Looking Back at our Homeschool Year
I started a series of posts to help explain how we plan for the next year. In yesterday’s post, I listed out the questions I ask myself as I plunge into the planning process. The next few posts I’ll tell you my answers to these questions. I’ll also tell you some of the books, websites and other resources I use in the planning process.
Today, I’m going to look over the past year and talk about what we covered and what we missed. In planning for the next year I always do this so I can really evaluate what went well and what gaps we’ve left along the way. (I don’t usually add in all the pictures/links and all that. I did that for your benefit!)
This is just a list of the units we covered, but really doesn’t tell you what our days and weeks look like. We tend to cover one or two units at a time. We have collection, our group time, where we do activities together. Some things (like math, language arts, German and music are daily) and we do separately.
1) Take a look at where we’re at. What did we cover last semester/last year? Did we meet our goals? What didn’t go as well? Why?
Here are some of the things we covered this past year:
This is the USA: Since my kids were born in Australia they knew next to nothing about American history or geography when we moved here (now coming up on two years ago). I wanted to introduce them to some basics that most kids are exposed to in the course of normal life. We covered the main landmarks in America (see post here) and where they are located (like the Grand Canyon, Space Needle, St. Louis Arch and so forth). We took field trips to see the Liberty Bell and Statue of Liberty. We hoped to make it to the National Mall in Washington D.C. (for the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, etc. but never fit that in.) We spent the year learning the “50 States That Rhyme,” a song that lists all the states in order (more here). We sang this in collection (our group time) for much of the year, learning a little more each week. The kids (LD and DD) are able to point to the location of each state. At some point we’ll do the state capitals as well, but we’ll wait a couple of years for that.
American West Unit: That went really, really well. We did several field trips (one more to go! We’re going to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home later this summer!). The kids learned a lot about early frontier life (especially Davy Crockett). I think the kids got a really good understanding of life on the Oregon Trail. We read several wonderful novels on this theme this year. We never did get around to learning about the train system and the Gold Rush.
Geography: ED learned the continents. LD and DD learned some of the famous world landmarks. We learned the names and locations of the 50 states in the USA. We learned lots of the US rivers, mountain ranges and the location of the Great Plains in our American West Unit. We went over the countries that make up the Arctic region.
We went over and did projects on some of the basic geography terms: peninsula, gulf, bay, inlet, isthmus, strait, archipelago, etc.
Human Body: We loved the material we covered: the skeleton, hand, brain, eye, circulatory system. We covered the digestive system, but not as in-depth as I’d like. LD is beginning to ask questions about the reproductive system, but I haven’t gone in too much depth with the kids about that (just in a cursory way and know that’s a definite need soon). I have a couple books on hand from suggestions other homeschoolers have made.
Physics: The kids read Real Science 4 Kids, Pre-Level 1. We did about 10 experiments and I had lots more planned but then my ear surgery kind of stalled things out. We never did get around to learning about Simple Machines and building the cool gadgets in the kits I have. The kids learned a lot about Sir Isaac Newton and we learned quite a bit about the Black Plague as well (because of the outbreak in London during Newton’s university years.)
First Aid: Hubby and I really wanted to re-introduce the kids to some basic first aid skills and go over fire safety again. We fit this in as a small unit in Jan/Feb. (To see some of our activities scroll down here.)
Biology/Nature Studies: This is a huge part of our homeschool life. The kids know the specific names of most of the amphibians and reptiles in our area. They also know what they eat and how they reproduce. You can find endless posts about this in the “Nature” category which you’ll find in the right side bar. [And we did the same thing when we lived in Australia as well, so you’ll find those kinds of posts under “Where We Live” (since I started the blog when we lived in the Outback).]
Animal Habitats/Biomes: This the general unit for ED’s preschool this past year. But since we’re a homeschooling family we did a variety of activities some geared for ED who was age 3 1/2 to 4yrs old this year and my older kids who were 6 and 8 this year. Units we covered were the Ocean, Desert, Forest, and Arctic (um, well this turned into a unit on whales). (We really loved the olive-and-shortening activity below which showed how blubber/shortening helps keep the whale/olive afloat!) We never did get to the Rainforest. I’ll need to add that to our list for this next year!
Math: LD made good progress. DD progressed through about a grade and a half. They played lots of math games board games, card games and online computer games.
Spelling: We LOVE All About Spelling. LD has made so much progress with this program. DD enjoys it SO much. It has made here passionate about writing because her self-confidence grew so much this year.
Writing: LD is making slow but steady progress. His handwriting is beautiful, but he hates the process of writing. Ask him to write a sentence about — well anything — and the frustration sets in. He has always been reluctant writer and struggles a lot with writing. He can see it is a weakness. I think the skills he’s built from All About Spelling and Write Source have helped immensely. We’ll definitely continue with Write Source as it’s working well for both kids. (Read more about it here.) DD loves writing and I stocked up on lots and lots (and lots) of Writing Prompt books from Scholastic in their dollar sales that will be just perfect for her (and hopefully will have some appeal for LD as well) this next year.
Reading: LD always gets up and does independent reading for 45-90 minutes. DD has a different style, she reads books quietly throughout the day. ED is just learning to read.
Read aloud time: I read to ED first thing in the morning and we read to her at night. She could definitely use more read-aloud time, but our days are quite full. LD and DD listened to about a half-dozen novels over the course of the year that fit into our unit studies.
German: We made slow, but steady progress and the kids know their colors, numbers, basic greetings and started improving their basic vocabulary. We never do enough, but we have a good system in place to keep it in the schedule. Last year we started having “collection,” our group time, and German fits in well to this time slot.
Music: LD is learning the trumpet and learned the basics. I can see I really need to find a brass player to continue his progress (I’m a woodwind player and learned just enough to get LD started on the trumpet, but don’t know much about embouchure and all that.) DD is doing well on piano, but she would progress so much faster if I sat down with her more often. This is definitely an improvement area. We still do a group music class with some friends, though with my ear surgery and various trips this second semester we didn’t get together anywhere near as often as we wanted. We did American music (to go along with our unit on the American West).
Typing: We started (little real progress made yet). But we STARTED!
Preschool: I realize I didn’t talk very much about what we did for preschool last year. I think I’ll save that for another post. Just let me add in that while I plan out preschool separately we always do things together. So for example, while reviewing the seven continents (and learning the Seven Continents song) was an activity for ED this year, I flushed it out for the older kids by adding in world landmarks this year. (Or here’s another example with our study of deserts last October.)
What went well this year:
*We started having regular group activities, which we call “collection.” This included calendar time (at the beginning of the year), German, songs and our experiments/activities for the day. Since collection was constantly changing the kids were always excited to see what we were doing that day. This is definitely a “keeper” for us.
*We tried a new math curriculum last fall that didn’t work out for us. We’re back to using our workbook spine and the kids DD/LD both are doing really well and love math again at this point.
*Our units have gone pretty well. I need to find a time for planning other than the 10pm-1am slot!
What could improve:
*Music practice could be daily. I need to sit down with the kids more.
*Writing definitely needs to be upped a notch. This has always been LD’s weakness. And DD loves writing so she could use more writing time.
*German — I wish I could fit this in daily because it is so important for learning a language. We only “get to it” about twice a week.
*The kids do lots of non-fiction reading, but could always read more. They both love fiction.
*I really want to do more preschool reading with ED. I read SO much more to LD and DD when they were this age.
What we don’t do and I’m happy to leave as-is:
We still don’t do co-ops. We have lots of social outlets for the kids, but I’ve never really wanted to share their academics with others. I love, love, love doing science and history with the kids. It doesn’t make sense to do a group math or language arts class because they have such individual needs. Perhaps we could do German with a group, but I don’t want to commute anywhere to do it and hate breaking up our day any more than we have to. We spend a lot of time doing sports, choir, Girls Scouts and things like that. I love just having one-on-one time with another family or two for music class — and we might do that for a science project with another family, but I don’t see this as being a central part of our homeschooling.