Monday, September 07, 2009

Back to School

the first day of co-op, last Friday

Our first day and our whole first week went really well. We have begun our second week today. Yes, I know. It is technically a holiday, but it seemed a better idea to work our school in today than to play catch up all week long. We didn't have big plans for Labor Day anyway - just staying home and playing outside and working around the house and garage.

This year we are continuing our home school journey with Sonlight. We began to use Sonlight last year. It was a wonderful experience and I feel settled now after making my way through a couple of other curriculum options.

When I started Jacob's Kindergarten year, we tried the Mother of Divine Grace Syllabus that Laura Berquist put together based on her Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum. It was good, but we were bored. To me it seemed to lack richness. Of course, long before I ever began Jacob's "official" schooling, I had been reading and reading and reading everything I could about home school methods, styles, etc. As my reading progressed and evolved, I found myself very drawn to the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. Everything I read sounded so much like what we already enjoyed doing - lots and lots of reading REALLY good books. Elizabeth Foss and Sally Clarkson were huge inspirations here. I came across a free online curriculum that was both Charlotte Mason in its philosophy and Catholic in its theology. Sounded great and it was! But after a year of using it for Jacob's first grade (Nicole listened in) and working to pull all the components together, I was tired. We had four small children, one of them a new baby. It was more work than I felt I could handle to pull it all together. But other than that my major complaint was that while it was beautifully rich and full, it lacked cohesiveness. I felt like were pulled in many different directions across the curriculum. Let's face it - I was searching still.

Then last year we made the decision to switch to Sonlight. Yet I still felt attached to Mater Amabilis. Plus, I really liked what Elizabeth Foss was doing with poetry and music and art on her website. So I ended up doing Sonlight for Jacob's second grade and Nicole's Kindergarten PLUS various components from Mater Amabilis PLUS some extras from Elizabeth Foss PLUS a few extra workbooks from Catholic Heritage Curriculum! WOW! What I learned was that it was too much. It all seemed wonderful, but it was too much. I realized how much I loved the Sonlight work we were doing. It was lots of GREAT reading - the kids adored everything we read. I made only a couple of modifications last year (and this year) based on what was said on the Catholic Sonlight yahoo group. Sonlight has a beautiful cohesiveness and we do not feel tied down by bunches of rote workbooks. That's just not our style. So over the year, I found I was slowly plucking out all the pieces of the curriculum that left me feeling burdened, overwhelmed and scattered. What was I left with? For the most part - Sonlight! As I dropped lots of the other things, I felt like we had more time and ability to delve into the subjects in history that Sonlight was guiding us through. And it left me feeling more peaceful without the heavy load of intense planning. As much as I love designing our learning, I was not enjoying the pressure. Sonlight works for us because it fills a need in more than one way for me and our family. We are richer as a result.

Last year we studied history using Sonlight's Core 1 which took us from ancient history until the time of Christ. We so enjoyed this last year! This year we are continuing through the rest of world history in Core 2. We spent last week reviewing last year's material and today we began our new material. This CORE portion that we do together includes our history, geography, read alouds and Bible. I only dropped a couple of things this year. One was a book that has the children praying for different locations on the globe in need of evangelization. There were a couple of things I read that I didn't care for so we omitted it. But we are doing the wonderful World Geography Songs and workbook - it is so much fun. We learned the continents and oceans song last week. I omitted a Bible Fact book - not because there was anything wrong with it but because we have other Catholic things we substitute. We are using their daily Bible reading suggestions in the afternoon. We began last week with Genesis and it is just a good way to get good chunks of Scripture into our days. This is on top of the Mass readings that we read and discuss in our morning prayer after breakfast. And we are using the Sonlight scripture memory song CD. The children love music and I have seen them learn Scripture so well this way. We are currently working on Psalm 24.

This year I also decided to use Sonlight's Science 2. I am not a science person!!!! Sad, but true. I have vascilated back and forth bouncing from this type of lesson to that. I had used a very old version of a Kindergarten Sonlight science once and I was unimpressed. Again I tried this and that. And you know what happenss when you do that - nothing! We hardly ever did science because everything was either too much work to prepare or boring, etc. So I just told myself that this year, I was just going to use Sonlight's science and make the best of it. Consistent lessons in science would be better than the most well thought out lessons that never got done! So far I am happy. It lays it all out for me and I really like this. It leaves me free to tack on a few books from the library that supplement what we are studying. I think I decided that there was nothing wring with that Sonlight way back when. I just don't like science very much.

I designed our own morning prayer binder this year from a variety of resources. It includes the monthly schedule of daily Mass readings, the Pope's prayer intentions for the month, the daily feasts and the collect prayer for the day. There is nothing fancy or flowery, long and drawn out. But it is exactly what I was searching for. Anything I had bought or could buy was either too much or too little and either too above or below their level. I didn't want a dumbed down version of the scripture from the Mass. I wanted the real readings from the real Bible. I wanted a couple of simple morning prayers. I wanted a few guided prayer intentions to guide our own. I wanted to know what the day held as far as feasts, whether or not we were planning a big celebration. I am pleased with it!

Jacob is a big third grader this year - both physically and mentally (just yesterday I had to buy him boys' size 6 tennis shoes!) For his school year we are doing the Sonlight Language Arts 2 Advanced with Advanced Readers. He could technically read at much higher levels than this, but this level fits him all around. He has wonderful books to read all year. And as we discovered last year, Sonlight has him doing lots of thinking and writing. It has really developed his writing skills. It provides us with his spelling and phonics (MCP Word Study) and vocabulary development (via Wordly Wise once a week and me assigning him vocabulary words from our reading to define using the dictionary). As Sonlight provides for, we tack on our own choice of Math (Horizons 3) and Handwriting (D'Nealian 3 - probably the last year for this). We do copy work and general language arts, both very well integrated with his reading. I add on the Seton Cathechism workbook for his grade level. This came as a recommendation from a seasoned homeschooling friend. It is not fun and interesting. BUT it is solid, thorough and seriously Catholic. This is his religion study aside from what we do as a group spiritually.

Sweet Nicole is in first grade this year. She is reading so beautifully - I can't believe it. You wouldn't know she just barely finished Kindergarten. It is impressive through no fault of my own. She is a reader like her brother. Now I have trouble getting both of them to put down their books. :) With Nicole, I am using Sonlight's Language Arts 2 Regular. It fits her well. The readers are a bit lower than her level too, but it is good fluency practice. And everything else is a good fit for her abilities. The types of things she does daily are much like Jacob's - spelling, phonics, copy work, language arts and lots of writing and reading. She has less vocabulary to work on. The Wordly Wise was optional and I chose not to do it so that I wouldn't overburden her with just one more workbook. She's only first grade! She is also doing Horizons Math, Seton Catechism and D'Nealian Handwriting.

And then there's my little Pre-K 4/5 Andrew. He just loves to tell everyone he is in Pre-K 4! Too cute! I hate to admit it but I ordered the Sonlight Pre-K 4/5 Core guide for him this year. I told a friend - "It's not that I can't think of things to teach him and read to him. I can. And I have - quite well I think. But I need accountability." What I mean is that for me with two other small ones to "officially" school, lessons and time for Andrew and Mikey can so easily get pushed aside. Yes, I am doing things other than Sonlight with Andrew, but with this little checklist, I at least know that at the end of each day, I have done worthwhile learning with him. He really loves it and is very proud to have ownership of his own little lessons. I am happy. He is happy to get much more of my morning school hours.

And then there's Mikey! While we are busy with school, Mikey is busy too. He usually is pretty happy finding something to play with on his own, but often times will join us at the table to color. He loves the ABCs and loves to sing. He is a busy boy.

Today is Monday. We completed our school work with lots of time left over to hang out outside with Daddy and for tea time. The children adore tea time so I reinstated it this year. I chose Mondays since it was a relatively calm day with no outside activities until after dinner. My plan is to have a special drink and a special snack each time like we used to do. During this time time we will read about and discuss artists and musicians and their works. Last Monday I read about Monet to them from a Venezia book and we looked at some of his paintings in a library book. Today before we had chocolate milk and graham cookies, we made lovely Impressionist artwork bookmarks. Then we looked at more of the Monet paintings and I read Katie's Sunday Afternoon. They so look forward to this time.

I pray your school year is as lovely as ours promises to be, whether your children go to school or stay home to school. I pray all your learning is blessed and bountiful!


Luke said...

Sounds like a wonderful school year! May it be your best year yet [smile].


Anonymous said...

You are such an inspiration in so many ways.


Blair said...

Wow, what a post ;) Sounds like a great year in store! It was great to see you guys on Saturday...what a wonderful evening of worship. I had to rush off to check on my poor little toddler; he had a rough time. But it was a nice date night for us and sounds like it was a great one for you guys too! What a beautiful story of the dinner gift :)