what he needs to work on. Katydid is off Saxon 3 and back onto my sort of Montessori mish-mash approach. It didn't work for either one of of us. I hear a lot about Math-U-See, but feel as if I have spent a lot of money on curriculum this year. I'm not sure if it would be a good idea to try yet another math curriculum or not.
Latin: Katydid enjoys Prima Latina, but Gareth does not. This might be more a function of the way we've been doing Latin, rather than the curriculum itself, but I don't know. We've been doing fifteen minutes of Latin a day. I sit down with both Gareth and Katydid and recite the prayers, then we go orally through the exercises and work on memorizing the vocabulary. They breezed through most of the vocabulary, but once we hit verb forms, Gareth's complaining ratcheted up a couple notches and even Katydid's interest seemed to dip. I think Gareth might benefit from a Latin program that is more independent and less focused on group recitation. Having Katydid and Gareth in two different program will complicate things for me, of course, but I just don't think it's working this way.
History: We're studying the Civil War right now, and everyone is interested. I've been following the Sonlight Instructor's Guide more than I ever have before, and I think it's working all right. We tend to spend much longer on topics than Sonlight does, though, adding picture books, projects, and reading aloud some of the readers. Mostly I am happy with the way we do history, although I would like the kids to do more independent reading and research. That's a goal to move toward, though.
Science: Our Arctic unit fizzled. That's okay; science is a BIG hit at our house, and I don't worry about it too much. We tend to do science like we do history -- in units, and deeply.
Art: Well, the kids draw a lot, but I would like to do more drawing with them, as well as more projects. A vaguely formed notion to introduce picture study this quarter has not materialized thus far.
Music: Katydid has been bugging me for a long time to have piano lessons, but we have no piano. She has also been bugging me about Irish step dance lessons, but I have not moved on that either. The thought of mobilizing the three and under set for outside activities is really exhausting.
So that's where we are. Now the question is, where do we go from here? I hope to stick my nose in a few books this week, actually talk to my husband, and hopefully get a better picture of our future, both near and farther off. I haven't even mentioned my preschooler, or the babies, and their needs should be taken into consideration as well. But I think all those things will be the subjects of other posts.