This week in homeschooling: A whole lotta Language Arts

Homeschooling at ButterscotchSundae.comOur homeschool schedule has been pretty loosey-goosey over the last few years. The kids each had a daily list, and as long as they got everything (or, let’s be honest: most things) checked off by bedtime, we were good. This year, though, they have so many extracurricular activities that I had to make a sort of draconian schedule. We start work at 9am, take a snack break at 10, do more work until lunch, and so on.

And you know what? School has been going really well so far this year, and I think the extra structure has a lot to do with that. Most days the kids are focused and cheerful and have finished their schoolwork before or shortly after noon. That’s a great thing, because with the soccer and tae kwon do and tennis (oh my!), it’s nice for them to have the afternoon to take it easy.

In the spirit of changing-things-up, I also reorganized the kids’ daily to-do lists this year, and when I did it became obvious that we are really heavy on the Language Arts around here. That shouldn’t have surprised me, I guess, since those are my favorite subjects, but it certainly makes for a long This Week In Homeschooling post. So for this week, at least, we’re just going to talk about Language Arts.

  • Our first read-aloud of the year is always a “Harry Potter” book. (Or at least, it will be until 2018, I guess, because that’s when we’re slated to finish the series.) (Yes, we’re only reading one a year. As it should be.) This year we were reading “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Until last night, when the kids asked for another chapter before bed and suddenly it was 9:40pm and we’d finished the book. The kids, as always, loved it.
  • Pete is tackling his first chapter book! He’s been wanting to check some of the “Star Wars” books out from the library, and I told him he could if he’d read it on his own. He’s currently reading “Boba Fett: The Fight to Survive.”
  • Poppy’s been reading her way through the “Warriors” books and every “Garfield” compilation she can get her hands on. She’s also started an official Literature curriculum this year, and her first book for that is “The Borrowers.” She reads two chapters on Mondays, then spends a few days doing the accompanying worksheets from Reed Novel Studies’ “Borrowers” unit. She doesn’t always love it, but I really like the emphasis on vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  • Spelling

    Pete finished Lesson 13 of “All About Spelling: Level One” this week. It was a lot of annunciating different letter blends and writing different phrases, and he wasn’t crazy about it. Hopefully the next lesson will be a little more hands-on for him.


    Poppy started Wordly Wise 3000 toward the end of last year, so she’s still working through their third-grade curriculum. She’s doing very well with it, though, and she enjoys the program. I’ll probably sign Pete up for it next year, too.


    We finally resumed “Writing Strands” this week! The first step of Poppy’s current lesson was making a list of things she enjoyed about a recent school day. “Reading ‘Garfield’ ” was on the list.

  • We’ve been reading a little bit of “Grammar Island” every day. The kids like the couch time, but I’m not sure how their retention is with the material. They’ll be starting on the practice portion of the curriculum in a few weeks, so I guess we’ll find out then.
  • Poppy’s still working through “Growing with Grammar.” She didn’t do anything with it over the summer, and she definitely hasn’t retained much of what she learned from it last year. She still enjoys doing the work, though, so we’re going to stick with it.
  • “First Language Lessons” is still another cuddle-up-and-read project for Pete and me, and we’re both fans of that. He seems to be remembering the information, too, which is a good thing.
  • Poetry
  • This year Poppy is doing a curriculum produced by the Mensa people called “A Year of Living Poetically.” It includes a little bit of poetry analysis as well as stuff about rhyme, meter, etc. Last week she did John Donne’s “No Man Is an Island,” and this week she’s been working on “Sonnet 116″ by William Shakespeare. She didn’t have much trouble memorizing the Donne, but Shakespeare is giving her a little bit of trouble. She’ll probably have it done by next week, though.
  • Pete is memorizing the same poems that Poppy did a few years ago. Last week he did Christina Rosetti’s “Fly Away, Fly Away Over the Sea,” and this week he’s working on Shel Silverstein’s “Bear in There.”
  • Wanna read more about homeschooling? Check out the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers weekly linky thing!

    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.