Hits & Misses in Our Homeschool This Year

posted in: pedagogical | 22

It’s so much fun to write and read about new homeschool plans in June, July, and August.

But what happens to those plans come November, February, and April?

I’ve never had a year where all my fresh summer plans work out and are still humming along as-written in the last term of the year. That’s just the reality. Sometimes a program isn’t the right fit. Sometimes the needs or abilities were misjudged. Sometimes life shifts dramatically midyear.

As far as life events and energy levels go, this has been a fairly consistent year, but that doesn’t mean my plans have all panned out. I thought I’d share our hits and misses from our 2015-2016 school plans, because sometimes we need that reality check: it might not work out the way you think it will.

The best and worst choices I made in homeschool curriculum decisions this year.

Miss #1: 7th grade reading list

So I created an ambitious 36 book reading list for seventh grade over the summer and the list had many more misses than hits. I overshot not only the amount but also the level – not surprisingly.

However, I never presented the list to Hans as a “you must read these books” list, but rather as a “I got these books I thought you might like – let me know what you think.” So it was never my intention to make him read all the books, instead I was trying to prepare to make sure I did have reading material to offer him – he has always been difficult to keep in books.

This year, though, he preferred to turn to re-reading and re-listening to his favorite novels during his down time rather than read something new, especially something challenging. That’s ok. He did a lot of physical growing this year, and I think he needed the comfort of familiar stories to turn to.

Next time around, I will keep the book list to myself and merely use it to offer suggestions during our weekly meeting if it seems like some new reading material is needed or wanted. I don’t regret putting in the work of pulling together more good books to have for them, and I’m sure eventually they’ll all be read.

Miss #2: The Mother Tongue

This one isn’t a total miss – we’re still using it and it’s ok – but I don’t think I’ll be reusing it unless I want help pulling out example sentences or definitions when I teach grammar ad-lib.

Too many of the sentences are old-fashioned, which simply complicates matters unnecessarily when trying to figure out parts of speech and parts of sentences. I don’t believe in being King Jamesy just for the sake of being old school – it’s not automatically better. And I don’t believe it’s necessary to analyze English with all the same categories Latin has. Latin doesn’t have to define grammar for non-Latin languages (like English). That is the old school approach, and the approach of this text, and I don’t think we need to learn the “vocative case” for English (it doesn’t have one). The definitions and examples in the lessons were not readily comprehensible to my students (I’m using this to teach 6 6th-8th graders), even the ones who have had grammar before and can diagram sentences. So I still had to teach, presenting the material myself rather than just answer questions and practicing with them like I thought I’d do.

The only thing it has provided is a faster way to assign and grade homework, but even then, there are way too many exercises. I assign only 1/2-1/3 of them.

Plus, the two-book option (instruction + workbook, but the instruction book has the workbook examples, just without enough room to do them) is cumbersome and confusing.

We’ll finish out the year with it, but after this year, it will become a reference-only book on our shelf. I would not recommend this book to anyone not familiar with grammar already. Grammar really doesn’t have to be this hard.

Miss #3: The Story of the Ancient World by Christine Miller

This one surprised me. I expected I would enjoy it. I did enjoy her The Story of the Middle Ages, which we read aloud two years ago.

But Story of the Ancient World was primarily biblical, Old Testament history, and, it seemed to me, fairly speculative. It presented many “historical facts” that seemed much more like 19th-century attempts to be biblical literalists. I do believe the Old Testament is 100% true history, but I do not believe giving us a historical timetable or record is the point of the Old Testament. It was not updated to call ancient people groups by the names they are known by today, but rather called them by biblical tribal names, leaving me confused as to who we were talking about or whether the people really were descendants of Ham or Shem or Japheth, or if it was a forced and speculative connection. The names of the Pharoahs were also not consistent with other books we’ve read, so that made it confusing as well.

According to this book, Nimrod is the most important and influential ancient man – every false religion and overbearing ruler was pinned back on him.

I would prefer to get my Old Testament history straight from the Old Testament – and we do – and this book did not do much to broaden our scope of history beyond the Israelites.

And I did not preread and preresearch, so on the fly I just cut large swathes out of what we read.

In the end, we probably read about 1/2 the book, maybe less.

So, instead of skipping the first half of On the Shore of the Great Sea like I thought we would, we just started at the beginning and have been immensely enjoying that title. It, however, begins with Abram and does entirely skip Egypt, so it wouldn’t be an entire ancient spine on its own, either.

Now let’s talk about the surprising hits.

Hit #1: Grammar of Poetry

Grammar of Poetry - DVD Bundle - Exodus Books

We are using Grammar of Poetry – with the DVD instruction – in my class of 6 middle school students (3 boys and 3 girls). I think it helps to have a male poetry instructor, and he does a good job of presenting the material and walking us through examples.

I like the definition of poetry Matt Whitling opens most lessons with: “Poetry is a language of music and pictures.” We’re learning the different meters and tropes and getting practice not only noticing the rhythms (which is really what we’re doing, not full analysis), but using rhythms and tropes by imitating good poets.

It’s a solid program, and one that does not remove the wonder and love from poetry by over-analysis. It’s more about giving you a vocabulary to talk about the effects of the poem rather than an analytical approach to poetry.

Hit #2: Halliburton’s The Complete Book of Marvels

Brandy wrote positively about this Ambleside selection, I found a less-expensive hardback volume from her link, and I snapped it up. I am so glad I did!

We love this book as our geography read-aloud, even though we all roll our eyes a bit at Mr. Halliburton, the dramatic and daring-do tour guide. Still, his love and wonder is contagious, and his ability to describe scenes without repeating superlatives is unparalleled.

It’s a selection for mid- to late-elementary, for sure, as he does not shy away from mentioning that human sacrifices occurred at ancient sites or that families were buried alive when Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii. And, for Halliburton, there is no “mentioning” that is not full of pathos.

We’re reading two chapters a week from Halliburton, and will continue reading it through most of next school year also before we’re finished. I have an Evernote lesson plan for this that includes links to images of each site. I’d be happy to share that with anyone who emails to ask for it. :)

Hit #3: Anne White’s Plutarch Guide

I didn’t think we’d be able to fit in both Shakespeare and Plutarch into our twice-weekly Elementary Lessons, but most weeks we can manage it. Using Anne White’s guide and selections, it only takes about 10 minutes to read and discuss. It’s been a good choice to start getting the 10+ crowd practiced in discussion, and the question to discuss and a few prompts or points are given right there, along with the memory-jogging introduction for each reading.

It’s simple to pick up and open-and-go, and also contains zero fluff or extra, which means it’s easy to just do it and not procrastinate. I don’t have her new book versions. I simply saved the Ambleside plain-text versions into Evernote. Some of the selections had the Plutarch text in the lesson and some did not, so where it did not, I cut and paste the recommended version into the Evernote note. The book form would be handy.

I wasn’t sure whether or not we’d continue to do Plutarch after this year, our year in ancient history, but I think we will. The short lessons have been little springboards to get them thinking about politics, morality, ethics, and prudence, without being abstract and without being too complicated or close-to-home.

How about you? What were your hits and misses this year?

22 Responses

  1. a. borealis
    |

    Hits:
    Circle Time
    More daily structure
    Adding folk songs and hymns
    Requiring daily Reading Practice
    Trusting AO’s guidelines and suggestions
    Remembering to take a week off every 6 weeks

    Misses:
    Toddler control during Circle Time (is it even possible??)
    Consistency with math lessons (haven’t hit the sweet spot yet in terms of timing)
    Nature Study slipping to the wayside during the winter months

    I really enjoyed this post – it helps me remember that we all have (and will always have) hits and misses. I like getting into the reasoning behind another’s planning and evaluation too. So basically: camaraderie and comparing notes. It’s great.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Toddlers and homeschooling simply necessitates muddling through. :)

  2. Amber Vanderpol
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    Ah, now these are the school planning posts that I like to read! I’ve gotten to the point where I either skip or skim people’s planning posts because I finally (after many years!) realized that what people were posting there was not what was actually happening. I love it when people post follow-ups and revisions to their plans that reflect what actually happened and what they thought of what they did.

    My biggest fail this year has been w/ grammar. This is a hard subject for me because I don’t know it well (and that’s putting it mildly!). I tried KISS grammar w/ my 4th grader and 8th grader. Total fail. I switched my 4th grader to Winston Grammar, which I had used previously and *ahem* forgot I owned and right now I have my 8th grader using Fix-It Grammar from IEW. The jury’s still out on the second one, but Winston is going well.

    Oh, and the other fail was thinking that kids could learn geography by having them casually pointing out places on the map/globe before or after readings. Well, maybe some kids can, but not mine! I made room for actual mapwork again and things are going much better.

    I slightly overscheduled my 8th grader and underscheduled my 4th grader’s readings, but I’ve been better about evaluating and dropping/adding books this year than in previous years so it hasn’t been that big of a deal. But all my book choices (either from AO or my own substitutions) have gone over well and so far this has been our best year ever.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      I know it works for Brandy, but just browsing the KISS Grammar website gives me hives.

      You might look into either Cottage Press (a total language arts program) or Our Mother Tongue by Nancy Wilson (very straightforward and clear, might not be enough practice though).

      • Amber Vanderpol
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        We tried Our Mother Tongue last year and it was also a fail. You’re right, it wasn’t enough practice for us, or enough hand-holding and explanation either. I really don’t have more than a rudimentary grasp of the parts of speech and subjects and objects. My education was extremely light on grammar – I never encountered the words verb or noun until 7th grade Spanish, and even then we didn’t do much more than nouns/verbs/adjectives and adverbs. I didn’t learn about subjects and objects and indirect objects until I started learning Latin as an adult!

        The IEW Fix-It program is working, the main problem is that the book that is where my daughter is at in her grammar knowledge is far below where she is at in her reading and writing ability so it feels vaguely insulting to her intelligence every time she opens it. But I’m encouraging her to think of it as an opportunity to grow in humility. :-)

  3. Melissa
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    Oh, I love these posts as well! Although two of your misses were a huge disappointment to me, LOL. A while back, I printed your reading/literature list as I’m preparing for a rising 7th grader this fall. We will also begin back in ancients. The list did look a bit ambitious, but well put together. I still intend to use it to build my list :)

    Also, I have The Story of the Ancient World and was thinking about using it with my rising 6th grader. I didn’t realize/remember that you were using that book. You know, now that I read your miss, I was reminded why we failed with that exact book early on, partly because I felt the kids were too young and partly because I also would rather simply read the OT than some rewording.

    I usually post a follow-up after each term (12 weeks). You can find this year’s here…

    Term 1 http://reflectionsfromdrywoodcreek.blogspot.com/2015/11/2015-2016-term-1-review.html

    Term 2 http://reflectionsfromdrywoodcreek.blogspot.com/2016/02/2015-2016-term-2-review.html

    In summary, a few misses were (1) Nancy Ganz commentary on the Book of Genesis (2) I think Using Language Well (the jury is still out), and (3) Plutarch – we finished two lives and my kids hated it, however, I still plan to continue in some form next year.

    Taking a mini math sabbatical seems to be giving the kids their confidence back so this would be a hit. They are now using Life of Fred and other odds and ends things since we have not stopped math altogether, but have just taken a bit more of a lighthearted approach. Ironically, my math phobic dd came to me approx a month ago asking if she could go back to regular/real math. You could have tipped me over with a feather…YIPPPEEE! I look forward to getting back at it in the fall. Fred kinda drives me crazy ;-)

    One other hit was assigning some independent reading to our dyslexic son since he graduated from the Children’s Dyslexia Center. It’s still going a bit slowly, but just seeing him with book in hand is huge and such a treat!

    BTW, how did the bible study, Herodotus book, and The Story of Science go? I’d love to hear any follow-up you have to offer :)

    Thanks!

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      Oh, those are good ones! Doing a hit & miss post every term is a great idea.

      You know, I think I should do a total 7th grade report. I’m putting that in the March blog plan! :)

      • Melissa
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        Oh, I’m looking super forward to that 7th grade post!! Thanks :)

  4. Lena
    |

    Memoria press has reprinted some histories by Dorothy mills. I picked up the book of the ancient Greeks to prep for next year. It is fantastic. I don’t think it will read it aloud because my oldest is third grade next year, but if she was fifth or so I would, even with the younger tag alongs. I am totally enjoying it. She has one on the ancient world too that covers OT but briefly along with Egypt, Mesopotamia and even the Hittites. You might want to peek at that for future ancient years.
    Hits: right start math. I tried it once with my oldest, but she wasn’t ready. I wandered but came back this year and started her lower, and this year she flew. She doesn’t love math, but this year she is starting to think with mental math which did not happen with any other program tries. Plus, my Kindy boy is acing his level.
    Misses: science in the beginning. Tis is the new one by jay wile. I act I ally liked the book well enough, but the “household supplies” for the totally necessary experiments were never to be found in my house. Plus, it was a little much for my mostly younger crowd. I put it up maybe for later. Although I doubt I will stock soda bottle, bolts and balloons then either…

    • Melissa
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      Lena, I’m intrigued by your comment on the Dorothy Mills books since this is another series I was considering. I hope to look more closely at them at the Great Homeschool Convention. Thanks!

  5. Cameron
    |

    This was a great post and a good reminder that all our plans have to meet with a real life trial. I wonder which books were hits or misses on the 7th grade list? Just curious about which ones were well liked and which ones were not. Thanks for your update.

  6. Congetta
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    Hi Mystie,
    I would love your Halliburton lesson plan, if you don’t mind sharing it.
    Thank you.

  7. Cameron
    |

    I would also like the Halliburton plans. Thanks!

  8. Rhebeka
    |

    I would love to see your Halliburton plans, as well. Thank you for sharing!! This post is fantastic…follow-ups are more helpful than any other type of planning post. I hope to see your seventh grade follow up.

  9. Melissa
    |

    I would like the Halliburton plan as well…thanks!

  10. Stephanie
    |

    hi Mystie,
    I would appreciate the Evernote Halliburton lesson plans. Thanks for offering them!

    I was excited to see that all of your “hits” are things we are considering doing in the future.

  11. Jen Steed
    |

    Hits – circle time
    classically Catholic memory
    song school Spanish

    misses – spelling. every method tried so far.
    Memoria press K math books
    cursive for 5 year old

    we have lots of surprise hits this year; more than I listed. I’m hoping to keep that momentum going for next year!!

  12. Melanie Simpson
    |

    Great post-helpful and encouraging!
    Hits-expanded circle time to include confession, and the elementary geography resource from Ambleside.
    Dropping rod and staff grammar (it’s great but I’m just feeling like it’s too much for the 3rd grader).
    Misses: as noted above, R&S grammar, & Spelling Power for the 3rd grader.

  13. Nicole
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    We love halliburtons book too and I would love that link!

  14. Christa
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    I’d love to see your Halliburton plans also!

  15. Christi B
    |

    I am only partially homeschooling this year as we’re part of a university-model school until the end of the year and then we’ll be going straight homeschool next year. I have a 2nd and kinder. Anyway, I LOVE Halliburton’s books. His other travel novels are great as well. I’d love to have the plans so we can incorporate those sometime in the future. In our UM school we use Story of the World for history which we love but may switch next year when we’re on our own. Other than that I’m not hooked on any of our curriculum so love reading what works and doesn’t for others (especially when they say why!) while we consider our plans for next year. Thank you!

  16. Sharyn
    |

    Mystic,
    I would love that Halliburton lesson as well. Thanks for sharing.