Planning for the 2017-2018 School Year {Part Three}

Today I’m sharing a final planning post for the upcoming school year. Last week I shared Part One {math, language arts, Spanish, and mythology} and Part Two {geography, science, world and American history, world religions, and health}. Part Three will focus on the remaining topics we cover on a regular basis—art, music, philosophy, and critical thinking—as well as introduce a few ideas for “extras” we might pursue this year or in the near future.

We spent the last two years going through The Children’s Book of Art as well as reading several selections from the 13 Things Children Should Know series {artists, painters, sculptures, photos, art mysteries, etc.}. We also try to do as much creative art play time {drawing, painting, chalk pastels, collage, etc.} as we can, just because it’s fun and the Agents love it. Going forward we intend to use two different spine books for art: A Child’s Introduction to Art and 13 Women Artists Children Should Know. {The second book necessitated by the fact that the first book—while I love the style and presented biographies and suggested projects—mentions only one female out of 35 total artists.} I expect this to be another two-year cycle. We will also read Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes {and What the Neighbors Thought}. We've read several titles from this series and they're always a hit. 

For music we just wrapped up a similar book—The Children’s Book of Music—also after two years. {Apparently taking two school years to get through one book is A Thing with us, as this has happened numerous times with our other subjects, too.} Next year we plan to read The Story of the Orchestra. I like the set-up of the book; it comes with a CD, which is nice, and it will work well as a spine. However, it’s not particularly detailed, so I envision us utilizing lots of supplemental books. As with art, we will read {or in this case, re-read} Lives of the Musicians as well. Unfortunately both of these texts are lacking in female names, and I haven’t found any ways to address that as of yet. {So if you know of a book that includes a decent number of women composers and musicians, please pass it on.}

I actually wasn’t planning on covering philosophy as a separate topic this coming year. Then I came across The Children’s Book of Philosophy and pretty much had to own it. Sigh. The Agents will love it, though, as just flipping through the table of contents I can tell it is right up their alley. In addition, we will likely re-read some of the critical thinking books we discovered last year {Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong and Maybe Yes, Maybe No come to mind immediately} as well as investigate a few new ones.

As far as “extras” we’ve considered, I think Agent E {6th} would benefit from a structured typing program. She has also expressed an interest in studying Latin, although I’m not sure that is something we will find the time for this year. Agent E already practices three instruments on a regular basis {recorder, keyboard, and guitar} and has mentioned wanting to try another {flute or trumpet are the current top contenders}. So far the younger two Agents {who will be starting 4th and 2nd} have not shown a desire to start music lessons of any kind. {And by “lessons” I mean the self-taught method that Agent E uses.} I would definitely like to incorporate more independent writing—whether short stories or poetry or even simply regular journal writing—into both girls’ days as well. {Agent A is not quite there yet.}

I’m sure that by the time I hit publish on this I will think of something critical I forgot, or come up with the next latest greatest idea. And this was supposed to be the year we were getting back to a simpler routine, ha! Oh, well . . . at least I won’t have so much pesky paperwork to keep up. 

Planning for the 2017-2018 School Year {Part Two}

A few days ago I shared Part One of our plans for the upcoming school year. This outlined our intended direction for math, language arts, Spanish, and mythology {all the subjects we do daily in the mornings}. This post will address some of the other academic subjects we typically include each week, although we don’t hit each of these topics every day. 

For geography, we will be using the same spine text for the third year in a row: Geography: A Visual Encyclopedia. We’ve been working through it in order, albeit following lots of rabbit holes along the way. The first year {4th for Agent E and 2nd for Agent J} we completed the first three sections: planet earth, rocks and minerals, and water. The second year {5th for Agent E, 3rd for Agent J, and 1st for Agent A} we covered climate and weather and life on earth {ecosystems}. Our focus next year will be on the final three sections of the text: human geography, mapping the world, and individual country studies. 

Our world history spine—History Year-by-Year—will also be seeing its third year of use. So far we have progressed from the very beginning of the human story through ancient history and the middle ages up to and including the age of exploration. We will be picking up this year around 1525, and are hoping to get at least up to the time of American westward expansion. If we manage that, we will still be looking at using this book for a fourth year to carry us up to present times. Then we’ll probably start the whole cycle over again, focusing on different key points and reading more complex texts than previously. I did not really include Agent A {1st} in our world history studies too much this year, but going forward {2nd} I probably will.

While we did cover American history this year, we did not have a set plan or use a particular spine book. For next year, we intend to make use of the United States Encyclopedia. This gives a brief overview of US history, then offers state-by-state summaries, and finally presents a brief discussion of important documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. I’m anticipating this being a two-year endeavor. We will also likely re-watch both America: The Story of Us and Liberty’s Kids while supplementing with additional texts along the way.

Next we have science, which is consistently the area in which we overplan because we want to Do All The Things. Although we did make it through a substantial amount of our spine text, Science: A Visual Encyclopedia, we still have two sections to cover: living organisms and great discoveries. While we used a spine for our evolution studies this year—Evolution: The Human Story—it turned out to be a little more dense than we were anticipating, and we will likely “shelf” that one for a few years. Instead, we are going to go through our Goodreads list and re-read all of our evolution favorites {and include Agent A in any ones he missed last year}. We also plan to read The Magic of Reality {one of my absolute favorites} together as well. We are almost through all the mammals covered in The Animal Book, so we should easily wrap up that section this year and move on to another animal group, probably birds or amphibians.

We will likely continue doing a separate study of world religions and their mythologies as well. {Although I still can’t decide if we will leave this as an afternoon subject as part of history, or move it to our morning routine and cover it along with our study of Egyptian mythology.} The girls have already read What Do You Believe? {twice}, although we have not gone through it with Agent A. {We tried earlier this year and it was a bit much for him at the time.} We have read Really Really Big Questions About God, Faith, and ReligionThe Belief Book, and The Book of Gods with all three Agents, however. I think this is such a fascinating topic and one that everyone should have a working knowledge of, regardless of their personal beliefs or lack thereof. I don’t have a new spine book in mind for this topic, although I’m open to suggestions {ahem}. 

For Health we will be re-reading a book we used as a spine during Agent E’s 4th and Agent J’s 2nd grade year. The Human Body: A Visual Encyclopedia offers a detailed look at each of the body’s systems, as well as including information on the life cycle and personality traits. We will be making ample use of the KidsHealth website articles and videos as well. This year we also discovered the wonderful collection of books by Robie H. Harris about the body and puberty, and we will likely be re-reading all of them next year. They are all highly recommended and Agent-approved. {We will likely skip reading It’s Perfectly Normal with Agent A, as it’s really aimed at middle-school-ish ages, but all the others we will read together.} I think it is so important to have an accurate, scientific understanding of your own body and how it works. {Just think about how many people you know personally who fall for all sort of health-related pseudoscience nonsense because they lack a basic understanding of the human body.}

Right now our routine is to cover geography and science on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, then turn to history, world religions, and health on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, I think we will likely be revising our days somewhat for next year, possibly to include more of a “block” schedule of sorts. Of course we also still need to throw art, music, and extras into the mix as well. That will be the subject of part three of this post.

Planning for the 2017-2018 School Year {Part One}

We only have eight days left in this school year, as we are wrapping up early to do that whole moving-across-the-country thing. Even though I haven’t been writing much in this space, I have been doing a lot of planning and thinking and perusing of materials. We will be taking a seven-week break before tackling sixth, fourth, and second grades, which is a lot for us. {Typically our “summer” ends up being more like two to three weeks off to “reset” before we get bored, ha.} 

Currently we spend the first part of our morning school time on written work, and we will likely continue that schedule as we start our next year. Even though they work on different levels, it’s helpful to have everyone at the table at the same time doing the same subjects {primarily math and language arts, but we do include some written work on other subjects as well}.

All three Agents LOVE the Brain Quest workbooks. I don’t know what it is about them, but they are all super excited to start them again. We even bought the new “summer transition” ones to take with us on our travels next month. We are also planning on utilizing the Star Wars workbooks for second and third grade, as well as many of the Brighter Child and School Zone publications we’ve used in the past. We decided to throw in a few Dover coloring books as well, for topics such as the 50 states.

After that, we typically transition into morning reading time, which is when we read together any math, language arts, or mythology texts {we just finished up Greek and we’ll be moving on to Egyptian} we’re in the middle of. I’m thinking of adding poetry to this as well. We will probably re-read all the Sir Cumference books yet again, as well as the Brian Cleary grammar books and the relevant Basher books. Last year we added in several of the alphabet books from Sleeping Bear Press along with selections from the You Wouldn’t Want To . . .  series. 


We also do Spanish in the mornings. After trying several different programs with mixed success, we’ve found that we all enjoy listening to the Coffee Break Spanish podcasts. I would like to introduce more written Spanish this year, though, and I’m eyeing the Spanish Skill Builders workbooks to help in that regard.

It sounds like a lot (times three Agents) but honestly “morning school time” only takes us about an hour to an hour and a half total. We do as much as possible as a group, so that helps. Of course, now that Agent E is moving into sixth grade, she will start doing a few “extra” things on her own in addition to what we include her fourth and second grade siblings in. She is especially looking forward to delving into the Big Fat Notebook series for middle schoolers. 

So we pretty much reserve mornings for math, language arts, mythology, and Spanish. Afternoons are when we cover everything else. Right now we have a “Monday Wednesday Friday” routine and a “Tuesday Thursday” routine, but I think that going forward we will likely combine subjects in different ways {which will be part two of this post}.

The One Where I Complain About Everything

We spent last week at Walt Disney World, and as usual it proved to be both fun and exhausting. The Agents can now muddle through longer days, more waiting time, and generally less predictability without falling apart, but I feel like we still could have {and perhaps should have} reined ourselves in a bit more. 

While it makes sense logistically {and financially} to spend an entire week and make the most of every day when we are flying from over 1200 miles away and paying an exorbitant amount for tickets, in reality these trips are more enjoyable when we pace them more appropriately. Living close enough to visit more frequently—and justify the cost of an annual pass—somehow diffuses some of the “pressure” of wanting to “fit it all in.” 
Agents with chipmunk friends
This is also why I prefer to visit fewer places {museums, zoos, etc.} with a membership enabling us to show up randomly throughout the year as often as we choose, as opposed to trying out every possible nearby venue. I’d much rather invest in an annual pass for, say, a quality zoo or children’s museum, than try to corral the Agents through this and that minor attraction just because it’s there.

Which leads me to another thought: upstate New York is pretty damn boring. Granted, you can “get to” a lot of interesting places from here—both Boston and New York City are three-ish hours a way, for example—but there is not actually a whole lot here. Oh, there’s horse racing in Saratoga Springs {not a fan} and mountains and winter sports options in the Adirondacks {me and winter sports, ha . . . that’s funny} and some cultural/nightlife stuff down in Albany, but . . . nothing about any of that excites me. 

I’m always amused when I tell people I’m not a particular fan of my current living conditions and they offer sage advice like, “you just need to get used to the weather.” Um, hello. Spent the first couple decades of my life mostly living in the northeast. I know cold. I know snow. I know ice. Then I lived in various places with much milder climates for a dozen or so years. Once I acclimated to areas where 70 degrees Fahrenheit qualified as “a little chilly” there was no going back. 

My other favorite tip is, “you need to get yourself and your kids into {insert cold weather activity here}.” Typically this is suggested by someone who is a fan of skiing, sledding, snowboarding, ice skating, or the like, and cannot understand why someone might not be. Even when I lived in areas where those kinds of activities were feasible and common, I never cared for them. But, yes, of course. Let me go back in time and completely change my personality to that of someone who enjoys all the same things you enjoy. That will definitely make living here more tolerable.

I don’t know if people even pay attention to the words coming out of their mouths when they offer these nuggets, or if maybe they just can’t understand the desire to live anywhere other than where they currently do because it’s all they have ever known. 

I also don’t want to sound like I’m totally down on living in New York, as some aspects of it have been rather enjoyable. We’ve met some good friends. I think the Agents finally feel like they put down a few roots, and they will remember living here more clearly than any other place they’ve lived so far. Homeschooling as a lifestyle really solidified for us, especially now that all three Agents are of “school age” and we’ve been at it long enough to feel like it’s simply our Thing. We “discovered” the UU community while here, which gave the Agents a chance to bond with other adults and explore—judgment free—how they feel about myriad issues in a way they truly hadn’t before.

Since this was supposed to be a wrap-up of our homeschooling week, I guess I should get back on track now. We ended up having a three-day week due to some delayed and canceled return flights resulting in us not getting in until 3:00 a.m. Tuesday instead of 6:00 p.m. Sunday. I hoped this short week would be a bit of a review and/or time to finish up a few things in preparation for starting some new units next week, but when it decreased from four days {we had initially planned to use Monday to “recover”} down to three, some things had to be consolidated and others had to go. 

Topics we did address this week included {among others} the history of clocks and calendars, the Greek mythology story of the Calydonian Boar, evolution, the life of rhinos, Inca civilization, Andy Warhol, Duke Ellington, and First Aid. It seems like we are “doing” a lot more work {reading, written work, and just covering more subjects in general} than we have in previous years. I anticipate next year will be more of a “slower” paced academic adventure. I think part of it is that I got wrapped up in the paperwork jungle that is homeschooling in NY and felt a lot of misguided pressure to Do All the Things. I’m looking forward to a time when our learning can be a bit more free form and natural. I think the Agents are, too.

I feel like mostly this post served as a means for me to complain about how much I dislike winter in the northeast, but maybe that’s just what needed to happen today. Snow flurries flutter from the sky as I type this. Again. All three Agents cough in the background. Again. Maybe it’s post-Disney letdown, or maybe it’s mid-winter funk, but every once in a while I dream of greener pastures, and today is apparently one of those days.

Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers graciously hosts a place for us to link up each week. Be sure to stop by and say hello to some other homeschooling bloggers and read about their weeks as well.