What fourth grade looks like at our house

Homeschooling at ButterscotchSundae.comWe have two primary goals this year for Poppy: improved reading comprehension and becoming more independent with her schoolwork.

Poppy reads really, really quickly, but that isn’t always a great thing. For one thing, it means it doesn’t make much sense to buy books. She zooms through them so quickly that it doesn’t really feel like she’s getting her money’s worth. (I speak from experience, because I am the same way.) More important, though, is that she reads so quickly that she doesn’t always absorb what she’s reading. (I’m guilty of the same.) So this year we’re going to be emphasizing reading comprehension, which is why the Language Arts section further down this page is, shall we say, robust.

On the independence front, I want her to be able to self-motivate her way through her day. Obviously that’s not entirely possible for the subjects that she and Pete are doing together, but she could definitely do it on a lot of other stuff.

Without further ado, here’s what Poppy is doing for fourth grade.

Social Studies

Story of the World: Volume 3

We’ve returned to SOTW after a brief dalliance with another publisher. The kids enjoy it, and they’ve retained information from it. As always, I’m going to try to do more of the crafts and activities this year.


McRuffy Math 3 and 4

Poppy is on track to finish her third grade math book by Christmas. She’ll start on the fourth grade book when we start up again after the holidays. I’m not sure how she ended up on this schedule in math. I’d like to get back on a book-a-year schedule, but it’s really not that big of a deal.

Language Arts

“Growing with Grammar”

This is the one thing that Poppy consistently does with very little help from me. The text is very straightforward, and the workbook instructions are usually clear. It might not be the most exciting grammar text (ha!), but it’s doing the trick.

Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts curriculum

I mentioned in the Pete post that this was our first year with MCT. We’ve read a little bit of the first book every day this week, and so far the kids like it.

“Reading Comprehension in Varied Subject Matter”

The woman who proctored Poppy’s standardized test last year suggested this one, and it’s pretty much exactly what the titles says it is. Short bits of text and a page or two of questions. She’s midway through the level she started last year, and I have the next level on deck for when she finishes.


Over the summer I made a list of books I wanted Poppy to read this year, and I’d planned to cobble together a few worksheets for her to fill out on each title. Imagine my delight when I found that Reed Novel Studies had a full curriculum written for most of the books on my list! I bought the study for “The Borrowers” first, and I liked the looks of it so much that I revised my reading list.


Nancy Larson Science 1

OK, so the Nancy Larson website recommends this for kids ages 5 to 8. Poppy just turned 9, and even last year I think it would’ve been on the simple side for her. That said, we’re going to use it anyway, for both kids.



Phys Ed

Tae kwon do

We were gone a lot this summer, so Poppy is still working to learn her green belt techniques. She does class twice a week. She could take a third or even a fourth class every week, but so far this year she hasn’t been motivated to do so.


Poppy is playing in a new soccer league this year, and she has practice twice a week. She started this week, and she was surprised to learn that practice was an hour and a half long. “Really?” she said. “It felt like twenty minutes!”


“Creating Masterpieces Like the Modern Masters”

Poppy has always enjoyed making art, and I have never enjoyed the mess that art projects leave behind. So we’re fortunate to have a great local artist who teaches kids’ classes.

About that independent-learning thing: I don’t know exactly how I’m going to accomplish that goal. It’s on my mind, though, so please leave me your sage advice!

What first grade looks like in our house, version Pete.0

Pete started first grade yesterday! If some of the titles sound familiar, it’s because we’re using a lot of the same publishers as we did last year. We seem to have hit on a good combination of curricula for our needs.

Social Studies

Story of the World: Volume 3

This year I decided to spare my voice a little and buy the book on audio. Turns out that was a great decision. I put the first chapter on Pete’s iPod, and he’s listened to it about 10 times since yesterday. I’m hoping that trend continues.


McRuffy Math 1

Pete got about halfway through McRuffy’s first-grade math book last year, so we’re picking up right where we left off.

Teaching Textbooks: Math 3

He wants to try Teaching Textbooks this year, too. I’m going to let him play around with it, but we’ll discontinue it if he starts to get frustrated.

Language Arts

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 2

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the ability to cater the curriculum to the child’s learning preferences. Poppy used “First Language Lessons: Level 1″ when she was younger, and she hated it. I still had the book when it was Pete’s turn to start grammar, so we tried it out. It was a really great fit for him, and we finished Level 1 last year.

Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts curriculum

I’ve been looking at Michael Clay Thompson’s books since we started homeschooling, but I’ve always ruled them out for being too expensive. This summer, though, I found a pretty good deal on them on eBay and decided we’d try them out. We just started the first book today; I’ll give you an update on how it’s going later this year.


Nancy Larson Science 1

I think I bought this last year, and we still haven’t finished it. Resident science guy Rockford is supposed to lead our science lessons this year; hopefully we’ll make it all the way through this year.


McRuffy and “Star Wars Writing Skills

Phys Ed

Tae kwon do

Pete is starting the school year as a yellow belt. He isn’t very passionate about TKD, but he’s plugging away at it. Mostly because I told him he can’t quit.


This will be Pete’s first season of soccer with a mid-week practice! He’s hit the big time.


Class with a local artist

Yes, it’s the same place as last time. I’ve talked to the instructor, and we’re going to take it on a week-by-week basis.

Three fun places near Savannah to visit with your kids

Rockford had a work trip to Savannah GA this week, and we decided at the last minute that we should all go along. We’d never been to Savannah before, and the kids and I loved it. We saw a baby dolphin, I ate every praline sample the candy store offered me, we went to the beach, and the kids became Junior Park Rangers.

It was a great trip.

Savannah 2014

Dolphin tour on the Savannah River

At $30 for adults and $15 for kids, the Dolphin Magic tour was a big splurge for us. Poppy and I really enjoyed the boat ride; Pete was pretty crabby the whole time. We saw a good number of dolphins, including a baby who was zipping along with two big guys, but I do wish we’d nabbed better seats. Ours were right behind a column. That didn’t impede our view of the dolphins, since the captain stopped the boat and everyone moved around to find the best vantage point, but it did shield us from the breeze while we were moving. If we did the tour again, I’d try to get a seat in the front of the boat.

Beach walk at Tybee Island

We did a beach walk with a guide from the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. I learned a few things about all the critters that live and/or wash up on the beach, and I think the kids did, too. Pete’s favorite part was learning how to squirt water at someone with a tunicate. It was sort of hard for Pete and Poppy to concentrate with all of the beach-goers building sandcastles and skim boarding and having fun beach time. They definitely had more fun when we went back to the beach later without an educational agenda.

Exploring Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski is a Civil War-era fort located between Tybee Island and Savannah, and it was well worth the $5 it cost us to get in. Following the advice of the guy at the front gate, we picked up a couple of Junior Ranger activity books at the visitors center before we crossed the moat via a drawbridge to check out the fort. They were really informative and well-written, and they gave the kids something to focus on at each part of the fort. Pete was especially taken with Fort Pulaski. He wanted to check out every nook and cranny, including the tunnels under the man-made hills in front of the fort.

The kids learned a little about the Civil War, which we haven’t covered yet, and I learned that Fort Pulaski would be a great place to be in the event of a zombie apocalypse. (Did I mention the drawbridge? And moat? It’s perfect.)

We took the kids’ schoolwork along with us to Savannah, and they worked every day we were there. Saturday and Sunday included! Which meant that today was our last day of school! They celebrated by having sweet rolls for breakfast and bursting through a paper banner Kool Aid man style. As one does.

In which we make Thiebaud-inspired art at co-op

"Great American Artists" Wayne Thiebaud projectI first became aware of artist Wayne Thiebaud a little more than a decade ago, when Rockford’s sister worked at The Phillips Collection. They only have one of his paintings in their regular collection, so they must have had a special exhibit or something. Or I could be entirely misremembering where I first saw his work.

Thiebaud is my favorite artist either way, so I knew when I saw that MaryAnn Kohl’s “Great American Artists for Kids” included a project based on his work that we’d be doing it in our art class at co-op.

Although he’s made paintings with lots of other subjects, Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of cakes, pies and other desserts. “CBS Sunday Morning” aired a nice piece on him back in 2002; he seems like a nice, self-effacing kind of guy:

The “Great American Artists” Thiebaud project focuses on his dessert paintings, so I took a couple of baking cookbooks with me to co-op yesterday for the girls to flip through before they got started on their watercolors. The book suggests adding flavor extracts to the painting water to provide a little extra sensory inspiration, so I took in what I had on hand: almond, lemon, peppermint and butter. 1 Not only was our classroom the most pleasant-smelling in the building, but the girls really enjoyed painting with the scented water.

After they finished sketching and then painting their cupcakes, the girls spread white glue over the frosting areas of their paintings and poured real baking sprinkles over it. That was definitely their favorite part of the project, and it really made their paintings pop with color and texture.

This would’ve been an awesome project even if I weren’t so fond of Wayne Thiebaud!


  1. “Didn’t you have vanilla?” my co-teacher asked. Yes, but I forgot about it because it isn’t stored with the other extracts. It’s in the giant vanilla jug.

This week in homeschooling: A Q&A at soccer practice

Homeschooling at ButterscotchSundae.com

“My wife and I have been talking about that,” said the dad at soccer practice. “So how do you do it? Do the kids have to take a test every year or anything?”

People frequently have questions when they learn that we homeschool. Every now and then they’re a little judgey, but for the most part they’re just curious. I’m usually happy to answer to the best of my ability, even if the questioner is just being snarky.

The “have to” stuff is pretty easy to answer. Our state doesn’t have the most draconian standards for homeschoolers, but there are a few rules to follow. Yes, I told him, homeschoolers do have to take an annual standardized test here; Poppy and Pete did theirs just this week. We also have to register our homeschool with the state, we have to operate on a regular schedule during at least nine months out of the year, and we’re required to keep attendance records on file. Our state also encourages — the state emphasizes that word on their website — homeschoolers to, among other things:

  • Offer instruction that is similar in quality, scope and duration to local schools. I haven’t spied on our local schools to see what they’re doing, but I think we’re doing fine on this one.
  • Do at least five hours of instruction with the students every school day. Maybe once they’re in higher grades, but we’re definitely not sitting down with the schoolwork for five hours a day right now.
  • Log 180 days of school every year. We do this, mainly because the kids and I like having a goal.
  • Keep a daily record throughout the school year detailing the time and information covered for every subject, every day. I’m really, really glad this one’s just a suggestion. Ahem.
  • The “how to homeschool in general” question is always trickier for me to answer, because there are roughly 1 billion ways to homeschool. You can get a curriculum-in-a-box or do school online. Unschooling, Charlotte Mason and Classical Education are all popular. Or you can take aspects of lots of different curricula and philosophies and cobble together what works for you, which is what we do.

    Here’s a bit of what we did this week:

    Language Arts

    Pete is making good progress in “All About Spelling,” and depending on the day he’s either enjoying or enduring “First Language Lessons, Volume 2.”

    Poppy started the “Wordly Wise 3000″ vocabulary program after finishing her spelling book a few weeks ago, and she’s working her way toward the end of “Growing with Grammar: Level Three.”


    The woman who administered the kids’ testing this week had some suggestions for us on the math front.

    Poppy isn’t behind, but she’s ahead of grade level in everything else and just at grade level in math. The test administrator said RightStart Math would be a good fit for her. We only have a month or so of school left this year, so I’m not switching it up just yet. Poppy will be trying it next year, though.

    Regarding Pete, she said he ought to be doing more challenging work. I gave him the next two end-of-unit tests in his McRuffy book, and he only missed two out of the combined 30-plus problems. So we’re accelerating his progress a bit. He’ll be skipping the rest of the current unit altogether, and we’re going to skip lessons here and there in the next unit.


    Poppy’s reading speed is off the charts, but her reading comprehension isn’t as strong. I know where she’s coming from on that front. We’ll probably both be well-served by the reading comprehension book I ordered for her.

    In read-aloud news: We’re still reading “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart, and I still don’t love it. This kids do, though.

  • Pete tests for his yellow belt at tae kwon do tonight!

  • Our homeschool co-op has a Field Day every spring. This is the first year that we’ve been able to go, and the kids loved it. There was a soccer skills challenge, a long-jump station that turned into a high-jump station, a sack race and a hula-hooping station, and there were a couple of different relay races. The most popular “event” seemed to be rolling down the giant hill next to the field, though.
  • The test administrator — a former elementary school teacher who homeschooled her five children — said we might consider committing four days a week to our core schoolwork and using the fifth day to do things like nature walks, projects or field trips. I like that idea a lot, and I think we’re going to incorporate it next year.

    How was your week?

    Wanna read more about homeschooling? Check out the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers weekly linky thing!