Monday, June 22, 2009

Homeschool Wrap Up

As you know, we started officially homeschooling last fall. I'm legally required by the State of Georgia to write up an annual progress report to keep on file.

Isn't that funny? I'm legally required to do this (and test every three years, too) but I don't have to report it to anyone. Don't get me wrong--I'm not complaining, because No Government Oversight is Good Government Oversight. But it's strange--and I'm on pins and needles about when somebody in our state Department of Education is going to decide that oversight is necessary. Hopefully never, but I'm ever-watchful about these sorts of things.

I see I have digressed.

Anyway, since I'm going to be a compliant homeschooling mommy anyway, I figured I might as well turn it into a blog post (because It's All About the Blog). Besides, I think this will be fun for the kids to read one day--and I'll certainly enjoy looking back on the things we did in our As-Yet-To-Be-Cleverly-Named Homeschool. :o)

Let's see, I'm required to make sure he knows stuff about: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. And now we'll proceed to the formal part of Ryan's Annual Progress Report for his Official First Grade Year. (And then I'll discuss Morgan and some of the other things we did, too.)


I'm pleased to report that Ryan's reading has improved quite a bit over the last year (which was really my only homeschooling goal to be perfectly honest).

Shortly before he turned 6, we spent some time with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (at his request) and he quickly got the basics of how to sound out words. By the beginning of our official 2008-2009 school year, he hadn't progressed much beyond that stage. He understood the sounds each letter stands for and how to sound them out together into words, but took very little initiative in figuring out words and cared not at all for reading out loud.

These days, he willingly reads signs and the words in his video games and has recently discovered comics! He will read aloud sometimes when we're reading a book together. What I find interesting are the things he's interested in reading--he's mostly a nonfiction kind of guy. He loves DK books (anything about war, history, or better yet--military history), the Usborne Encyclopedia Of World Geography and various Usborne Science books (there's one about weather he's really attached to, and another about rocks and crystals), video game manuals, maps, etc.

He seems to enjoy fiction most when it's read out loud to him--which I am happy to do! Last year, we read Little House on the Prairie and many Nate the Great and Magic Treehouse books (and zillions of other books that have escaped my memory). Even the easier ones, like Nate the Great, which I think he could read on his own with just a little bit of help, are not interesting to him. That's okay though. Maybe he'll get into literature; maybe not. As much as I love literature--and I do (I even majored in it!)--Brendan does not. He is still a happy, productive member of society, even with that tragic character flaw disinterest in Shakespeare and E.M. Forster.

Language Arts:

I must confess that I'm not exactly certain what this is supposed to cover. So I'm going to go with what we called it back in The Day: Grammar. And I have just one thing to say about Grammar: Schoolhouse Rock!

Because of Schoolhouse Rock!, Ryan understands and can identify the major parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, interjections, prepositions, and subjects and predicates. Also, he uses many of them in his everyday speech. ;)

If I am completely misunderstanding the term "Language Arts," and I probably am, please enlighten me. I'm not too worried--I'm pretty sure we're doing just fine in this area.


Ryan can add, subtract, and multiply. He understands measurement and can use appropriate tools like a ruler or a scale or a measuring cup. He can create and understand graphs/charts. He really understands money and is getting better at skip counting (nickels, dimes, quarters). Amazing what internal motivation will do for you, eh? :o) He can do all kinds of other math-y things, too.

What's interesting to me is that he learned addition, then multiplication, and only then subtraction. This is stuff he figured out on his own. I read somewhere a long time ago that you use a different part of the brain for subtraction/division than for addition/multiplication, so that might account for the slightly different (but still hierarchical!) path to math that he took.

We have recently had some conversations about mathematical concepts (place value, to be specific) that made me realize that I could use some help doing my job, which is 'splainin' stuff and answering questions. After quite a bit of research, I found and purchased our first formal set of homeschooling materials--Shiller Math Kit I. (And I got it on sale, too!) Shiller Math is a Montessori-based math program, so lots of manipulatives, which both older kids (and I) find useful for explaining ideas. The kit also covers 4 years' worth of math (K-grade 3), which is nice because I think we'll get a lot of use out of the stuff, and most importantly, I can help explain stuff to both Ryan and Morgan at the same time. The information in the lesson books is presented in a logical order, but it's also grouped by subject, so if we want to focus just on money (for example), we can zip forward and do only the money pages.

We've only had the materials for about a month and have explored it a few times. So far, we are really enjoying it. Also, I'm predicting a little help from Schoolhouse Rock!

Oh! And chess! Ryan took four sessions of chess over the course of the school year (that's 32 one hour lessons). He's going to take it again next year. Chess isn't math, but it's math-y and good for growing brain cells. :o)

Social Studies:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and call Social Studies by its traditional name: History.

If there's one traditional academic subject Ryan is fascinated by it's History. He loves to learn about the real things that real people did and how they really did them. (He loves it even more when real Good Guys powed real Bad Guy Booty.)

We signed up for the American History lectures at History at our House, and once Ryan got used to the lecture format (which he had never encountered before and had a hard time adjusting to), he enjoyed the stories and especially the MAPS. However, it became pretty apparent to me early on that Ryan needed stronger reading skills to be able to read those maps independently. And with a new baby to care for, I didn't have the energy or time to carve out to actually sit with him and listen to the lectures and help him understand what he was hearing and what he was looking at. So we ended up dropping this for the most part, checking in occasionally.

[By the way, I do not intend this as a criticism of Scott Powell's course--it is chock full of good information and well put together, and if you are looking for a structured online history program for your homeschooled students, then this is the way to go! Mr. Powell states on the website that the Lower Elementary program can (should?) be started when the child is around 7 or 8, I think. Ryan was obviously younger than this recommended starting age, having just turned 6, and simply just wasn't ready for a formal lecture series. We might sign up for Ancient History next year, now that I have more time to devote to such a class--parental help is necessary at this age--and he is a stronger reader. More importantly, he is asking to do this course!]

But there was still History to be had! We read aloud several books about key figures in American History to Ryan--at least 3 books about George Washington, a couple on Benjamin Franklin, and many more about other figures: Samuel Adams, John Adams, Paul Revere, Nathan Hale and others. We watched the entire series of Liberty's Kids on DVD, which I do think was really well done for the most part (I should write a review for the's on the list of stuff to do).

We also toured the grounds of Mount Vernon while in DC to visit my parents. And we saw the King Tut exhibit--because it was here in Atlanta and because we like all kinds of history, not just American. :o) We visited Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History (on several occasions), Moon Station (a stop on the Great Train Chase and 1/2 a mile from our house) and historic sites in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, North Georgia, and Chicago.

And if I may be so bold--he even made a little history, by participating in two Tea Parties!


Ryan is very interested in science, too, and some of the topics we discussed included rocks (of course) and weather and the Earth and how babies get made and how babies come out of their moms (the regular way and the surgical way), how food is turned into vitamins and minerals that our bodies use. We learned about the anatomy of humans and animals using x-ray mock ups (he received for Christmas) and he learned more about food allergies, specifically his food allergy.

They grew plants from seeds using a project kit and raised butterflies from caterpillars. Ryan has been taking care of his frog for over two years now, and his venus fly trap for one year. He has learned about the basics of electricity through the use of several different electricity kits.

He took an 8 week long course in Robotics at the Enrichment Program, which he REALLY loved. It amounted to basic programming using a little robot that zooms around the room (depending on what you tell it to do). Hopefully, we can get him back in something like that next year.

We also took field trips to the Atlanta Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Tell Us Science Museum, our favorite rock store in Tennessee, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

So....that covers the stuff I'm required to track. For Ryan. This post is really long already, so I think I'll write up my other ideas about our first real-live official state-sanctioned non-government, non-institutionalized year of learning here at our house....on another day. There's more I'd like to say, but I'll have to save it for later.

In a nutshell, though--we're having a BLAST and I have the best job in the whole world. :o)


Rosalie said...

Hi Jenn,

Thanks so much for sharing that!! I love, love, LOVE learning about other peoples' homeschooling experiences. I homeschooled my son this year for Pre-K, which was obviously a bit less strenuous than what you did with Ryan!! I enjoyed it, though, and I really would him to keep going with it. The challenge is all of his friends go to "regular" school, so he really wants to do that next year. I am secretly hoping he tries it and decides he likes homeschooling better. Did you have to "convince" your kids to homeschool at all? Also, if you don't mind sharing, are you able to estimate about how much time per day you had to spend this year on schooling? I work from home and as much as I want to keep going if my kids are up for it, time is an issue I worry about as they get older and the work requires more time. I wouldn't want them to miss out on anything just because I'm tied up with work. Thanks a million for all of your insights on this and other topics!!


Mrs. C said...

I'm sure your OFFICIAL report was very boring, but this one was great! What a great time Ryan must be having! :]

Leah C said...

What a great first year! school doens't have to be about textbooks. I'm sure your son is having a ball learning things in the way you're doing them!

And I love Schoolhouse Rock! ;-)