Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grammar and curriculum

Why is it that certain curriculums feel the need to be clever and spell their name incorrectly?

Math-U-See and Real Science-4-Kids, I'm looking at you!

I'm sure the true grammar mavens are rolling their eyes at me, glass houses and thrown stones and all that. I know I'm far from perfect at spelling and grammar. However, I do try to avoid deliberate misspelling and grammar errors. Especially in commercial products. Double-especially in commercial *educational* products. How are we supposed to teach our kids that text speak is not acceptable in formal writing when their TEXTBOOKS have it on the cover?

I've looked at Real Science-4-Kids and am pretty crazy about it - real science content at an age-appropriate level (relatively, anyways. I'd get the Level 1 for my 1st grader, who is "supposed" to be on pre-level-1 - I don't care if I have to read it aloud if he's capable of the comprehension, which he is). They're a breath of fresh air after the pablum our school provided, in which LemurBoy not only knew the material in much more depth than the textbook provided, but also found an inaccuracy in the first and only chapter we read together. I may buy it, and it's rare that I do that.

But the 4 makes me twitch, and it's hard to look past it to the juicy science content underneath.

Perhaps I should stick a label over the title to correct it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The other day, LemurBoy and I did an experiment where you get two bowls of water - one cool, one ice cold. Put your hand in the cool water and see how it feels, then put it in ice water for a minute, then back in the cool water. Suddenly, the cool water feels warm. I explained that the hand had adapted to the temperature. He, for some reason, found my use of the word "adapted" hilarious, and latched on to it, using it in the report he dictated to me afterwards. His hilarity should have been my clue to find out what he was thinking...

At our teacher meeting shortly after, the teacher asked what he meant by "adapted". He explained that this was like how a donkey and a horse could get married, and their baby would be a mule, but two mules couldn't get married.

I choked on my laugh. "I guess that wasn't quite the explanation you were expecting."

"That's why I love this job!" she said.

Still not sure where his mind was going, and I have a suspicion Proposition 8 is all tied up in there somewhere...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sitting in church looking at the hymnal, I was once again struck by the idea that I can't fluently read music. This thought occurs to me approximately once a week, around 11:00am on Sunday.

As a child, I took, for varying periods of time, piano (for several years), flute, recorder, and voice (the latter over the longest period of time, but with the least attention given to reading music). I have a good ear. I can generally sing something with reasonable accuracy after hearing it once, or pick it out on the piano or recorder if it's very simple.

However, despite technically knowing how to read music (I could use a refresher on the exact details), a musical score tells me very little beyond whether the notes are generally going up or down. If I had a piano in front of me, I could probably play it (assuming it wasn't too complex), but I can't look at the music and know how it was supposed to sound. The notes are mentally mapped to the keyboard (or, in the case of the recorder, which I remember better than the flute, the fingering), not to the sound they make, similar to how someone not fluent in a foreign language has to mentally translate each word or phrase, rather than simply understanding it. Other friends who have had music training say the same when I bring it up.

Googling the term "musical fluency", I hit upon this, which seems to echo the conclusion I came to.

I'm not sure what to do with this thought. I'd like to be able to actually read music fluently. I'd like the kids to, as well. At this point, we don't have money for formal lessons, and my experience leads me to believe that traditional lessons are probably not going to be particularly beneficial unless the kid has both a real talent and a drive. The ways I've thought about starting to teach piano - colored stickers on the keys corresponding with the notes in the score - maps score to keyboard, not score to notes, which is what I'd like to avoid. Vocal lessons, with an emphasis on actually reading the music, seem like they might be an answer.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just focus on musical exposure.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

For 2nd grade

An ongoing list, primarily for my own benefit

Language Arts:
This will be very dependent on how much LemurBoy is reading by that point. I'm not even going to venture a guess now.
AO recommendations.
Just keep reading!

Social Studies:
Story of the World II
AO recommendations

I like the concept of Singapore Math. However, having looked at it, I'm not convinced it's something that will work well for LemurBoy, who seems to prefer numbers to pictures. Math Mammoth is another consideration.
Or just use the workbooks we already have, though I'd like something more structured.

Real Science-4-Kids. Love the books (from what I've seen), hate that 4. I suppose I could get them and re-label the covers.
Beyond that, probably about the same as now.

Foreign Language:
I'm a little torn on this one. Spanish or Latin?
Maybe English From The Roots Up and Song School Latin.

Some sort of introduction to reading music - recorder or piano.
Is there something out there about developing music fluency? 4 years of piano lessons didn't do that for me, despite having a good ear.
I'd like to start artist and composer studies.

What We Use: 1st Grade (Brief Version)

Language Arts:
Complete Book of Handwriting
Lots of reading aloud
Monthly book club
Weekly workshop
Supplemented with Hooked On Phonics, Explode The Code, and various easy readers.

Social Studies:
Story Of The World (History)
Paddle To The Sea (Geography)
Supplemented with random library books

Complete Book of Math Grades 1-2
Complete Book of Time & Money
Handwritten worksheets
Other random workbooks
Books from Living Math
Weekly workshop

Random documentaries
Random books
Bill Nye The Science Guy
A Child's First Library of Learning
Weekly workshop

See this post for a more detailed explanation.

What We Use: 1st Grade (Verbose Version)


Several years ago, when investigating homeschooling options, I stumbled across Ambleside Online and fell in love with the literature-based approach, but I was a bit put-off by the heavy religious emphasis. A few years down the line, I came to realize that an awful lot of wonderful homeschooling resources are Christian-oriented, and to avoid them is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so I took another look.

This time, I fell in love with the handicrafts.

I've never enjoyed futilities, as described in the linked article. I enjoy making things, but only if they're tangible and useful in some manner. Jewelry someone might actually wear, clothing, pillows, baskets, baby carriers, candles... even baking, as that provides an enjoyable, if not permanent, result. Those are my sorts of crafts. Cutting and pasting something that will be hung on the fridge for a while then thrown away, not so much.

I was thrilled to find that Charlotte Mason apparently shared this preference, and took another look at AO when I decided I wanted some more structure for 1st grade.

And, of course, there's the price and frugal orientation - ever so attractive a quality in a curriculum.

Around the time LemurBoy was 1, a homeschooling discussion came up on a mailing list I was on, and one of the other members (Hi Summer!) talked about The Well-Trained Mind, which I poured through at a bookstore in between attempts to keep the Lemur from destroying the shelves. I thought it was somewhat interesting, but then discovered Ambleside Online and kind of forgot about it.

Fast forward a few years, and one of the families I ended up clicking best with in our homeschooling group also used WTM, so I looked into it some more, and found a lot that I liked. Also a lot that I didn't. I find it very possible that my feelings on this matter will change as the kids grow older, just as many of the Grammar Stage ideas seemed to fit better as LemurBoy grew into the stage. Outlining, for instance. I acknowledge that being able to outline is a valuable skill. Being a student myself, I use it on a regular basis to provide structure for my lecture notes, and I'm thankful my extremely talented 4th grade teacher chose to emphasize that. But the idea of making LemurBoy sit down and actually do it on a regular basis kind of makes me shudder.

Should my fourth grade teacher return to teaching approximately 2.5 years from now, perhaps I'll ship the LemurBoy off to him instead.

Anyways, Charlotte Mason/AO and WTM are relatively similar philosophies, and easy to integrate into a crazy mishmash hybrid, which is, of course, what I enjoy most.

Social Studies:
One of the things I like about the Neoclassical approach is the emphasis on history presented chronologically and narratively. Last year, we started LemurBoy on The Story of Mankind. At first he liked it, but when he started whining about doing history, I decided we needed to be using something more oriented towards his age. The Story Of Mankind is usually recommended more for kids in the 5th grade range.

I was looking for a resource that was narrative, reasonably accurate, worldwide scope to the greatest reasonable extent, and, as usual, easy and inexpensive to obtain. Our Island Story, the AO Year 1 recommended history text, while available free online, really wasn't what I wanted. Story of Mankind was out. A Child's History Of The World looks interesting, and I may use it for something at some point, but a copy wasn't readily available. I was hesitant about Story Of The World at first, but a friend had a copy I was able to borrow, and I found most of the religion-oriented criticism didn't bother me and that, overall, it seemed a good, widely available option.

LemurBoy absolutely loves it, and once again begs to do history.

We supplement with books on the time period from the library - sometimes as recommended in the SOTW activity guide, sometimes things I see on blogs or message boards, and sometimes whatever catches my eye while browsing the shelves.

Ambleside Online's 1st grade schedule includes Fifty Famous Stories Retold. We got off to a slow start with this one, but I rearranged the stories to correspond with our history reading (I'll post this schedule once I've had more of a chance to fine tune it).

We also use Paddle To The Sea, which Ambleside classifies as Geography, and therefore part of Social Studies.

Progressive Phonics has worked wonders for us. The site has printable or read-on-screen books, each one focusing on a different phonetic concept. The parent reads the black words, and the kid reads the red words, with more responsibility shifting to the child in the more advanced books. PDFs of associated activities (handwriting practice, flash cards, word searches) are also available for each book.

Progressive Phonics was the first program that LemurBoy was willing to work with. How To Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons lasted for about 5 lessons before he started crying when the book came out. We got a 3 grade set of Hooked on Phonics on deep discount when they were transitioning to the newer version. He enjoyed the little HOP books (similar to BOB books) that came with it, but disliked the actual lessons, and the HOP books progressed way too fast. Still I don't consider this a wasted purchase, as we're still using it to supplement Progressive Phonics.

Progressive Phonics is really great for a child who finds reading effortful. LemurBoy had trouble with the even the beginning BOB books because they just took so much effort to read (I guess he wouldn't have the same problem now, though!), but the shortness of the stories, combined with the fact that the parent is doing most of the reading, makes it easier. In addition, the fact that the parent reads the more difficult words means the stories are more engaging than your average early phonetic reader.

We also have Explode The Code and a few other random workbooks, which we use from time to time.

A year or so ago, a neighbor was having a garage sale. This neighbor happened to be a teacher at a local tutoring center, and had a literal ton of workbooks, mostly brand new. I filled a box for $5, added up the cover costs later, and found that the total value came out to about $250.

So we have a lot of workbooks that we probably wouldn't otherwise have thought to use. The Complete Book of Handwriting is the one I use most often for writing. When I'm feeling busy/lazy, I tell LemurBoy to pick a page and do it.

When I'm not feeling too busy/lazy, we try to work more with the copywork concept embraced by both CM and WTM. I use a website to generate a handwriting sheet with a sentence of some sort or another. Sometimes it's something from a book or poem that we're reading. Sometimes it's "If you read this, we can go get ice cream".

I suppose, aside from the previously mentioned items the only thing we're really doing from Ambleside are Aesop's Fables and Just So Stories. LemurBoy really enjoys both, especially the Just So Stories. We tried the Shakespeare for a while, and he seemed to enjoy it at first, but then started whining about it. I'm undecided yet whether we'll barrel through on that, search for a more accessible adaptation for the future, or just wait until he's old enough for the full versions. We also did Viking Tales earlier in the year (it's scheduled for the end of the year on AO. I switched it, as LemurBoy was into Vikings, but kind of wonder if that was the right choice, as it may have been a bit too complex to jump right into).

Apart from Ambleside's stuff, we just read stuff. Some might be considered "classics". Others are "classics to me".

Once a month, LemurBoy attends a book club with other kids his age, where they have a discussion, play games, and eat food related to a book they all read. That influences about a quarter of our book choices.

We mainly use the garage sale workbooks for math, especially The Complete Book of Math for Grades 1-2 and The Complete Book of Time & Money. Sometimes I just write my own problems for him to do.

He does the exercises at weekly, and I'm attempting to find one book from appropriate book from the Living Math website to read each week. We use MEP worksheets occasionally as a supplement, but I don't have the desire to implement the full program.

We don't follow the Well-Trained Mind rotation for science, mainly because spending an entire year on anything other than biology is, at this level, utterly unappealing to me (Real Science-4-Kids may manage to convince me otherwise, if I can get past that horrible "4" in there). We tried weekly nature studies, as CM suggests, but after a few weeks of excitement it became a total drag (even after I pointed out that Dinotopia was basically an extended nature study), which I felt pretty much defeated the purpose, so now we do them occasionally. Overall, science ends up being more of an interest-driven approach, built out of random science documentaries, Bill Nye, and whatever looks interesting at the library. We're reading through his A Child's First Library of Learning series, as well. This will probably change as he gets older, but for now, his appetite is voracious.

We ride our bikes places. He plays at the park. He works with weights and so forth with his dad. We hope to start something more organized soon.

Arts & Foreign Language:
I've neglected any sort of formal, or even semi-formal, study of arts this year. Same with Foreign Language. Hopefully these will get added in more in the next year or two, when we get to the point where I don't have to spend quite so much time reading every little thing aloud.

For Language Arts, Math, and Science, he also does a weekly workshop (an hour each) at his independent study school.

Monday, January 11, 2010

About our Homeschool, or what "Inspires" us.

I like to call our homeschooling style "ADHD Classical" and "Inspired by Charlotte Mason/The Well-Trained Mind"... in the same way a bad Made-For-TV movie is "Inspired by" the book. I guess you could say we're "Inspired by" unschooling, too, though we're a bit too structured to actually call ourselves that.

I suppose we should just call it "Eclectic" and leave it at that.

About The Lemurs

MamaLemur is a student nurse and obsessive reader.
DaLemur is a knifemaker.
BoyLemur was born 6/03 and is currently in 1st grade.
GirlLemur was born 9/06.