15 June 2016

First Day of School!

Today we officially began the 2016-2017 school year. I’m looking forward to a fun year with a 5th grader, 3rd grader, and 1st grader.

Yes, I know it’s June. Yes, I know most schools just ended for the year; in fact, schools in our district go until next week. But when you choose to school year round, none of that really matters.

We ended the previous school year in late May, and after a three-week hiatus we are ready to go at it again. Now that we’ve been homeschooling for a while {this will be our sixth year} we have gotten pretty comfortable with our routine. We’ve tried taking a longer “summer break” in the past, and it fizzled for many reasons.

So far so good for day one. During “morning school” the Agents all did some math, language arts, and Spanish, and then we read from a few books together {including A Is for America, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, and The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus}. After some play time, reading, lunch, keyboard practice {Agent E} and more play time, we went outside for about an hour, then came into have “afternoon school,” which covered geography, history, and science. {We focus on these three subjects on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; on Tuesdays and Thursdays we turn our attention to health, art, music, and world religions.}

The Agents were all super excited to get started today, especially sweet Agent A, who is so very happy to be a “big" first grader.

If you’re wondering what it is we actually do as far as subjects/lessons, I’ve written about 5th and 3rd grade here and 1st grade here. I’ve also shared what a typical day looks like for us here.

26 May 2016

2016-2017 Homeschool Plans: 1st

This week we are officially “closing out” our 2015-2016 homeschool year and preparing to take a short break before all three Agents move up a grade. Year-round schooling works well for us, and after a few weeks without our comfortable routine, we’ll all be ready to get back into the swing of things. {I wrote about what that will look like for my 3rd and 5th graders here.}

My youngest student, Agent A, will be leaving kindergarten behind and heading into 1st grade. Following is a general outline of what we plan to do. It’s more detailed than what I would likely plan if we were not in a state that had such particular requirements for homeschooling early elementary, but it is what it is.


Primary focus areas for math will include the following:

  • addition and subtraction
  • number sense and place value
  • greater than/less than
  • time and calendar
  • skip counting
  • word problems

Legos and Cheerios are great for illustrating early math concepts. For written work we like the workbooks published by Workman, SchoolZone, and Bendon.

Language Arts

Our 1st grade language arts will be broken down into four main areas:
  • reading {non-fiction, fiction, poetry, fables, folk tales, fairy tales, mythology}
  • comprehension {understanding what is read, being able to discuss it, using context clues}
  • introduction to mechanics {grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, vocabulary, sentence structure}
  • handwriting practice
Mostly Agent A’s language arts “curriculum” will simply involve reading a lot. He learned to read simple texts just before his 5th birthday {so, October-ish last year} and has progressed to early chapter books. {Honestly, he’s capable of more—probably Magic Tree House level stuff with some help—but we’re still in the but it’s so long with so many words! phase.} Primary sources of written work will include Workman Publishing {1st grade reading and writing} and Brighter Child {handwriting, language arts grade 1}.


I’ve decided to have Agent A participate while his older sisters study Spanish, so he will be following along with their Berlitz CDs and books. I’m sure he will want to incorporate our Little Pim DVDs, books, and vocab cards as well. Definitely going for exposure not mastery at this stage, and unlike my 3rd and 5th graders I will not have him do any written work just yet.


I’m still undecided on this, but I think what I will do for geography with Agent A is simply have him study the same topics that my 3rd and 5th graders are working on, just at a different level with age-appropriate books. So our focus areas for the year will be climate and weather, ecosystems, and human geography. I also purchased this very cool First Encyclopedia to use as a spine, mostly for geography and history {an overview of people and cultures} although it also includes some science, art, and music. 

American History

For our spine this year we will be using the United States Encyclopedia, in part because the simple layout and state-by-state organization means I can easily work on this subject with all three Agents together. We will probably enjoy a re-watching of Liberty’s Kids as well, and hopefully Agent A will show more interest this time through. {I think they all get a little more out of it each time we view it.} For 1st grade, I do not plan to teach world history or world religions as separate subjects as I do with my older students.


I intend to include Agent A in our mythology studies this year. I think he will enjoy the stories, and so we will read together from the Treasury of Greek Mythology each week. {We plan to read one story a week and supplement with additional books from the library.}


Unlike geography and history, I will probably not simply follow along with what the girls are doing for science, with the exception of our mammals study. Instead I plan to offer more of an overview of general science terms and topics, including reading about the various science topics outlined in the aforementioned First Encyclopedia. We will also make use of the Read and Find Out Science series (levels 1 and 2) that the girls enjoyed at that age, as well as the book Creature Report: Sunlight, Twilight, and Midnight Zone Ocean Animals {aka, the Octonauts' guide to sea animals}.

Health and Physical Education

Our state guidelines require that at every grade level we teach "alcohol, drug and tobacco misuse; highway safety and traffic regulations, bicycle safety; and fire and arson prevention” but they do not specify much past that. So, we will include these topics, as well as a more general overview of self care, nutrition, and safety at home and in the community. I do not have any particular spine books lined up for these topics. As far as physical activity, let’s just say that’s not an issue when you have a jumpy five-year-old who lives for the outdoors.

Art and Music

For art we will look at select famous artists and styles of art, as well as an introduction to art history. Of course we will also incorporate tons of creative art play {i.e., mess making}. For music we will have a similar agenda: select famous composers, musical instruments, an overview of music history, and listening to a variety of musical pieces. I do not plan to use spine books here either, although I may try to “follow along” a bit with what the girls are doing, just at a different level.

As with my 5th and 3rd graders, we’ll work on math, language arts, and Spanish every morning, and the other subjects in the afternoon a few days each week. I’m not exactly sure how that is going to come together logistically, as this year most of Agent A’s kindergarten work was pretty free range and random, so this will be my first year with an “schedule” for all three kids. It will be a work in progress—like everything else—but this will give us a good starting point.

18 May 2016

2016-2017 Homeschool Plans: 5th and 3rd

In a few weeks we’ll be wrapping up our current school year {4th, 2nd, and K} and taking a short hiatus before rolling into our next school year {5th, 3rd, and 1st}. As year-round schoolers, our “summer vacation” typically only ranges from two to four weeks, but it’s sufficient for our needs. It’s a nice change of pace but not long enough to completely derail us. I like to look at it as a reset button, allowing us to make a clean break from the current year and mentally prepare for moving ahead a grade. The Agents agree; we’ve attempted a full, traditional summer “off” and they missed the comfort of our usual routine.

Following is a summary of the plans we have so far, along with some of the resources we plan to use. I’m purposely focusing on my older students—Agent E {5th} and Agent J {3rd}—for this post. While I will likely include Agent A {1st} in some of what his older sisters do, his grade level {and maturity level} necessitate additional, separate planning.


Math is the only subject we do separately, and even then they typically work on the same topics at the same time, just at different levels. So, for example, both might be doing multiplication, but Agent E will be multiplying three- and two-digit numbers while Agent J is working on multiplication tables up to 12 and fact families.

Our primary focus areas for both will include the following:
  • addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division operations
  • fractions, decimals, and percents
  • number sense and place value
  • word problems
  • graphic representations

For Agent E I will also include probability and statistics, as well as a basic introduction to algebra and geometry. For Agent J we will also work on measurement, time, and money.

We don’t follow a book or curriculum for math at this point. As far as written work and workbooks, we have “favorites” that we come back to again and again, including materials published by Workman, School Zone, and Bendon. Many free math practice worksheets can be found online as well, so it’s very easy to print out extra review pages for pretty much any math topic.

Language Arts

I previously would have included language arts as a subject we cover for each Agent individually, but this year I realized that it all kind of blurs together anyway. Yes, to some extent my expectations for written work are higher for 5th grade than for 3rd, but in general most of the mechanics and comprehension skills we work on can be combined.

Our primary focus areas for language arts break down into the following five areas:
  • reading {choosing age- and theme-appropriate works from a variety of genres: non-fiction, fiction, poetry, Shakespeare, fables, folk tales, fairy tales, mythology}
  • comprehension {understanding what is read, being able to discuss or write about it thoughtfully, using context clues}
  • writing {including proofreading one’s own work}
  • mechanics {grammar, parts of speech, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, vocabulary, sentence structure}
  • skills {dictionary and thesaurus, alphabetizing and categorizing, finding resources, table of contents and index, handwriting, library classification system}

As with math, we do not use an all-encompassing language arts curriculum or guide book. We do have a few workbooks that we have enjoyed in the past, as well as a few new ones we intend to try this year. These cover reading comprehension, writing, grammar, and additional skills. Encouraging independent reading is not really an issue; for the 2015-2016 school year Agent E read over 225 books and Agent J over 315. {Many of Agent J’s chosen books are shorter, hence the disparity.}


The girls love learning Spanish, although we’ve been pretty basic up until this point. For next year we’re going to try using the Berlitz CDs and books. I have used these in the past for myself {my meager attempt to learn Italian} and like the way the lessons are designed. I’m hoping that incorporating more “listening and repeating” and conversational skills will give us the push we need to get past the simple vocab-and-verbs place we seem to be stuck in. Agent E will continue to use Duolingo {self-paced app} as well. Agent J is more of a fan of Mango, an online language program free through most library systems.


For the 2015-2016 school year we began using spine books to help keep us on track, and I have grown to love this method. It gives us {okay, me} just enough structure without stifling our penchant for following the occasional rabbit hole. For geography we chose Geography: A Visual Encyclopedia. As we only made it through the first three major sections of this beautiful book, we will simply be picking up where we left off. Core geography topics we plan to cover for 2016-2017 include climate and weather, ecosystems, and human geography. As with all subjects, as we work through the spine, we will supplement with books from the library on each specific topic. We may also include some written work from DK Publishing, one of our go-to resources.

World History

Here again we found a great book to use as a spine—History Year by Year—and have been working through it in order, beginning with the “cradle of humankind” and continuing in a mostly chronological fashion. We will start this coming school year around the late middle ages {~900-1450} and then cover exploration and reformation {~1450-1750}. We also plan to continue our look at holidays around the world {something we started kind of late in the game this year}.

American History

We did not cover American history as a separate subject this year, but next year we plan to use {you guessed it} a spine book for this topic. After considering the Children’s Encyclopedia of American History {which we may still use in the future}, we decided to go with the United States Encyclopedia instead. It includes a brief overview of American history and then covers each of the 50 states individually. We will also likely re-watch the Liberty’s Kids series and add in studies of the presidents and national holidays.

World Religions

One of our biggest surprises of the current school year is how much the Agents {and Momma} enjoyed our world religions studies. We made it approximately halfway through What Do You Believe? and as with most of our other spine books we will simply pick up where we stopped. Our primary focus areas next year will include East Asian religions {Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto}; new religious movements; agnosticism and atheism; an overview of religious texts, rituals, and celebrations; philosophy of religion; and religion and science.


Like our venture into religious studies, stumbling onto a love of mythology was a definite win for this school year. While we didn’t do too much organized study this year, next year we plan to start with the Treasury of Greek Mythology and move on {time permitting} to Norse and Egyptian mythology.


Science is the subject where we always end up wanting to Do All The Things. It’s definitely the area we have the most trouble narrowing down. We didn’t really have a spine for this year, although we did buy a copy of The Animal Book and used it as a vague guideline for our mammals study.

Next year we plan to use Science: A Visual Encyclopedia as our spine. I’m estimating we will probably be able to complete the first five sections: matter, materials, forces and machines, energy, and light.

We will also be continuing our mammals study as well as looking at evolution. We spent a lot of time on evolution this year, and it’s become a favorite topic. I’m considering Evolution: The Human Story as an additional spine. As with geography, we may add in some written work from DK here as well.

Health and Physical Education

This year we almost completely finished our health spine, Human Body: A Visual Encyclopedia. We will begin next year by wrapping up the final section in that text {Mind and Personality} and then focus on self-care.

Under the umbrella of “self-care” I would include nutrition, basic first aid and emergency care, safety at home and in the community, and general knowledge about one’s body {including anticipating changes during puberty}. We do not plan to start a new spine book for health, but instead utilize various smaller texts, including The Care and Keeping of You (volumes 1 and 2), The Feelings Book, The American Medical Association First Aid book, and many of the Robie H. Harris titles on the body and growing up.

Exercise is a big part of self-care as well, so we will continue to emphasize physical activity in our homeschool. We focus on keeping fit as a lifestyle, not something you do for a PE requirement. To that end, we incorporate cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, yoga, walking/jogging, and outdoor play {as much as our New York weather permits}.

Art and Music

For both art and music, we will continue using our current spine selections, The Children’s Book of Art and The Children’s Book of Music. Our art emphasis will be on modern art {~1900 to present} and sculpture. For music we will finish up our overview of classical music {picking up around 1850} and then move into more modern music {~1900 to present}.

A second music spine we plan to use is Help Your Kids With Music, which covers pitch, rhythm, scales, melody, etc. I anticipate this being more interesting {and useful} to Agent E, who is so far the only Agent to begin learning an instrument.

Of course, this is all subject to change, but we need a starting point. We don’t create daily lesson plans {I find it overkill when working with just two students} but we do like having an “end game” in mind when we begin the school year, as well as a basic structure courtesy of the spine books. As far as day-to-day work, we find routine to be more important than a set schedule of what pages we cover when.