Peter is at

sleep-away YMCA camp this week (for the first time! Sob!) and when Leo was a

big whine-ball this weekend it occurred to me that I might be able to start

some of his school subjects during Tim’s naps and ease us into the school year

a bit. A lot of homeschoolers go year round and others take a wide variety of

approaches to starting and ending the grade levels but after 4 (or 2) years of

going to school with Daddy, I figured the boys would react best to a definitive

start date. All of August I’ve been telling them that when Daddy’s students

start on August 29^{th}, we would start too. But yesterday was his

first day back without students, so it sort of felt like the first day.

Regardless, I told Leo that while Tim was napping we could play a game or do

something else fun of his choosing, and then we’d have our first spelling

lesson. His spelling program, All About Spelling, highly recommends giving

15-20 minute lessons regardless of how much material is covered during that

time and starting with that allowed me to promise that it definitely wouldn’t

take longer. His math lesson, the other subject he’ll be doing completely

separately from Peter, had the potential to take longer. I also wanted to keep

doing Xtramath with him. He’s been very close to mastering the addition facts

for a week now but seems to get just enough slow or wrong to hold him back and

be frustrating.

So, he wasn’t

exactly happy about it, but after putting together 2 puzzles together, we sat

down in the living room and I began going through the scripted phonogram

lesson, seeing which letters he could name all the sounds to. He sat on the

glider, rocking back and forth while I was on the couch across the room. On

some, such as X, he immediately knew the /ks/ sound and giving the clipped

sound was a no-brainer for him. I’ve never gone over phonograms with him but it

was clearly something he’d done in school. He easily got all the letters but A,

O, S, U, and Y. I told him we were done for the day, checked my watch, and saw

that a whole 7 minutes had gone by. Not

your standard first day of school.

Today I told

him we’d be doing spelling again but he could choose between Xtramath online

(which is never more than 10 minutes) and starting his school math early. He

went with the devil he didn’t know and chose school math.

One of the

few curriculum choices I’ve been steady with has been my early decision to

continue both of them in Saxon math. I’m somewhat familiar with it since the

boys have used it at school and I’ve never thought, “Wow, this is such an

awesome math program,” but it’s one of most common math curricula out there and

I figured I could tailor it to them if necessary. Now that both boys have spent

the summer going over math facts, Leo’s program in particular seems like it’s

going to incorporate a LOT of review. After talking it over with Dan and asking

other homeschoolers how they dealt with it, I decided to start the year with

Leo taking each of the weekly tests until he hits concepts he needs to work on.

If he makes clumsy mistakes, it gets a little murkier. Maybe I’ll give him a

similar problem and see if he does it again. Most tests seem to cover about 5

topics. If there’s one topic (such as drawing the hands to indicate 5:00 on an

analog clock, which I’d thought he might do wrong on the first test) he can’t

do, I’ll spend a day going back to the lesson where that’s introduced and then

give a similar test the next day. Once he’s having trouble with multiple topics

(Saxon says students should get 80% on tests but I’d expect more than that if

we’re skipping the lessons), we’ll jump back 10 lessons to the point where

those topics begin. There are 130 lessons in the book and by about the halfway

point, all the addition facts have been introduced. I suspect that he’ll get

somewhere between the lesson 30 and lesson 60 assessments before the math facts

begin to challenge him and he can’t easily breeze through the tests. So on his

8^{th} day of math, he’ll be at the lesson 45 test if that’s his limit,

we’d go back to lesson 36 for day 9. Ignoring field trip days and other reasons

that math might not happen, it’ll take about 100 school days to get through the

book. I remember the big deal made at the 100^{th} day of kindergarten

and last year that happened in early February. That leaves about 3 more months

of schooling in need of a math curriculum.

I’m debating

a few options at that point. I could go on to Saxon 3 (he’s doing Saxon 2 now) and

use the same test-skip-ahead approach to deal with the same early-in-the-book

review. Maybe we’d get halfway through Saxon 3 by the end of the year. Option 2

would be to use a combination of narrative math books like Life of Fred and the

textbook part of Beast Academy and play a bunch of games, planning to start

Saxon 3 in the fall. Those things could also be done throughout the year

instead of doing Saxon every day. Option

3 would be to quit Saxon and switch to a completely different curriculum like

Singapore. A lot of my homeschooling college friends use Singapore and when I

looked at it, I couldn’t figure out when kids were supposed to really learn

math facts. I don’t want my kids to be in 4^{th} grade doing fractions

and have to think hard to figure out 6x9 or 15-7. There’s no fear of that with

Saxon, which is the epitome of drill-and-kill. But I don’t want math to be a

monotonous endless list of black and white timed tests and Saxon looks like

that.

So I guess I’m

giving Saxon its chance for this semester+ with Leo and for the year with

Peter. If we’re all dying of boredom, we’ll stick with our current textbooks

until they’re done, but I don’t see them as set in stone forever.

I got

ridiculously excited a few weeks ago when I found out that two of the

then-postdocs that ran my high school math camp have developed a curriculum.

They’ve had a middle and upper school curriculum for most of the decade but

they’re developing a lower school curriculum now too called Beast Academy. In

2012, the 3^{rd} grade year is being released. It’ll take a little more

than a year apiece to release the 4^{th} and 5^{th} grade years

and then they’ll go back to 2^{nd} grade. It has a text and a workbook

and the text is in graphic novel format. A lot of the problems are intended to

challenge the kids and really get them thinking in new ways. Their middle and

upper school books are designed to prepare kids for math competitions. My math

team loving self thought this was the best news in weeks. It seems that the

release dates will be too late for Peter to use them as his primary math

curriculum, although I think he’d enjoy the text without the problems. Leo

though, might be able to switch over to it without having a gap waiting for a

new release.

Back to this

week. Leo and I did lesson 10’s math

meeting and I had him go orally over the fact sheets that are introduced in the

first 10 lessons. Normally they’re supposed to be written with a 1 minute limit. Writing is a big hang up for

Leo so I figured I’d save the writing for the test. He zoomed through the 2

fact sheets (doubles and plus 1) and then did the written assessment. The words

“that’s it? This is easy!” escaped him more than once. I told him to look it

over for goofy mistakes and then we checked that he had gotten everything

right, including the clock.

I feel like

there’s a careful balance to be made between challenging him and giving him

confidence via quick, straight-forward work. I don’t think high self-esteem is

something I really want to strive for while teaching them, but I don’t want to

start our homeschooling days by giving him a bunch of stuff so hard he that he

gives up before he starts. That doesn’t mean I want to spend 2 months going

over math problems he can do without thinking. But I think this first week or

two of pretty obvious concepts will help us settle into a routine. Spelling is

similar – I’m pretty sure he can spell all the words in the level 1 book

already, but after awhile, phonogram rules are introduced that aren’t obvious

and although he can spell the short words intuitively, the rules will help down

the road.

It’s nice to

be able to work out some kinks with how his math and spelling programs run so I

can focus on the other subjects once Peter comes home and we get going with

full days. As it turns out, next week is going to be pretty crazy and we won’t

even have the 3 days I’d planned. My mom is having a mastectomy on Monday (I’ll

talk more about the whirlwind that has been another time) and I’m hoping to

spend most of Monday and Tuesday with her. Wednesday and Thursday we’ll have

school. Thursday late afternoon, my college friends are coming to town until

Sunday morning and probably camping in our backyard. We haven’t seen each other

since any of our kids were born but we have matching 8 and 6 year old boys and they

have a 3 year old boy and a baby daughter. We can all hope that the boys all

get along. So really, it’ll be the day after Labor Day before we have most of a

full school week.

I’m hoping

that I can have exact lesson plans written out for the first few days so I don’t

hit a point where I have to decide spur of the moment whether to do art or

history. I don’t really know how the pacing is going to work for a lot of

things. Nature study will be twice a week, but the day we choose will be

affected by the weather. I’ve also signed up for a variety of field trips and a

lot are science-based and would replace nature study for one day that week. I

requested 30 books from the library that I’ll split into baskets for each boy

and those will fill in gaps if one boy is waiting for the other to finish. So

although I feel strongly about having a plan initially, I don’t feel like I’ll

know whether we’ll get through all 7 of the history program’s units until I see

how the first one goes. And it doesn’t particularly matter if we reach the

Vikings or wait until next year.

I’ve

definitely been struck lately that there is no perfect homeschooling approach

that will work for everyone. Not even close. I read a couple blogs today

encouraging new homeschoolers not to buy anything and the thought of it made me

wince. But my jumbled approach might be nuts to someone who buys their plans

all together and follows the script. And maybe I’ll do something completely

different next year since I haven’t actually tried this with real children yet.

It’s handy when I find a blogger that seems to take the same general approach

so I can gather ideas without questioning the whole approach I’ve been

accumulating.