Family Schooling: Progress Report and Plans for the Summer

A lot of people have been asking me about home schooling lately-- especially what books I like and how we organize things. I thought it would be easiest to just explain what we do and my plans for the summer/fall here. Normally, we have a Home School Review meeting with the County education department around this time of year anyway.  Some people dread their reviews, but I like having an opportunity to do a little self assessment and see how we are doing. Our reviewer has become our friend and we really like her too, which helps make it all more fun. 
Usually, I do not expect to do much school work in the summer,  too many other fun playdate opportunities! I just plan on reviewing and finishing up things, trying to keep it all fresh in our minds for fall, etc.  With all the state imposed social isolation as well as the self quarantine that we would be doing anyway with a new baby, I am planning to keep on a regular school schedule for a good portion of THIS summer.  
Our best time of day for schooling is always in the morning.  We start around 9 or 10 am (after breakfast) and finish before lunch at 12 or 1pm. 
 First point I would make from my home school soapbox is  -- I like workbooks!  I try to limit the kids' screen time/ e-learning to only the most effective platforms, if any. I know workbooks are a lot of paper/trees used etc, but I like being able to follow a course of study all the way through and see progress (based on the date each lesson was completed).  It is easier to keep track of and keep organized. The kids like being able to see their progress too AND as a bonus, when they finish one of their school year size workbooks they get to go to a movie with mom or dad.
Second point -- I think kids should still learn to write neatly both in printing and cursive script. Big sister A and brother M both worked through these "Exploring Handwriting Through US Geography" cursive books this year. They practiced their cursive while learning about each state. Big sister A is a champ at cursive and has already finished her workbook. Brother M is a little slower and has about 1/3 of his workbook left to do this summer.  We are studying US History this year so the US geography dovetails nicely with that.
When we first started home schooling, my neighbor across the street was about 10 years ahead of us in home schooling her 4 kids.  I asked her which curriculums she loved and she referred me to all the Well-Trained Mind books.  Big sister A was about 4 years old at the time so it has taken us a few years to really get into them, but now I love them and highly recommend them too.

Big sister A and brother M each completed their "Writing with Ease" workbooks for the year.  These workbooks help kids learn how to succinctly summarize a story/non-fiction piece, write dictation, and use correct punctuation. It is very similar to the classical style learning that I experienced in France.
The lesson sections are organized into 36 weeks, four days of work per week, with pre-printed worksheets at the end of the book for each exercise. Pre-printed worksheets are a great time saver!  The lesson is written in such a way that it tells you what to point out to the student as you go through the exercise.  As with many of the high quality language arts curricula, the reading selections are based on classic literature or historical non-fiction pieces.  We often read a small selection for a lesson and then get so curious about the rest of the story that we end up ordering the book from the library to read.
It is so much fun to see the progress as you start coming to the end of all the worksheets. Brother M was happy with himself when he finished! 

Big sister A and Brother M have already started their next "Writing with Ease" workbooks.  I hope we can finish them over the summer, especially big sister A.  She will be moving on to the "Writing with Skill" series of workbooks as part of her middle school curriculum in the fall.   I also try to do the "First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind" with everyone as it is an excellent guide for grammar,  acting as a review for the older kids and a good first look for the younger two.  We finished book 1 last year and will hopefully be done with book 2 by the summer's end.  Both A and M  received these "Big Life Journals" as gifts and they are great for goal setting.  The stories give examples of great men and women and how they accomplished their goals and I think it helps motivate the kids to think about what they would like to accomplish in their lives. 
Despite all the dictation and writing practice we still struggle with spelling!  I know that most schools don't teach spelling as a separate subject anymore, but I think it is important.  We are testing out yet another spelling curriculum -- "Spelling You See" this summer.  I will report back on whether I think it has made any difference.  So far the kids say that it is EASY, which translates to -- they don't mind doing it and will willingly continue. A good first step.  A lot of the spelling mistakes they make are "easy" too, so I hope it works. 
We have tried a lot of different math curricula over the years. For the younger ages a good colorful workbook is fine, but they really had a hard time wanting to do the more serious math books and workbooks as they got older.  I spent one year doing tactile/Montessori style math with brother M, and while I love how clear manipulatives are, it was slow going.   I finally broke down and gave in to all the positive things that I heard about the online math program called "Teaching Textbooks".  I am so glad we switched to that this year! It made math a lot more fun, took the burden off me for explanations, and does a great job continuously reviewing previous concepts. Math seems to come pretty easily to them and they both are within a week of completing all the lessons and quizzes for this year.  Big sister A finished level 7 and is ready to start pre-algebra next year, which should be about right for 7th grade I think.  The only downside was that they were really anxious to get perfect scores on all their quizzes and felt bad when they didn't.  But that was a good life lesson to work through as well. 
Brother S finished his first big cursive practice book this year and is reading books aloud to me every day. Good thing we have so many books about sharks in the house! We went on a little tangent this week and read a book about Jacques Cousteau and watched some of his early underwater ocean films.  Brother S's math workbook (Abeka 2) is about 400 pages long! so he is not finished yet, but at least he likes it.  It is probably too much repetition of certain concepts and I have told him that we can skip ahead if he gets bored of doing the same thing again and again.  He might do Teaching Textbooks for math in the fall, but has not decided yet which he would prefer.
 He finished the "Visual Guide to Second Grade" this week, which we really enjoyed working through. We found it at the thrift store and liked it so much that we ordered several more grade levels of it. Brother S is starting the "Visual Guide to Third Grade" this week.  These books include a lot of social studies and science.  I don't love that they skip around to all different topics, but the hands on, cutting and pasting, graphing and coloring things are right up brother S's alley.  For each topic there are a couple of infographics and text about the topic. 
 Then there are questions about the infographic (to see whether they were paying attention).  At the end there is an activity -- a chart to make, cutting & pasting, or an experiment. 
And Miss L -- she just turned 5 earlier this year, but loves doing school books. Everyone else is doing them and she wants to too.   She will definitely be ready for 1st grade materials by the fall. She completed all the books shown as well as several other kindergarten workbooks. The "Interactive Notebooks" are another great series for kids who like tactile learning.  They include cutting, gluing, lift the flap, spin the circle etc. You need a printer with a copier to use it and a separate notebook for pasting it all into.
For the summer, the younger two will both work through another book from the "Spelling You See" series as well as their math workbooks and the "Visual Guide" that I mentioned.  
 For my final home school soapbox point -- my favorite part of home schooling are the things that we do all together -- the one room schoolhouse approach to learning.  I read history to all the children (Notgrass for American History and Story of the World for World history). We discuss the chapter and of course the littlest two don't grasp as much as the older two kids, but they listen and participate in the discussion at their level.  The older kids do the appropriate workbook pages and mapping activities that go with each lesson.  The younger two can do the workbooks too if they want to.  For example. last week one of the worksheets was a word search and the younger two love those, so we made four copies of that page instead of two.
For science, The Good and the Beautiful,  same concept -- we go over the materials together and do the experiments together.  The younger two cannot do everything, but they get to participate in all the parts that make sense for them.  They look at the cells in the microscope and help gather plant specimens.
I have found that this "togetherness" translates from home school to day-to-day life in our family.  They are used to working together and helping each other. I have noticed it a lot during this "social isolation". They each have 3 built-in friends and play incredibly well together.  They also have learned how to get their chores done together. 
After schoolwork is done they each have to practice their musical instrument (if they have one) and do 20 minutes of cleaning. I have found the non-specific cleaning chore assignment works the best for us and the 20 minutes on the timer makes it finite enough that they don't feel overburdened by most tasks. The "cleaning" can be all kinds of things, from sorting the laundry to vacuuming a certain area, to brushing the dogs --whatever seems the most pressing to me that day.  I usually give them a couple of "cleaning chore" options so that they can each choose what sounds more fun to them. They also have specific farm chores that they do each morning/evening and receive allowance for.
 I have to laugh when I see fancy home school room set-ups.  They look nice, but are they easy to tidy up and work in? I tried having the kids sit at desks, but no one wanted to. They have always been home schooled and much prefer to curl up next to me on the couch. That is another key to success -- mom has to be there for the schooling. That has been hard for me with all the other things I want to do in a day. But it really is much more efficient than running in the house to answer questions. I park myself on the couch for 2 hours.  I make sure that the littles can ask me questions about their workbooks and that I can cover the big kids language arts lessons. (Lots happening simultaneously). And then we do the history or science all together.  The math on Teaching Textbooks can be done independently, usually before 10am.
How do I organize our materials? -- one basket by the couch.  It does NOT usually look this tidy, but this is where we keep all the day to day books that we are working on. Easy clean-up and easy to find the next day.   That pile next to the basket are all the old workbooks and pages that I need to take down to the recycling bin -- glad this post gave me a reason to organize everything again.  I try to do that after each semester.