The adolescent years are where we are most tempted to give up homeschooling, yet home can be such a needed supportive atmosphere for the turbulent pre-teen years. The curriculum is not the most important piece, but it is where we often begin.
Let me share the curriculum we’ve used to homeschool middle school, as well as some sanity and survival tips along the way.
Middle school can be a rough time for kids and for parents, but if we set our expectations in line with reality and commit to parenting as well as teaching through thick and thin we can all experience the joy that comes with perseverance.
Table of Contents
- Seventh & Eighth Grade Homeschool Life
- My Middle School Homeschool Plans
- Letting Middle Schoolers Think for Themselves
- Our Middle School Curriculum Picks
Seventh & Eighth Grade Homeschool Life
As homeschooling moms, we have the ability (and necessity!) to plan not just academics, but the whole big picture for our children, taking their individual needs into account and adjusting based on all of life and not just school checklists.
So, thinking holistically, school is not just about the books and the work, but about helping the student grow and mature.
A 12-year-old student will do what he can to get autonomy and it won’t make sense to mom. It will look different for different personality types – some are more openly argumentative while others prefer subversion – but often it feels like a 12yo (or 11, or 13 – different kids hit it at different times) is a large 2yo.
However, as mothers with a monthly reminder of how hormones mess with perspective and emotions, we’ve got to take it in stride and realize it’s a season to walk with them through, not a time to despair because we thought they knew better.
So my personal priority with my seventh grader is independence with accountability.
Where possible, he can exercise freedom and independence in his work: where it’s done, when it’s done, what order it’s done in. But, there’s also structure I need to maintain to keep him accountable: work before play, work done by the end of the week, and work always looked at weekly.
If the accountability slides, so will the work – that’s not because I’ve failed to install a work ethic, but because he’s human. It’s also because he’s ripe for learning some lessons through experience about getting work done – so my priority as teacher-mother is making sure he sees natural consequences – both of getting work done early and of getting work done late, of getting work done well and of getting work done sloppily.
Rather than expect I can set things up so he has zero work ethic issues, I’m going into it knowing that experiencing consequences is a large part of his current life curriculum.
When planning eighth grade, perhaps more than any other grade, you have to consider what your plans are for the following years. Will you choose a day school high school? Then your year must focus on ensuring they’ll be ready for tests, specific studies, and homework.
Will you homeschool high school? Then your year should include training for independent study, writing instruction, and making sure you’re ready for whatever extra requirements your state might have for tracking and crediting work.
Our plan is to homeschool through 10th grade and then send our kids to the local community college, where they can graduate with their AA & high school diploma (if they want one) at 18 – it’s what my husband and I did, and it worked well for us – plus, it means I can pass on doing high school science.
So, that means I have only three more years of homeschooling my oldest! With our three-year-history-cycle plan 7th-8th-9th is a set, then we’ll see where we are with 10th and then on to community college (where he can take lab science classes and have a math instructor for the higher levels).
My Middle School Homeschool Plans
In 7th grade, students begin to commonplace, start a Book of Centuries, receive new art and school supplies, and have class homework for which they are responsible. Our 7th grade year includes ancient history and literature, history of scientific discoveries, Art of Argument, Grammar of Poetry, Bible Survey (2-year program), language (Latin or choice), written & drawn narrations, and nature study. They also continue making progress in Math-U-See, based on mastery, as well as progress in piano.
8th grade is a continuation, with the added responsibility of managing some work as weekly tasks so they have opportunity to practice (which means learning through experience & failure) time and task management. In 8th grade, the plan includes medieval history and literature, Bible Survey, chemistry or earth science, Introductory Logic, language (Latin or choice), essay writing & written narrations, and nature study. They also continue making progress in Math-U-See and piano.
Use the tabs to browse our different homeschool plans and curriculum picks for the middle school years to date:
Eighth Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices & Plans
2018-2019 School Year
My second son is entering 8th grade. Technically, he has entered it because we began last week.
So here are my 8th grader’s plans apart from NCFCA that are subject to adjustment based on actual work load later in the year.
Math & Logic
Again, we are continuing with Math-U-See: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He is in the middle of Pre-Algebra and I have Algebra 1 waiting on the shelf for him. We go at whatever pace mastery requires, which means some lessons take 2-3 days and some take 2-3 weeks. When our school year is over, we stop where we are; when the school year begins we pick up a few lessons back to review and continue moving forward.
Last year he did Art of Argument in a class setting (with the video lessons), and this year he will begin Introductory Logic with the video instruction. My oldest had to do it on his own, but this son gets to do it with 2 friends, our neighbors and cohorts. Once a week at Kirsti’s house (while Elementary Lessons is happening at my house) her two oldest and Jaeger will watch the video lesson, and discuss while working the exercises together as a group activity. It will take a year and a half to two years to finish the book this way, but it’s the pace that fits this year.
Of course Morning Time is a large part of our Bible program. That is where we get to know, love, and meditate on Scripture itself, worship through song and prayer, and learn doctrine through catechism.
However, we also always do some other additional learning of Scripture and doctrine in our studies. Jaeger began The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study by Starr Meade last year and will finish that program this year, working through the prophets and New Testament. The four volume set includes background and summary information through the Bible, assignments for reading through the Bible, and short answer questions to complete after the readings. It’s one of the most workbooky things we do, but having a guided through-the-Bible program makes it worth it.
Seventh grade is a medieval history year and Winston Churchill’s Birth of Britain is our spine for that. However, there is more to the Medieval world than Britain, so to develop a bigger sense of the period, we’re also using these titles as supplemental reading, spread out over the year:
- Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst
- How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
- God’s Battalions: A Case for the Crusade by Rodney Stark
- Here I Stand by Roland Bainton
Of course there are other books that would round out a medieval year, but I picked these for this student based on what he’s already read and the fact that he enjoys reading history (even though he claims to only like WWII and the Greeks).
This year I’m combining a class with my two oldest and their friends and teaching 3 Great Books to 13-15 year-olds. We’ll read and discuss Virgil’s Aeneid (Fitzgerald translation), Dante’s Inferno (Esolen translation), and Beowulf (Heaney translation).
As we slowly read, discuss, commonplace, write, and illustrate our way through these amazing works, we’ll also spend time in class on Plutarch, studying the lives of Demosthenes and Cicero (with Anne White’s guide, of course), and on Shakespeare, enjoying Much Ado about Nothing, Richard III, and King Lear.
Clearly, it’s going to be an amazing year.
The second part of the group class I’m teaching will be with those students who have not done any essay writing. We’ll move from writing nonfiction paragraphs to writing 5 paragraph papers (better than reports, but not exactly essays), learning about clarity and style through practice, self-editing, and revising after feedback.
We’ll start off class with a little diagramming together as grammar review, also.
Earlier this year a friend sent me a link to Novare Science and I chose science spines from there for both my older students. When my oldest did 8th grade, we did a logic stage level of Elemental Science and it was a dud for us. The experiments felt contrived and unnecessary, and the bulk of the knowledge came from looking things up in the Kingfisher Encyclopedia. Meh.
So I had to find something new for 8th grade science and Novare Earth Science was the ticket. It covers several different topics in one book: basic astronomy, weather, water cycle, volcanoes, geology – it’s all related to earth, yet it has varied topics.
My son’s assignment – twice weekly – is to read a section and add an entry into his science journal. The entry must contain a drawn chart or illustration (can be copied from the book) and also words needed to explain the drawing. He has enjoyed this structure for working through the book.
So a chapter takes us about 2 weeks at this rate and so I also have him choose and begin to read another book (of his choice) on that chapter’s topic. He can pick from our home library or find something at the public library. The second week he is assigned to finish the book he chose and add another entry with something he learned into his science journal.
This is week 2, and so far this is going really well for him.
Last year this son began Spanish and we did a self-study book approach, plus the Duolingo app. This year I found inexpensive online classes for him to use on Udemy. I chose 3 different Spanish classes, each with short lessons, and spread out the work so he does that online for about 15 minutes a day. Plus we’re still using Duolingo for practice also.
As I mentioned at the beginning, we’ll be doing Speech and Debate this year, so that’s one outside commitment.
He also will have a weekly piano lesson and daily piano practice. He’s apprenticing, basically, as a church accompanist, so most of his practice centers on hymn playing. Plus, we gave him an organ for his birthday, so his free time activity is learning a new but similar instrument.
And for physical training, he’s been doing swim team in the summer and will continue with fencing in the fall. Fencing is actually similar to dancing, swimming, or karate – each movement needs to be controlled, intentional, and practiced. Our older son has been doing it longer and I’ve noticed that he carries himself with more ease and confidence since getting into fencing.
I do enjoy having teens, although they keep me on my toes and keep me honest. They know when I’m not following through on my end, and we all know that even though each of us is responsible for our own selves, mom must lead the way – and not as chief hypocrite, but as chief cheerful doer-of-the-duties.
May we all do so, more and more.
Seventh Grade Homeschool Curriculum
2017-2018 School Year
So the first issue in planning seventh grade this time around was finding substitutions for the books I didn’t like last time: history and grammar.
I’m pleased so far with what I discovered, especially because the history answer turned up on my own shelves already.
Instead of the World in Ancient Times series, which my oldest thought was dull and too secular, we’ll be using The Ancient Mediterranean by Michael Grant. Somehow I came across it when looking for extra reading options for my oldest in seventh grade (an extensive side reading list was another first-time-around idea I’ve cut), but he never read it. It covers early civilizations like the Philistines and Minoans and goes through the Roman Republic. It’s not a very large book, either, so he’s only reading about 1/3 of a chapter a week. I’ve not read the whole thing, only parts, but it’s well written. It’s for an adult layman, so it’s not trying to be appealing or interesting or funny to a middle school boy, which I think is a plus.
This student in particular has enjoyed ancient history and read nearly everything targeted for students already. It’s quite possible this won’t be the book for my next student (possibly Memoria Press’ ancient history options will work better for her), but it will work for this student.
I also purchased the George Grant lectures on Antiquity after podcasting with Cindy Rollins. They’re meant for high school, but as I said, this child is particularly interested in the time period, so I added them in as a supplemental option for him.
The other solution I needed was grammar. This student hasn’t really done any grammar work for 3 years – and when he did it, he was young for it. He did it because I taught him and his brother together. In 7th grade I used The Mother Tongue reprint, but did not like it. I went out on a limb this year and bought Analytical Grammar, and I am looking forward to using it, actually! The reference pages are well stated and summarized, the progression is logical and incremental, and I liked the look of the practice pages. Now, I think it’s way overkill on the amount of practice. We’ll be doing most of the book in the year, but with only 1-2 practice pages per chapter. I don’t think grammar needs to be belabored – it needs to be known well enough to be used as a tool in writing and reading.
The other difference is that my first seventh grader was still working in Latin for Children Primer B, but this seventh grader finished B last year. He requested learning Spanish instead of moving on to Primer C, and I granted the request. Buy in is good. Plus, quite honestly, I have not kept up with my own Latin well enough to be having children in Primer C – that’s what I learned as my oldest finished it up last year. So Spanish it is, using Living Language, Duolingo on his Kindle Fire, and Berlitz.
So our 7th grade course of study this year includes:
- Math: finishing MUS Zeta and starting Pre-Algebra
- Bible: personal reading + Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study, vol 1 & 2, by Starr Meade
- History: The Ancient Mediterranean by Michael Grant, listen to George Grant Antiquity lectures, Boys’ & Girls’ Herodotus
- Science: Story of Science, vol. 1 & 2 by Joy Hakim + nature study
- Literature: Iliad & Odyssey by Homer (Fitzgerald translation)
- English: written narrations for science (2 paragraphs per week), Analytical Grammar, Grammar of Poetry
- Language: Spanish with Living Language, Berlitz, and Duolingo
- Logic: Art of Argument
- Music: Piano
So instead of a screenshot, I thought I’d make a quick little video tour of his Trello checklist:
As I mention in the video, he has quite a bit of leeway in deciding when he does what. Not that he gets to spend the morning playing and choose to do his work in the evening (business before pleasure), but that he gets to choose which day he’ll work on what assignment.
When my oldest was in 7th grade, about half of the Fridays in the year we got up early and went out to a donut shop a mile from our house. We went over his narration paragraphs and talked about The Odyssey. In the car there and back we also talked about what was and wasn’t working for him, and it wasn’t so much that I solved those problems for him as that him noticing and identifying trends helped him learn how to manage his time better.
So this year I’ll be doing that for this seventh grader, also. It’ll be a special seventh-grade transition-to-independence practice.
Art of Argument and Grammar of Poetry we’ll be doing once a week as a class with others in the fall. I have the video lessons, so they’ll watch the lessons as a group, then we’ll do the activities together and I’ll assign and check homework.
When that class starts up in the fall, it will also include a chunk of time with Shakespeare (reading Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, and Romeo & Juliet), Plutarch (Publicola & Cato with Anne White’s guide), and Art (using Story of Painting, prints, and Khan Academy videos).
Eighth Grade Homeschool Curriculum
So 8th grade is primarily a continuation of what we were doing in 7th grade, because except for a few missteps, it was a great year.
In addition to reading his Bible (or listening to it), which is life and not school, and in addition to Morning Time with the family, Hans will continue to study through the entire Bible with Starr Meade’s The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study.
It comes in four volumes of workbooks, where the student reads the next chunk of Scripture (it’s sorted more or less chronologically, but when you’re finished you’ve read the whole Bible), reads a commentary bit in the book, then answers short-answer questions in the workbook.
It’s not broken up to be easily assigned across a week or across a 36-week school calendar, so when we began last year I simply assigned that he “do the next thing” in the book, working at it for 30 minutes a day. He finished 2 of the 4 volumes at that pace (with days off for good reasons and bad, of course), so we’ll do 3 & 4 this year.
Also, as a group twice a week, we’ll continue studying the Heidelberg Catechism 1 Lord’s Day a week using The Good News We Almost Forgot & The Heidelberg Catechism Study Guide. Last year we left off with Lord’s Day 25, and there are 52 total, so we should be able to finish as long as I don’t slack off.
Math-U-See for the win! We’re continuing on this track because we have no reason not to. Hans ended 7th grade half-way through the Algebra book, so I have the Geometry and Algebra 2 books on the shelf – when I place a Math-U-See order I like to have 2 books ahead for each student just so I don’t have to scramble. At this point, my plan is to continue with Math-U-See through 9th grade and then see where we are, where his test scores are, and decide what’s best next. In 10th grade my focus will turn toward helping his math test scores so he can enter college-level classes.
When we start back we’ll just pick up where we left off and we’ll move forward as he has mastery of each lesson, whether that takes two days or ten. I ❤ MUS.
Latin is math and logic with language. Hans finished Latin for Children Primer B and so will begin Latin for Children Primer C this year. It has taken us at least 2 years to finish each level so far, but I am going to do my best to keep us on track to finish LFC Primer C in one year. Then in 9th grade he’ll have some negotiating power as to what he wants to pursue in high school. It’s possible this will be his last year of Latin (he’d like to think so, anyway), so I’m going to try to make it count.
Once a week I will sit down with both Hans & Jaeger and we’ll work through Lingua Latina as a supplement. I bought the kindle version so all three of us can have our own copy for the price of one.
Last year we did informal logic with The Art of Argument, but this year we’ll give formal logic a shot with Introductory Logic. I took a logic class in college, so it’s not all brand new to me, but I’m fairly excited to dig in (as much I can – which probably won’t be much) with him. He’s already half-way through Algebra, so he should be ready for it. If he’s not, we’ll just postpone it until next year – no biggie.
Again, to keep the consistency and the level of instruction up-to-snuff, I’m relying on DVD instruction for this one. I’m sure Jim Nance – even prerecorded – will be a much better teacher of this material than myself. Plus, Hans can do it while I’m teaching the others.
What I simply must make a priority is grading his work! If I don’t look at it, we might as well not be bothering. That’s just the reality of life, not a slight against him or myself – we all let things slide when we think they don’t matter, and checking work is how we let our kids know it really does matter.
We’re in our medieval year now, and Hans has already read widely in the history genre, so I went with the AmblesideOnline Year 7 book: A History of the English-Speaking People volume 1 by Winston Churchill. If he reads one chapter a week from Churchill (I’m not using the AO schedule for the book), he’ll make it into the second volume and get to the reformation era.
But he can do more than one chapter a week in history, so I scouted around for an overview of medieval times from a broader European perspective rather than simply English history. I looked at a few books, bought a few kindle and used paperbacks that looked promising, and with a little trepidation, have assigned a little less than half of the impressive tome Europe: A History. Reading about 10 pages a week will take Hans through the medieval section of the book. I scheduled it out, but I’m holding it with a loose hand. We’ll see how it goes. For the first term we’ll persevere even if he’s less than enthusiastic, but if it is actually a slog, we’ll replace it with something else – probably an audiobook or Great Courses series.
With each reading assignment, he’ll add at least one thing to his Book of Centuries and he’ll add one Churchill quote to his new commonplace book. Instead of writing a paragraph narration for each chapter he reads, we’ll do brief narrations together while getting steps and he’ll write one 5-8 paragraph paper with a thesis on an event, person, or theme from his reading per term, which we’ll work on over the course of the term.
So, last year we did more of a history of science, stories of scientists, and ideas in their historical context study. And by study, I mean “read a chapter” + “write a paragraph.”
This year we’ll do an “actual” science curriculum.
There will even be experiments. Gasp.
I’m just going to go stick my head in the sand (i.e. get steps up and down the street in front of my house) while experiments are in progress. That’s ok, right?
I chose Elemental Science as our middle-grade science curriculum because it’s what Jennifer Dow chose for her co-op and it does look decent (although they do use comic sans in their ebook). I’m sure Jennifer will do all the experiments with lab sheets and great conversations instead of plugging her nose, covering her ears, and closing her eyes, though.
Now, I am simplifying it. I’m not using a curriculum as-is – that wouldn’t be right. Elemental Science is written for the homeschool setting though, so they know flexibility is key. They’ve made it easy to pick and choose, to cut back or expand, and to use their material in a way that fits your situation. That was an important factor in my decision to go with the program.
Vocabulary assignments? Nope. Every project? Nope. Outline entries from Kingfisher? Nope.
Sketch? Yes! Write a summary? Yes! Read? Of course! Do some of the projects? Well, ok, fine, if I must.
This is the lesson-plan “schedule” that I am in the midst of sketching out. I keep this in my master plan and add the next assignments as we go. I’ll plan 32-34 weeks for our 36 week school year. :)
When discussing with my husband which science to select for 8th grade, keeping in mind he’ll most likely do community college science in high school and that I only have 3 more years to plan for, my husband asked if it’d be possible to choose and arrange the lessons so as to cover two science topics this year and after reflecting on the options and the courses of study, that’s what I opted for. So we’ll do Earth Science and Astronomy for the Logic Stage in the first half of the year and Biology for the Logic Stage in the second half of the year. To condense the programs in this way, I will pick and choose the science experiments and cut out everything I deem “busy work.” Plus the reading in this program is fairly light, so I don’t think it will be a problem.
P.S. I bought the ebook versions.
Literature & Writing
This school year I will be teaching a class for literature & writing which both Hans & Jaeger will take part in. We’ll do medieval lit and practice writing on themes or topics pulled from what we’re reading.
I have settled on our books, but not the discussion themes or writing topics yet. That class won’t begin until September, while we’ll begin our independent studies in July, so it’s lower on the planning priority list right now.
We’ll read Beowulf, Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, a paraphrasing of Canterbury Tales, and Fierce Wars & Faithful Loves (a paraphrase of The Faerie Queene). This will be mostly the same group I had last year for logic & poetry & grammar, so I’ll also add in some medieval poetry between books and we’ll diagram together on the board to keep up our skills.
I’ll have the kids keep a commonplace journal, but my goal is to make the atmosphere of the class like a book club. Instead of lecturing, I’ll be leading book discussion and getting them to voice opinions – and then back those opinions up with evidence from the text. It’ll be fun. Middle school kids are great for this sort of thing.
Wide reading and other life pursuits
There is no attempt at an assigned reading list this year. Instead, I will do with Hans what I did with his brother last year: Every week I ask him to select one book each in the history, natural world, and story genres. He can choose from our shelves or we can find something at the library together.
If he doesn’t finish one of the books in a week, it simply carries over to the next. And I don’t make them finish every single book they start, either. It’s ok to try and then reconsider.
He’ll continue in piano lessons once a week with daily 20-30 minute practice.
Exercise will be on his list, and I think we’ll talk about setting some goals so he has something to work toward rather than just using that as an excuse to ditch his math for a few minutes to get some fresh air (a strategy I recommend, but rarely then is actual “exercise”).
What worked in our homeschool for the middle school boys this year.
When you hop in the driver’s seat, it’s always a good idea to first glance up at the rearview mirror and adjust it. It needs to be at just the right angle so you can see what’s coming up.
Yes, you look behind you to see what’s coming.
It’s easy to get fixated on the view through the windshield – what’s ahead?! Where should I go? What turn should I take? Is that a red light or a green light? But if you don’t know what’s behind you, you might just get in a wreck and never know what hit you.
So we need to check that rearview mirror.
A homeschool audit is just that – pausing to look at what happened this last year, at what’s behind, to give you a better idea for steering clear of accidents ahead.
You should do a homeschool audit before you do homeschool planning, and so I am sharing here part of my own retrospective about what did and didn’t work this last year before I dive into my homeschool plan posts for our upcoming year.
My husband started correcting the math. Awesome!
At one point in the first half of the year, my husband asked if there was anything he could do to help out with the homeschooling load, and I suggested he correct the math pages. He was game, and I was glad!
He’s more of a stickler than I am when it comes to math expectations, and he’s Dad, and he’s not trying to juggle all the expectations in all the subjects – so requirements like showing work and including units became consistent under his reign, without the backtalk and eyerolling I got.
We had to change our flow and routine a bit to accommodate the math checking in the evening, but it turns out it worked better postponing the correcting until the next day. So it was win-win all around.
Moving forward: We’ll continue with our Math-U-See flow and Matt correcting math pages.
Introductory Logic was a big hit and easy to accomplish.
I spent a little time researching logic curriculum for Hans’ 8th & 9th grade year last summer, but Canon Press’ Introductory Logic was the easy winner in my book. I know some are immediately biased away from Canon Press material, but I am biased toward it, and in my planning only looked for red flags warning against it. I didn’t see any I was concerned about, and I liked that it was intended as a semester class – meaning we could have a light pace, miss some weeks, and still finish in a year.
And, it was a winner. Hans thoroughly enjoyed logic, and was able to complete it in under a year doing about 3/4 of a lesson per week on average. The videos were great, too.
Moving forward: Hans will do Intermediate Logic and I’ll keep Introductory Logic on our 8th grade plan.
Trello gave them independence while providing me with checkpoints.
I’ve written lots about how we use Trello for homeschooling already, because it really was a great tool for us this last year. The boys enjoyed using it and having some control over when they did what, and I had an easy way to check where they were in their work – from anywhere.
Moving forward: We’re sticking with Trello as our homeschool checklist app.
What did not work for the middle school boys this year.
When I did not put eyes on their work, it would not be done.
That’s actually not a problem with them, but with me.
If I’m not paying attention, I am communicating that it’s not important and I don’t care. If I don’t care, why should they? Instead of storming about how they should do their work even if I’m not checking up with them (logical as that seems), I doubled down on consistently looking over every assignment with them during our Monday Meetings.
That was the ticket. Not only did that ensure the work was done, but it was a connection point where I could applaud their work and offer cheerful suggestions rather than be a scattered tyrant.
Moving forward: Monday Meetings with work-checking absolutely must take place every week. I need to not expand the Monday Meeting list so that I can prioritize checking their work every week.
Latin studies petered out.
Hans finished Latin for Children C and Jaeger finished LFC B, but everyone’s enthusiasm had completely died. I was not keeping up with the material myself, so I couldn’t intelligently check it or talk about it with them, and neither of them love Latin.
I wanted to do Lingua Latina together with them each week, but we just didn’t make that happen after the first term.
Moving forward: I will still do Latin with my elementary kids, but next year the boys will each choose their own language study and I’ll find self-study materials.
Assigning some tasks as “work on it for 20 minutes” did not work.
Hans worked through Starr Meade’s The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study in 7th and 8th grade, but the way I assigned it did not help.
It’s arranged by sections based on the book of the Bible and not for convenient school lesson plans. I don’t mind – I think that’s a better arrangement. So I assigned it as a daily “Do the next thing in MITYES for 20 minutes.” I thought that’d be fine, but it wasn’t until halfway through 8th grade year that I realized how badly that wasn’t working.
Middle school kids need accountability, and he wasn’t using a timer and was “approximating” very generously. I wasn’t looking in his book and seeing his rate of progress. Because I was never looking, it became too easy for him to skip it and fly under the radar.
When I realized how little progress he had made halfway through the year, I started assigning a number of pages to be done by the end of the week and then looking at those pages during our Monday Meeting and – Voila! – the work was regularly accomplished.
Moving forward: I will assign actual pages to be completed each day or week for Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study. At least such a schedule will be reusable for future students, as well.
Make smart changes for the next school year.
Seventh Grade Curriculum Choices
Wow. Somehow the years have added up and we’re at seventh grade. Crazy times.
Sixth is the beginning of middle school, but last year it seemed best to keep on keepin’ on with the way we’d been doing things. Now we’re at 7th and it is time to change things up and move this budding young man up a notch.
There’s always room and time to tweak as we go based on how long this work actually ends up taking and how well he does with more independence. When we have conversations weekly, we’ll talk not only about what he’s read but also what he thinks about his load. Of course, I don’t doubt I’ll hear about it at unappointed times if he has a problem with it.
Some think Math-U-See is less rigorous or less adequate for upper math, but Hans is doing well with it. After several years of being a book or two down from his grade level, these last two years something has clicked and he’s completed 3 1/2 books in two years so that he ended last school year in the tenth lesson of Pre-Algebra. So, my current plan is to stick with Math-U-See through 8th grade at least and then reevaluate for high school. I have Algebra and Geometry on hand for him, just in case he starts flying. These are the new editions of Math-U-See with the “honors” pages, which seem to have problems that require figuring out what operations are necessary and then using multiple operations to get to the answer. So I am requiring he do one honors page a week. I will be adding the honors page from a previous lesson on his clipboard at the beginning of the week and it is an additional sheet to be turned in by the end of the week, but he can work on it in little bits or tackle it on a day where his other math turned out to be easy – his choice so long as it’s complete by Friday.
I do check his math every day and he has to work his assignment until he has 100% – that’s the way we do it. And he shows his work on a separate graph paper sheet to help him keep his work neat and his numbers lined up.
He’s passed all the levels of xtramath, but I’ll be giving him a drill page at least three days a week to help keep him practiced in those basic operations that will make doing Algebra so much smoother.
Writing & Grammar
Hans’ writing is tied to his reading this year, plus he’ll write a few 5+ paragraph papers over the course of the year. His paragraphs will all need topic sentences, conclusion sentences, and strong word choice, though they are simply written narrations. He’ll turn them in weekly, I’ll give him feedback, and he’ll have to revise them before he’s through – first drafts are never final drafts. It’s one of the blessings of having your mother be a writing tutor and editor. Writing is one of his strengths, though, so this will not be a hardship – though I’m sure there will still be plenty of complaining along the way.
He types his composition – it makes revision much more palatable. Two years ago he did touch-typing practice, but last year typing his compositions was all his practice. I observed that his speed and accuracy could use some improvement, so he has typing practice on his checklist and once a week during our meetings I’m going to administer a speed test (I’ll use 10fastfingers – my speed is 82 with 100% accuracy, but Matt’s is 112 and I remember as a child my mom bragging about her 100 WPM, so I’ll be working to improve my score, too) and we’ll see if he can get his speed up; last time he took it he had 22 WPM. I think handwriting and cursive are important, but I also think touch typing skills are vital as well.
For grammar, we’ll be using The Mother Tongue and planning to take two years to go through it – that means about 2 lessons a week. We’ll be meeting once a week with at least two other friends to go over it, so I’ll be assigning the three students to read the next two chapters and do most of the exercises on their own – they’ll each have their own copy of Workbook 1. Then when we get together, I’ll field questions, we’ll all self-check verbally and talk through any mistakes, then do a few more exercises together or they will bring a “stump the teacher” sentence that they found in their writing for me to diagram – I think modeling the thought-process behind diagramming is a great way to teach grammar, and I’ll make them do a little bit of it, too.
Hans left off last year in Latin Primer B lesson 18, so we’ll spend a couple weeks reviewing and then move on ahead from there. I have LFC Primer C on hand for him to move into when he completes B.
And, for fun, I bought some extra Latin supplements. At least once a week Hans will read some Latin aloud and then orally translate. Latin for Children comes with readers for this purpose, but I bought some extra Latin-reading material so we can switch things up and to perhaps inspire extra-curricular Latin reading also. After all, if the goal of Latin study is to read Latin, we should have some books in Latin to read, don’t you think?
We will also be doing extra Latin composition, translation, and parsing to solidify the skills using the practice pages I made, which you can download for your own use, too, if you’d like:
Literature & Reading
Our theme for 7th grade is Ancients, so my literature picks correspond with that. I have always had Omnibus I in the back of my mind as what I’m aiming for, and now here we are and I have to actually decide if we’re doing Omnibus or my own thing. To the surprise of no one, I chose my own thing. But I bought Omnibus I as a reference anyway. Hans will be welcome to read it if he would like or if he has a particular interest. But rather than work through it as a spine, I’ve selected The Odyssey and The Aeneid as our primary literature selections for the whole year. I’ve read them more than once already myself and taught them before, too, to 7th-9th graders.
He’ll read one “Book” (chapter) a week, and that will take us all year, first Odyssey and then Aeneid. He’ll read it, then copy one quote from the book into his commonplace and illustrate it, so he’ll have his own mini illustrated versions when we’re done. He loves to draw, so the drawing portion is to make this an enjoyable assignment, not to add busy work. Once a week we’ll have a one-on-one “Colloquy” (conversation) time, and we’ll focus on the themes of civilization (“What does it mean to be civilized?”) and leadership (“What does it mean to be a leader?”) through both books.
As a teacher resource, I also highly recommend Peter Leithart’s guide, Heroes of the City of Man.
Then I also made him an assigned reading list per term. This is the first assigned reading I’ve given.
My goal is to help keep him in books, suggest books he might not pick out on his own, and keep his reading varied and well-rounded. He doesn’t have to do anything with these, but I anticipate there will be informal conversation during dinner and in the car. I built this list from our shelves, Ambleside Online years 6 & 7, and Omnibus I. There are six books per term (6 terms). This reading is for outside of school hours – something to guide his quiet time or bedtime reading – but not something he can choose to pick up before lunch while there’s still math, piano, and other work to be done.
- School of the Woods by William J. Long (AO Y6) – kindle
- The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson (AO Y6) – kindle
- *Evolution and the Modern Christian by Henry Morris – own
- Ordinary Genius by Stephanie McPherson (AO Y6) – own
- Galileo and the Magic Numbers by Sidney Rosen (AO Y6) – kindle
- The Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jean Henri Fabre (AO Y7) – kindle
- The Weather Book by Sloane – own
- *Signs and Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy by Jay Ryan (AO Y7) – own
- Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard Maybury (AO Y7) – own
- Animal Farm by George Orwell (AO Y6) – kindle
- Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott (AO Y6) – kindle
- The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens (AO Y6) – kindle
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (AO Y6) – kindle or audio
- Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (AO Y6) – kindle
- Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (AO Y7) – own
- The Once and Future King by T. H. White (AO Y7) – kindle & audio
- Watership Down by Richard Adams (AO Y7) – kindle
- The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (AO Y7) – kindle
- Gilgamesh (Omnibus I) – own
- Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton – kindle
- Oliver Twist by Dickens – own
- A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Philip Keller – own
- Knowing God by J.I. Packer – own
- Pleasing God by R.C. Sproul – own
- Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul (Omnibus I) – own
- Persuasions: A Dream of Reason Meeting Unbelief by Doug Wilson – own
- The Best Things in Life by Peter Kreeft (Omnibus I) – own
- The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch (AO Y6) – own
- Gift of Music by Jane Stuart Smith & Carlson – own
- The Story of Painting by Janson (Omnibus) – own
- The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon (AO Y6) – own
- Story of the Greeks by H. A. Guerber (AO Y6) – kindle
- Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber (AO Y6) – kindle
- Five Cities That Ruled the World by Doug Wilson – own
- The History of Ancient Israel Michael Grant – own
- Ancient Mediterranean by Michael Grant – own
I have spent this work to line all this out, anticipating this will be our Winckler Family Seventh Grade syllabus. So I’ve organized all this to be ready and handy to reprint in two years when it is Jaeger’s turn, and on down the line. In 7th grade the student will jump out of the family group cycle and into Ancient – into his own studies. So in two years, Hans will be in his own Modern studies, Jaeger will be in Ancient, and the elementary group at that time (Ilse & Knox) will be in Modern.
Hans will also join Elementary Group Lessons for our Shakespeare or Plutarch study.
Grammar of Poetry
Don’t take Brandy’s word for it that this is a great curriculum. Watch the videos for it. If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will. I bought these at the Canon Press table at a conference I was at earlier this year, straight from the hands of the homeschool mom in the promo video. That was fun. I did buy the video bundle even though I’m an English major and I know a trope from a trochaic foot. With a video instructor the lessons can happen even when I’m not mentally geared up to teach and even if I have to go deal with a toddler instead. Plus, I think there’s something invaluable in having a man teach poetry. Matt Whitling has his own slug of boys, knows how to communicate clearly to them, and knows and loves poetry. $100 is inexpensive for a single outsourced class, but divided by my 5 students who can all use it in their turn, it’s hardly anything. Plus, a couple friends will be watching and doing this with Hans, too. By the time we’re done with it, price per student will be in the single digits (for the DVDs, but excepting a workbook for each student, of course).
Our little group meeting to do English Grammar & Grammar of Poetry once a week will also be doing Art of Argument.
Again, I bought the full bundle with the video lessons, so I will be the logistics director and facilitator, but I don’t have to gin up the energy to teach. I could teach it, but $100 is a small price to pay to not have to prepare and present (x5 or ÷5, depending on how you look at it – and I actually bought it at 20% off during a CAP sale in March). I like outsourcing to recorded male teachers for my primarily-boy family and I like having teachers who bring pep and jokes again and again, even if you repeat the lesson because you weren’t paying attention or forgot (these recorded teachers never get exasperated by you asking them to repeat themselves!).
Of course our 2015-2016 Morning Time Plan is focused primarily on Scripture and learning about & worshipping God, so that is the primary religious instruction in our day, and Hans will participate fully in all of Morning Time with us. He will also join Elementary Group Lessons for our 20-minute 2x/week study through the Heidelberg.
For his own independent work, he will work through reading through, studying through, the entire Bible with the help of Starr Meade’s The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Study. This slim four-volume workbook series takes a student through the Bible, section by section. It’s not broken down by days or lessons or equally portioned out bits, but takes its cues from the section of Scripture. So I have no idea how long it will take Hans to work through it. On his weekly checklist, each day he has “Bible study, 30 minutes” listed. He’ll do the next thing in the book, whether that’s reading only or answering questions or both together, with a timer, and leave his bookmark where he left off at the end of 30 minutes. I’m estimating this curriculum will last us two years, but we’ll see how it works in practice. I just know I want him to read through the Bible on his own, with an aid for comprehension and seeing the themes.
If you’re looking for something flashy or “fun,” look somewhere else. Meade isn’t interested in keeping students entertained, nor does she feel the need to include illustrations, sidebars, or any other distractions. Instead, she provides Bible passages and questions, along with some text to help students understand what they’re reading. […] There isn’t much like this available. It is essential the Christians know their Bibles, though it’s also universally acknowledged that such understanding and familiarity takes work and guidance. Meade undertakes students to navigate the often complex narrative of Scripture with a minimum of frustration and confusion.
I agonized over history book selection from February through April, partly because he’s already read many of the books recommended for his age and I didn’t really know what else was out there. I settled on three books from the Oxford University Press series:
Yes, they are a little textbooky – they do have callouts and photos and definitions in the side. But they still read very smoothly and are written by single authors. The chapters are short and he’ll be assigned two chapters per week, writing one paragraph on what he read per week, also.
They are also written from a secular perspective, which isn’t too overt or troubling in what I’ve read so far (I’m halfway through The Ancient Near Eastern World. I am simply going to put him on the alert and see if he can tell me when he finds a clue about their worldview, and then we can discuss it. For example, one sidebar talks about life expectancy and ends with old people exaggerating their ages because birth records were not kept, “Perhaps this is where the myths came from of people in ancient times living to be hundreds of years old.” I don’t think that’s offensive, so long as we distinguish that the early people written of in Genesis really did live to be hundreds of years old and are not to be lumped together with ancient myths that are unreliable (which there are).
In addition to those books as our spine, he’ll also read Herodotus for Boys and Girls – one chapter per week. I picked this up two years ago from a friend who was finished homeschooling, and this seemed like the opportune time to get it into use. I am currently listening to the full Herodotus on audio, and I think Hans will like it. He’ll also write a single paragraph summary each week.
He also has a Book of Centuries which he will begin keeping this year and keep through the rest of his homeschool career. He saw me starting mine while I was prereading his books and is itching to begin. I bought him his own set of Sharpie pens for the project, too.
For the entire year, Hans will read through The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim. Again, it does have callouts and sidebars and such distractions that mark it as a textbook, but the text still reads like a narrative, telling of scientific discoveries starting with the ancient world and moving on until Roger Bacon. I like an emphasis on the history of science as we learn about the concepts, because I think it instructs us that we shouldn’t presume too much about current knowledge – what we know now is very recent. There’s no real reason to think that more breakthroughs that will totally redefine what we think we know now are impossible.
I think he will also want to be a part of our Anatomy portion of Elementary Lessons, which he will be welcome to join if he doesn’t need that time to do his other work.
He will also do nature journalling independently once a week as I wrote about before, but I will likely give him the option of walking or riding up to the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden that’s half a mile away, too.
He’s kept the same natural journal for a couple years now, and he gets to start fresh this year with a new sketch book for his upper years, plus I’ve finally upgraded him to Prismacolor colored pencils. My fingers are crossed. I am skeptical that he can keep them well, but it’s time to take the risk – he is also old enough and responsible enough to pay for his own replacements should that become necessary.
And here is my Course of Study for him, on my handy-dandy Plan Your Year planning page:
Here is the bin I have set up for him with all his books (except his Latin, which I have in a separate bin because we’ll all work on that together):
He gets more say over what he does when this year. Instead of there being only “daily” tasks, where I assign different subjects to different days, half of his work is now assigned “weekly” and he can decide whether to do it all early, save it until last minute, do one segment a day and plug along, or whatever other arrangement he concocts.
I fully anticipate there will be a learning curve as he learns what patterns of work do and do not work. That is an important skill in itself, and I’m ok with holding the line and having him finish his work on Saturday if he underestimated his time or work load or thought procrastination would work for him. I’ll still be checking in with him daily so I can perhaps point out to him that procrastination isn’t the wisest course or that work crammed into Monday so he can have it easy the rest of the week might not result in quality work. But self-direction is a huge skill, and the more he makes those mistakes and learns those lessons now, the better for him later.
What’s on his clipboard:
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.
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
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.
Letting Middle Schoolers Think for Themselves
“I come in with something it took me three years to come to the conclusion about this matter, and I get mad because the kids don’t see it in the classroom in 30 minutes.James Daniels, “The Nature of Education”, 2009 CIRCE Conference: A Contemplation of Nature
What I’m doing is depriving them of the process and getting there, and it’s dehumanizing. We throw these things in books in their laps and then we wonder why they’re not overjoyed like we are.
How long did it take us to get to the point where we were overjoyed about that? So this calls for great wisdom and discernment.”
Wow. This concept has so many applications besides even teaching our children.
Think of all the topics that you feel passionately about. How much time did it take to move from ignorance to understanding to love and passion? How many questions are rattling around in your brain, connecting with other ideas over time, waiting for their time to bloom?
Is it only lack of information that these questions need, or is it time and space and process to come to fruition?
So, when we share our convictions, whether it be about theology or parenting or education or politics, there really isn’t a shortcut we can use to convince anyone else of our positions. It is not a process of downloading information directly into someone else’s mind.
It isn’t microwaveable. It’s a seed that has to hit fertile soul, feed on material already there, gather in nutrients from other sources, then slowly germinate and grow, putting out a branch here and a few leaves there to gather in more rays of light until finally it’s ready to produce fruit.
So, in education, then, it’s not all about the teacher. Certainly the teacher must have knowledge and mastery and passion. However, a teacher’s mastery and passion are not sufficient, will not guarantee a passing on of that passion. The teacher doesn’t so much have to convince a student of the rightness of his passion, he has to cultivate the conditions in the student so the student can grow his own passion.
And, here again, we see also the need for leisure in order to learn. True learning happens when it becomes personal, a part of you, not when a fact is memorized. And this is a process that takes time, whether it be student encountering grammar or chemistry or an adult encountering new ideas about salvation or parenting or homeschooling.
This process that is individual. It can’t be figured out and made into a cookie cutter process. Each person brings his own background and assumptions that make it easier or harder to accept an idea, that put different nuances and emphases on particulars, that make him apply it differently.
Let us remember that each individual must test and learn through his own action and processing.
Our Middle School Curriculum Picks
We also supplement with Khan Academy as needed for extra tutoring or clarification on concepts they have a hard time with.
These are workbooky, but they get at what I want: An overview of the whole Bible with historic and interpretive notes and thoughts throughout. I don’t want them to get to adult-level theology in high school without a thorough overview of Scripture itself first.
I schedule these out across 7th and 8th grade.
I begin teaching 7th & 8th graders to write literary analysis papers and persuasive essays if they’ve already had some practice in putting a 5 paragraph paper together. I know it’s not classical, but it’s what I’ve been teaching for over 15 years. The format is less important than the model, which is tutored practice and an insistence on clear thought well articulated. The outcome is a classical aim, though my methodology is not yet in line with classical models. Maybe someday.
Most of our writing is tied to our reading, which I teach as a class with other middle school students.
Ancient Mediterranean, by Michael Grant
My first seventh grader used a book set from Oxford Press on the ancient world that I was not content with, so I went on a hunt for something better that was more comprehensive than only highlights from the Greeks and Romans. This history book is engagingly written for a lay adult reader, focusing on development of civilizations as seen in their art. After all, it is the art more than anything else that has survived.
We read short sections weekly and discussed.
Because this particular seventh grader had already read all the books on the Greeks aimed at high school and below and enjoyed them, I also supplemented with George Grant’s Antiquity lectures – simply listened to one per week.
History of the English-Speaking Peoples, vol 1 & 2, by Winston Churchill
For medieval history in eighth grade, both my boys read Birth of Britain and the first 5 or so chapters of the second volume of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
Churchill is an engaging writer and we have all enjoyed his titles. There is also an Audible version which is quite good.
Medieval history is much more than British history, but I haven’t yet found a single volume European history to use alongside Churchill. Instead, I assigned four shorter, more specific books:
Story of Science, volumes 1 & 2, by Joy Hakim
These aren’t my favorite, but I think knowing scientific concepts in the context of history is valuable. So, I overlook the chronological snobbery and choppy presentation of these books.
Science is not a set of facts we need to know because it’s all Truth to be received. Science is a process of discovery, and we should always remember that we don’t know what we don’t know, and try to keep finding out more.
This earth science textbook is well-written and engaging, with great diagrams and illustrations. It is written from a Christian perspective, but does not take a dogmatic side in the age of the earth debate.
We have really enjoyed this science book.
A fun romp through informal logic and fallacies, which was improved by the fact that we did it as a class of 6 students and not alone. We did watch the videos, but they are so wordy and rambly and dry – even though they’re trying not to be dry – that I wouldn’t use them again. The kids loved finding their own examples of fallacies in advertisements and magazines and showing them off in class – as well as making up their own.
Although we used a curriculum to study the fallacies, it was this creative catalog read for fun – and reread and reread – that my boys claim was much more valuable to their remembering the fallacies and being able to identify them in the wild.
We used the whole package here to begin studying Formal Logic after informal. The DVD lectures are well done; we would not have made it through the curriculum without them.
Distressed at the lack of Material Logic instruction available and at the habit of starting logic instruction with fallacies (how others do logic wrong instead of how to do it correctly), Steven Rummelsburg put together an 8-week intensive, hosted by Scholé Sisters, to equip parents not only to teach logic practically, positively, and constructively, but to also allow them to weave logical reasoning into all their instruction and be able to truly dialogue with their children – and others! – on any topic and in any setting.
If there’s not time, space, or inclination for free reading, children (and adults) are not students or learners and are not educated.