Saturday, January 16, 2010

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.

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