Rawlins Family

Rawlins Family

Friday, February 13, 2015

Curricula 2014-2015 School Year

As of January, we have officially completed two years of homeschooling. When we set out to homeschool we had no idea what we were doing. It really took us some time to discover the truth behind, "When it comes to curricula, there is no one-size-fits-all." But I feel like we're finally in a great groove, and using things we really love, that really work.

Cameron (fifth grade):
  • Language Arts - this has been the hardest one to nail down. We found right away that Easy Grammar was a fantastic fit for us, but we've been through the wringer trying to find something to meet our needs.This year I set writing on the back burner and focused on reading A LOT. That gave him a much needed rest from being constantly harangued about writing! After Christmas, though Success with Writing. He doesn't love it, but it keeps him fresh and working. I've got a pretty great writing curriculum all lined up for next year.
  • Math - Cameron is in the final chapters of Math U See Epsilon. MUS is a mastery-based math program, so one major operation is taught through mastery in each level. By the time all sixth levels are complete, the student has completed the equivalent of sixth grade math. Epsilon focuses on fractions, which I was totally dreading. But, MUS came through again, and we allllllll understand fractions at a much deeper level now. In addition to MUS, Cam is working through Life of Fred: Fractions. We love Fred around here. 
  • Geography/History - We're using Trail Guides to US Geography. I don't love it, but it does get the job done. See my other posts for our US history units. We're loving them!
  • Typing/Programming - Somewhere along the way, a friend recommended SpongeBob typing. It was inexpensive, so I picked it up. It's working. I just stay far, far away from the computer when I hear it going. SpongeBob gives me the shivers. For programming, we're using level one of Kid Coder. It's fantastic, but we find we simply run out of time during our regular school day. I plan to use this course over the summers when we're usually just doing math and reading.
  • Science - We're using, and loving, Sassafras Science:Zoology.
  • Civics - Cameron is completing a civics workbook. It also serves as reading comprehension work. It's not my favorite, and it's not his favorite. I may have him work at a slower pace, or simply set it aside for another year. I haven't decided yet.
  • Music - Cameron is still plugging away with our piano lessons. He doesn't have any of the passion for the instrument that I do, but he told me that he wants to stick with it. Occasionally I will hear him sit down to play FOR FUN, and that's my favorite!
  • PE - Cameron continues to swim year-round, and he's working really hard to clean up his strokes so he can swim in the same lane with the best swimmers this summer. We also meet for regular PE classes with our homeschool group. That's where we do old-school PE stuff, like kickball. I love our homeschool group!
Miles (third grade):
  • Language arts - Miles is using Easy Grammar, Success with Reading Comprehension, and Success with Writing. Miles is my busiest kid, and reading was a struggle for awhile. Thankfully, we've reached a place where he can finally sit down and focus on his work. He's cruising through and doing so well! We're incredibly proud of him and all his effort. For spelling, we're using Spelling Workout, which is quick and painless. Cursive has been a fun new skill this year. Miles' printing skills are pretty on-par for most serial killers, so I'm happy to see that his cursive is quite pretty!
  • Math - Miles is finishing up Math U See Gamma, which focuses mainly on multiplication. He is a bit of a natural with math. He's also working through the Life of Fred elementary series. When it was time to memorize his multiplication facts, we used Times Tales. I would recommend that to anyone, public school or homeschool. It's a really great resource.
  • Geography/History - See above.
  • Typing - SpongeBob. Shootmeinthehead.
  • Science - Sassafras Science: Zoology. We ended up using Zoology because of Miles. He has been all about animals since he was a little guy. He gravitates to books and magazines about animals, and has a million animal facts running around that brain of his. This is a favorite subject for him.
  • Music - Miles has started lessons with me. He's going to be my kid who loves music. Like me, he started by playing by ear. I left him alone until just recently because I knew he needed to conquer his focus issues before we could work on anything else. He's picking up quickly and I know he'll zoom through his lesson books...if only he can stop playing the Star Wars and Lord of the Ring themes long enough to practice!
  • PE - Miles is also swimming year-round. He's a solid swimmer, and he enjoys it. What he really enjoys, however, is climbing ALL OF THE TREES. ALL OF THEM! He is often ON MY ROOF, or 20 FEET UP in a tree. And he's happiest there. He's incredibly sure-footed as well, so that's why we're putting him in climbing classes later this year. I'll feel better when he's clipped to something.

Sophia (first grade):
  • Language arts - Sophia is using Success with Grammar, Success with Reading Comprehension, and Success with Writing - all at a second or third grade level. She is reading all of the books that were ever written, and killing it with Spelling Workout. If I can't find her, it's because she's sitting somewhere reading. Right now she is systematically checking out every Garfield comic anthology the library owns, while also reading the Goddess Girls and Magic Tree House series. There's no pinning her down.
  • Math - Sophia about to finish up Math U See Beta, and has memorized her times tables so she'll be able to skip through the first part of Gamma sometime this spring. At some point I expect she'll start teaching math to me. She enjoys the antics of that wacky Fred just as much as the boys.
  • Geography/History - Don't judge me, but I'm about to tell you a cold, hard truth. I don't care if my first-grader knows a thing about history or geography. I'd rather her be outside playing. She plays Stack the States and is the fastest one in our family to put together the US map floor puzzle. She knows where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are, and that we don't live on the same continent as the Egyptians. That's enough for me! She's done. A+! Sometimes she'll stick around while I'm working with the boys, and she's always present for any supplemental videos we watch. So, yup. That's it.
  • Science - Sassafras Science: Zoology
  • Typing - Again with the SpongeBob. I actually fought her on this one. I didn't want her stressing over her fine motor skills (not her strongest feature, and she's almost a perfectionist, so she DOES stress), but she insisted, I relented, and here we are. My adorable seven-year old talking about Crusty the freaking Crab. Erg.
  • Music - Sophia, I love you, and I want you to know that first, because I'm about to tell you that you can't carry a tune in a bucket. You'll get there (one day, fingers crossed). But you go ahead and keep singing your heart out to the Annie soundtrack. (Too honest? Well, let's all take a moment and consider the people on American Idol whose parents were outside the audition room swearing on a stack of Bibles that their baby was the next Mariah Carey...) Also, Sophia is currently cast as "Molly" in Annie. Saying she loves it would be an understatement. She lives for it! She gets her drama from me, no question about it.
  • PE - Sophia is part hobbit, and lives out-of-doors barefoot in all weather conditions. She also swims year-round with the boys, and takes gymnastics classes. But mostly she's running around looking slightly homeless. Please don't call CPS.

Haley (preschool'ish?):

Me: "Haley, let's keep working on our letters and numbers!"
Haley: "Okay, mommy! Let's do that. And then I'm going to scrub every memory of it from my brain so that I never, ever, ever remember those letters and numbers you keep trying to teach me. Oh look! The sky is bluepink, and this apple is black, and tires are squares, and why are you bothering me right now because I want to play and you're messing that up."
Me: Sigh.

Emilyn (Age Perfection):

"Hey mommy, let's be best friends and you never put me down ever in my life ever. Mmmkay? Except, oh wait, what's that? Books on the book shelf? Who put those there? Let me down immediately so that I can go pull all 147 books off of those shelves."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Baby girl turns one

I know I'm not caught up on anyone's birthdays, or any events, or anything. And it's too overwhelming to try to get caught up! I've got pictures and blurbs posted all over the place, so I'll have to compile those at some point and get it organized. But for now, THIS GIRL!

This girl has been the dreamiest of dreamy babies. So dreamy, in fact, that I was in deep, deep, way down deep denial about her birthday coming up. She just kept getting better and better at being a human. Who wants that kind of baby-ness to end? AND, she's my last little person. I had some serious thoughts that Haley might be my last, but it was never a sure feeling. I always had the idea that we might have another wiggling in the back of my brain. But throughout my pregnancy I felt a peace and contentment at the thought of Emilyn being my last. And so she shall be!

On her birthday we had our family come over and eat some pizza and cake with us. And Emilyn ate her cake with GUSTO! I think she must have been expecting me to take it away any minute, because she double-fisted that sucker. Yummo.

Happy first birthday, Emilyn Pearl! You have the most amazing ability to make everyone happy. We all light up when we see you, and you love unconditionally. And thanks for finally learning to sleep. That helps.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Bill of Rights is like giving the Constitution an upgrade...

Yes, Miles. The Bill of Rights IS like giving the Constitution an upgrade. I love that kid's brain.

This week we completed a quick unit on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Below are the resources we used.

Our Constitution Rocks, by Juliette Turner -  this is a resource we own, and I think it's a pretty great book. I'd like my older kids to read it eventually, but it was too much to get through in one week, so it stayed on the shelf. The story of its creation is pretty great, though.
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Shhh!! We're Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz - another great one by Ms. Fritz. Did you know that the residents of Philadelphia were so concerned about being quiet during the Grand Convention that they covered the cobblestone streets in front of Independence Hall with gravel? I love the fun tidbits of information that Fritz always includes in her work.
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...If You Were There When They Signed the Consitution by Elizabeth Levy and Joan Holub - this is another series of books we really enjoy. It's a question/answer style of writing. We read this late in the week and were able to skip over a fair amount that had already been covered in other books. At 70+ pages, this one is long!
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We the People: The Story of Our Constitution by Lynn Cheney - Lynn Cheney has written a series of children's books about American history. We've enjoyed them so far. They're a bit wordy, but they're always beautifully illustrated. I did feel like this one didn't do as great a job at explaining the finer points in the legislative branch, but that's hard to do in a children's book.
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We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States by David Catrow - I like how this book breaks down the big words, and explains those big ideas. This is short and sweet.
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The Bill of Rights (True Books: American History) by Christine Taylor-Butler - a thorough presentation of all of those individual rights that are so important!
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Rather than do a big, elaborate poster of the three branches of government, we did a simple one on the white board and called it good. Cameron will be completing a workbook to finish out the year. That will cover his social studies/civics requirement for the year.
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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Sassafras Science Review - Zoology

Because I love to read reviews before purchasing curricula, I've decided to start reviewing the stuff we love! Hopefully it will help others.

This year we are trying a new science curriculum that I'm really loving. It's called Sassafras Science Adventures, Volume 1. It's an elementary science course that teaches through literature. If you're looking for a super-intense, experiment-based science program for your five-year old, this is not for you (and also, you should slow down). If you're looking for a fun, age-appropriate, engaging science program with lots of hands-on projects, this program IS for you. I originally intended to use this with my 3rd grader, but after day one I realized I wouldn't be able to do that...because the rest of my kids wouldn't ever leave us alone! They were all hooked. So I ditched our plans and went with it. That is, after all, the point of homeschooling.

Sassafras Science is a book about Blaine and Tracy Sassafras, a twin brother and sister who hate science. After a dismal year, they are sent to spend the summer with their crazy Uncle Cecil who happens to be a scientist. He sends them on adventures where they are able to learn about various habits and wildlife. As students, you're encouraged to track what you're learning. You can do that in a simple blank notebook, or you can purchase the SCIDAT logbook. That was totally worth the money, in my opinion. It's great for keeping information organized, and it keeps the kids involved. There is also a separate teacher manual. It provides suggestions for how best to schedule your studies, additional reading material, experiments, activities, etc. I found it really helpful at the very beginning, but haven't used it much since. One activity from the manual that we've really come to love, though, is the habitat poster. As we learn about a habitat, we make a poster and then add the animals as we learn about them. It's my kids' favorite part.
I've read that this curricula is intended to take half of a school year, but I don't know...that would be moving at a pretty fast pace. We are taking the full school year, and it's given us plenty of time to do additional reading and activities without feeling like we're only ever doing science! I have to be careful not to let exciting subjects totally dominate our lives. But maybe that's just me...

We plan to continue on next year with the twins as they take on Anatomy. Cameron will be in sixth-grade, so I'll be adding more meat (pun intended) to his studies to make sure it's rigorous enough, but I think it will be great.

This series is still in production. Volume 3: Botany was published in late 2014, and Volume 4: Earth Science is slated for 2015 (hopefully!).

*This review was for my own purposes, and I am not affiliated with Sassafras Science. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Revolutionary War unit and book review

We've been having so much fun with some of our units, I've decided to keep track of them here.

Our journey to finding a good history course has been long and annoying. We tried Joy Hakim's The History of US. It's a wonderful series, and one I will use with my kids as they get older. However, it wasn't a good fit for our family at this point, so we abandoned it. In the end, we decided to use a literature-based approach and do our own thing for US history (and probably all history going forward). Along the way, we found some fantastic resources, and had a great time!

Books we loved:
Jean Fritz has written a slew of excellent children's books. We are big fans! We read Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?; Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams; Sign Here, John Hancock; and George Washington's Breakfast. We own, but didn't get around to What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin; and And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? We also didn't get into Why Not, Lafayette? because it was a little over the kids' heads.
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If you've never heard me say it before, let me say it again: WE LOVE THE WHO WAS... SERIES FROM GROSSET & DUNLAP. We read bios of Paul Revere, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.
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As a family, we listened to Johnny Tremain. I somehow escaped childhood without ever reading it. Cameron was originally going to read My Brother Sam is Dead but disliked it and read Give Me Liberty by LM Elliot instead. Miles' assigned personal reading was a Magic Tree House fact tracker book on the American Revolution. Together, the boys read George Washington: Spymaster for a book club we hosted. And we finished up with a few supplemental items from Kids Discover magazine: American Revolution!, and TIME magazine for kids. Kids Discover magazine has free vocabulary cards and lesson guides to go with several of their editions. Cameron used the vocab cards and the boys both completed the worksheets found here: http://www.kidsdiscover.com/free-lesson-plans/ . We found additional worksheets for the girls at education.com.

For the littlest (and biggest) among us, we read several great picture books. When Washington Crossed the Delaware, Let it Begin Here! The Battles of Lexington and Concord, The Scarlet Stocking Spy, Geroge vs. George, and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere which was beautifully illustrated by Christopher Bing.

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Liberty's Kids series from PBS, and American Ride from BYUtv were favorites and helped provide a visual reinforcement for what we were reading. We also watched a reenactment video on YouTube. It would have been cooler in real life, but I'm glad we watched it.

Activities/Field trips:
Certainly nothing brought history alive more than our trip north over the summer! Walking the grounds of Valley Forge, PA; Philadelphia; Mount Vernon; and Washington, D.C. was an incredible experience for my kids, and has given us something to refer to when we discuss the events that occurred in those places. (pictures to come...blogger is being super lame at the moment)

This Valley Forge, PA. This was the Continental Army headquarters during the brutal winter of 1777-78. Washington stayed in that house, and the soldiers stayed in small huts. Soldiers had little clothing, little food, and endured sickness. Thomas Paine wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls..." the previous winter, but I can't imagine a time more trying than the winter spent at Valley Forge.

Independence Hall! There's just something cool about walking around a building where Ben Franklin hung out.

Three or four kids ago I never would have dreamed of dragging a baby on a month-long vacation. But this particular baby makes everything easy. She slept on and off all day, only cried when hungry, and never seemed bothered by the heat or her stroller. Dreamy, dreamy baby Emilyn.

The Liberty Bell.

This is the "Declaration House." It's the boarding house where Thomas Jefferson was staying when he penned the Declaration. It's located next to the Free Library of Philadelphia, which, as my sister Alyssa pointed out, is poetic. Did you know our Library of Congress was started by good ole' Tom? A great book about that is Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library.

The tomb of Ben Franklin. It's covered in coins, but I'm not sure why. We couldn't get into the actual cemetery without paying a ridiculous sum, so we stayed outside the bars.

While in Philadelphia, we went to The Friends Meetinhouse - an active Quaker congregation still meets there.

This is an inexplicable cat fountain in the courtyard in front of Betsy's house. My niece thought it looked like a nice cat.

The burial site of Betsy Ross is located right in front of her house. It was a quick visit, and the actress playing Betsy was so snarky with me! I don't think she liked the questions I was asking.

To finish up our unit, we decided to create a picture timeline on our wall. We first time-lined the events. Then, the kids picked one or two battles or events that they wanted to draw, and those were placed on the timeline as well. Cameron - being a big 5th grader this year - was assigned an oral presentation of all the material we studied.

While we enjoyed learning in such depth about this topic, we are all ready to move on. We'll do a brief unit on the Constitution before heading into the Westward Expansion/Native Americans/Pioneers/Gold Rush...