In the cold gray armpit of the year, the homeschooling mother's thoughts turn to next year. Isn't that how it goes? Isn't it? Chorus? Anyone?
Okay, the answer is yes, and we all know it. It's those golden visions of plans unlived that carry us through the daily living of this year's reality-tarnished plans. So on this drippy Saturday morning, with one child at the gym doing air squats and swimming laps, and the others still in bed, because self-discipline is this terribly selective virtue, I find myself alone downstairs at the kitchen table, mulling things and occasionally getting up to reference the study shelves.
One of the nice things about cruising into your tenth year of homeschooling -- actually, one of the nice things about being more than halfway through your tenth year of homeschooling -- is that you don't have to create absolutely everything ex nihilo, as it were. We're on a roll here, a roll which has taken us, for example, through an Old World history course covering Mesopotamia, the ancient Israelites, Egypt, Greece (last year) and Rome (this year). So it's a given that next year in Old World history we'll pick up where the Roman Empire crumbles away. In New World history, things have moved a bit more slowly, so that after two years we're still as far as George Washington's pre-Revolutionary-War young manhood, but that's okay, since we've spread out sideways to look at things like the Seven Years' War, the discoveries of Australia and Hawaii, and the invention of the steam engine. So we'll get through Washington's death by the end of this year, to pick up with early-19th-century America next year. My aim is for the rising 5th grader, at least, to work his way through the contemporary era by the end of sixth grade. Then we can decide what, exactly, grades 7 and 8 should look like in this area (so far this has varied with each child), before we embark on our big Western Civ cycle in 9th.
In math, we've solidified addition and subtraction facts and are adding multiplication and division. Next year will be about solidifying those operations while introducing things like decimals and percents. The idea is to be ready for pre-algebra by grade 7, though whether people will go the Saxon route or the Teaching Textbooks route really depends on . . . lots of things, chiefly the student's ability, or lack thereof, to self-teach Saxon using the book, the instructional DVDs and Khan Academy, which is what the last pre-algebra student in my house did, to excellent effect. Either way, the coming 4th and 5th grade year for my primary kids will be about laying the necessary groundwork for pre-algebra and ultimately algebra readiness (but also about enjoying Life of Fred, which was a total winner this year as a daily read-aloud/mental-math exercise, and which we plan to continue).
For science this year we've done a nature read-aloud (The Living Forest, much enjoyed) plus Mary Daly's Introducing the Periodic Kingdom to Its Heirs, which we have not done as consistently, since our Thursdays, when I have it scheduled, are often abbreviated by outside activities and I tend not to reschedule this one as deliberately as I do any missed history reading, for example. We also watch a heck of a lot of Magic School Bus. Each child has also had independent reading for science: The Way Things Work for the current 4th grader, Thornton Burgess's Seashore Book for Children for the current 3rd grader.
In language arts we've worked on handwriting (always an evolving thing in this house, though it never seems to evolve as far as I'd really like, genetics weighing heavily against us here), so that everyone can write a more or less legible cursive hand, as well as -- when they slow down and try -- quite nice print. This has been, unusually for us, a workbook-heavy year in this area: a workbook for handwriting, a workbook for grammar, a workbook for spelling, which last we've never done before, and I don't think we'll do next year. The run through families of words and their rules has not been un-useful, and it's my aim to finish these books, but next year I'd like to keep only the grammar (CHC's Language of God series) and return to the use of copywork and studied dictation for penmanship, spelling, and the reinforcement of points of grammar introduced by the grammar text. What I want is to encourage both children to spread out in writing, to develop the habit of writing more and longer, more smoothly, and the way to do this without the added angsty burden of coming up with things to say is to copy and write from dictation. In my experience, a child who has done this consistently will transition pretty seamlessly from the stage of "asking me to write is like asking me to milk a turnip" to the stage of "Well, here's my twelve-page history research paper for you to proofread."
So I've been toying with the idea of Spelling Wisdom from Simply Charlotte Mason, though I think I could perfectly well replicate what this program asks for on my own, simply pulling copywork and selections for dictation from our reading, and/or from the selections offered in Laura Berquist's The Harp and the Laurel Wreath, which we've owned for years and consistently underused. I am really thinking I'll save my money for literature.
Incidentally, I like this piece on Charlotte Mason's approach to spelling. I've known the principles for years, but somehow now I can visualize it all better than before.
In the area of reading, both children are ready for yet more independent work. My rising 5th grader has been reading voraciously for years; the trick now is to get him to persevere with a book beyond his initial negative reaction to it ("This book is boring/hard/stupid, etc"). My rising 4th grader is, I am relieved to report, reading fluently and completely on her own, though she still doesn't choose to pick up a book and lose herself in it for fun, the way the others have done. So my aim, increasingly, is to transfer the reading burden from myself and our ritual of reading aloud (though of course I want to keep that ritual as the core of our day) to each child. And my challenge, as I shop the shelves and ponder our course for next year, is to decide what to keep as read-alouds, what to assign to children, which child should read what when, considering that they're close in age and are studying the same thing, at least in history . . . It's the logistics that get me, every time.
Not long ago I sketched out a preliminary book list for history. I still need to add to it and to decide what we'll read together and what each child will read on his/her own. Today I'm leaning towards having them each read Famous Men of the Middle Ages, perhaps on alternate days, while we read historical fiction aloud, book after book -- I have a LOT of good fiction for this period, and I'm really at a loss for how to divvy it up between them. Then we'd do Abraham Lincoln's World as a read-aloud, while they read fiction. Today I'm thinking this, anyway.
We'll continue with MCP Math for independent work in math, and we'll pick up with Life of Fred for read-alouds.
For science . . . hmm . . . the rising 4th grader could pick up The Way Things Work. I must think further about what the rising 5th grader might do independently. I think we'll do Benjamin Wiker's The Mystery of the Periodic Table as a read-aloud. Maybe I'll have them read Introducing the Periodic Kingdom themselves on alternate days . . .
This year for geography they both read Holling C. Holling. The current 4th grader read Tree in the Trail and Minn of the Mississippi, while the current 3rd grader read Paddle-to-the-Sea. She could pick up with the next Holling book for next year, while her brother . . . again, I will have to ponder his reading. We might read some Richard Halliburton, or possibly Kon Tiki, aloud.
I'm always on the prowl for good children's literature for general-literature reading . . . both children got books for Christmas which they haven't yet read, and which I might save to put in their boxes next year if they don't read them this spring. Of course, there's a good bit of crossover in this age group between quality historical fiction and quality fiction-fiction, so I'm not really worried about shortchanging them.
German: I think we'll continue with Duolingo, which I discovered early in this semester and really like for the structured daily practice it provides in understanding, reading, writing (or typing), and speaking German on a basic, beginning level. I like that it's self-teaching, self-paced, and free.
Religion: This year we've read Inos Biffi's Illustrated Catechism, plus Old and New Testament Bible (currently: 1 Samuel and Mark's Gospel), plus Amy Welborn's Book of Heroes. Next year I'm contemplating continuing Bible as a read-aloud, then having the rising 5th grader read the St. Joseph Church History, while the rising 4th grader reads saint biographies on her own. Plus, of course, learning by doing, as always.
What hasn't worked this year: chiefly, giving them little blank books for narration of their various reading. Just hasn't happened. (On the other hand, little books with an illustrated page for each week's lesson have been a huge hit in my First Holy Communion class -- their books are darling!) I am pondering having these children at home do small "Book of Centuries"-type books next year for their history reading. Maybe a "Book of Famous Men," with a page for each reading from Famous Men of the Middle Ages . . . Or we could just do copywork . . . I know one child will want to do illustrations, while the other will rather emphatically not want to do illustrations. Must think more on this subject . . .
Meanwhile, I want to preserve a routine which is working for us now:
1. Independent work as children emerge in the morning and are ready to get started. Workbooks make this easy, since all they have to do is get their materials out of their boxes, find a comfortable place to sit, and get going. Generally work tends to be staggered, with one child up and going before the other, which means that it's easier for me to focus on that child as he or she needs individual help. We can still accomplish the same thing if I've got the copywork for the day written out on the whiteboard. I've phased out my own copywork as both the handwriting and grammar books provide plenty of it, and any more seemed like overkill; next year I'll eliminate the handwriting workbook and the writing/copywork/dictation exercises in the grammar texts in favor of my own, which will just be part of the routine.
2. Read-aloud basket, which right now happens over lunch. I eat first, while they're busy with other things, so that I can read while they eat.
So, next year . . . thinking . . . thinking . . . Wondering what everyone else's thoughts are about next year . . .