Nature Journaling: Our First Steps

I have ventured ever so slightly into the world of Charlotte Mason over the past few months and feel that I am ready to bring some of her ideas into our homeschool.  With four active little boys, we are constantly outdoors and it is second nature to them to find bugs and birds and flowers. 

Nature Journals Graphic

Charlotte Mason has latched onto this incredible appetite that children have to the world that God created and looks to use their curiosity as a way to ever so slightly and slowly focus their attention and create a habit of observation.  She does this by having the children keep a nature journal.

Typically I tend to dive headlong into a new homeschool idea and then burn out on it.  I am trying to curb this flaw with nature journaling because I feel that it is an important learning tool.  You can imagine that if I drag all my little ones to a park or lake every week for journal time, I will quickly decide that this is for the birds.

So over the spring/summer break, I am sneaking in some journal time about once a week.  We are starting simple with the life we find in our own back yard.  The boys or I collect a few items and they draw while I make lunch. 

nature journal

When I am brave enough, we will take our supplies outside and try to draw some flowers that I don’t want to pull up.

The next step is to load up the double stroller and walk around the neighborhood to look for new species that I don’t have in my own yard.

Finally, maybe in the fall, we will start taking a nature walk once every couple of weeks at a park or trail.  We have enough of those types of places in our town to keep up busy for these young years. 

I need to read up some more on how other nature journaling moms go about drawing those living things that don’t stay put.  We have lots of birds right outside our dining room window, and I’m sure it won’t take long before the boys start noticing bugs in the grass.  If you have any pro tips, stick them in the comments, please.

nature notebooksI am keeping our supplies simple right now.  Just a small notebook for each of us and good quality colored pencils.  I decided on the spiral bound books that will lay flat and a size small enough to fit in a kid-sized backpack.

I must admit, I am enjoying this activity the most right now.  Alex is definitely interested, but doesn’t stick with it too long.  Ryan gave it a go once, but prefers to just make his own drawing from his imagination right now.  That is fine by me, but he is only allowed to use his notebook for nature drawings.

Hopefully, these tentative baby steps will have us running in no time.  It has been a nice start so far.  I have also found great inspiration from Celeste at Joyous Lessons.  I’m not one to strap a toddler on my back and push a stroller through the woods like her, but she has some great ideas.  For us lazier moms. Deanna at Little Schoolhouse in the Suburbs also has a few posts about Spring Walk Alongs (no journals) that she and her kids do – sometimes from the car!

As the Wild Kratts would say, “Get outside and get into nature!”




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Posted in First Grade, Kindergarten, Preschool, Science, Science, Second Grade | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Curriculum Review: Math-U-See Beta



  • Student Text – 2009 edition
  • Instruction Pack (Teacher’s Manual and DVD) – 2009 edition
  • Test Booklet – 2009 edition
  • Manipulative Block Set
  • Skip Count CD and Book


All materials were purchased used or in previous school years.  Total cost for Beta books was about $50.


This curriculum was used to teach a 7 year-old boy at the second-grade level. He used Math-U-See Primer and Alpha in previous years.


  • The DVD provides all of the teacher instruction necessary to teach the skill, so there is no need to worry that your own knowledge will fall short.
  • Various learning methods (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) are used in each lesson.
  • Ample practice & review for this level.
  • Downloadable supplements and an online drill application are available.
  • Mastery based lessons are taught in small, manageable chunks so that mastery can be achieved quickly without needing to spend weeks on a particular lesson.
  • A small number of lessons (30) allows for extra time to be spent on a difficult set of facts or time to add in extras that are not covered in the curriculum.
  • Lessons on subtraction are interspersed periodically with other skills (rounding, tally marks, time, etc.).  This helps to break up the monotony of a mastery based approach.


  • The teacher’s manual is about as useful as the Alpha level.  It has a few extra ideas for lessons, but most of what is in the book is also on the DVD. It does include some mental math lessons and some review sheets that you can copy.
  • The problems on the worksheets do not give enough space for my struggling writer.  His numbers are still pretty big.  This was usually not a problem until we reached multiple-digit column addition with carrying (or subtraction with borrowing).  We had to transfer the larger problems onto graph paper to keep his columns organized.


Math-U-See is still fabulous for us.  I enjoyed the Beta level more than the Alpha level.  It seemed to mix in a lot more of those additional skills like rounding and bar graphs.  This really helped Alex to take a brain break for a week while we continued to work on a really tough skill like borrowing.  We would move on to an easier lesson for him, like skip counting, while we continued to work on the hard stuff.  He still felt like he was making progress through the book, but really we were spending an extra week to master the previous lesson.

I mentioned in my Alpha review that I probably moved a bit too fast and did not achieve true mastery of some of the addition facts.  That issue became apparent as he tried to work problems with more and more digits.  It would take Alex a long time to finish his work if he was struggling to remember the facts.  So, a word of caution, keep drilling those addition facts as you move through Beta.  The mental math lessons are very important.  They are only mentioned in the teacher text, and if you let yours collect dust on the shelf (like me), you will forget they even exist.  I would limit his math time to 20 minute lessons instead of finishing a page.  Typically, one page of a Math-U-See lesson should take no longer than 20 minutes, if your child ‘gets’ it.  (That is my humble opinion and not an instruction from Math-U-See.)

The most challenging lesson for Alex was multiple-digit addition with carrying. For example:

Column Addition ExampleHe would simply forget what he had already counted up, even when he marked the problem.  To help, he used his abacus to keep track.  Then when he finished a column, he could see right there on the beads how many groups of ten needed to be carried over and what was left.  After a few weeks of practice, he didn’t need the abacus anymore.  We also transferred the problems onto 1/2” graph paper.  I also took the opportunity to praise him when he wrote his numbers small and neat.  And finally, I let him use a calculator to check the problems.

We will be moving forward through the summer and next year with Gamma and Delta.  After that, a change may be in order.  I have not made up my mind completely just yet.  I hope you have found this review helpful.  You can check out more of my reviews here.

~ Catie

I am not affiliated with Math-U-See in any way. All comments are my own opinion based on personal experience. Math-U-See did not provide any of the above materials to me for free and did not solicit a review.

This post does include affiliate links.  See my legal disclosures for details.

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Goodbye Second Grade And A Seton Review

We did it!  We made it through second grade with two babies and a preschooler in tow.  I would say it was actually more successful than the pregnant/baby/preschooler first grade year.  It really was all thanks to Seton Home Study.

Seton gave me the structure that I desperately needed to keep us moving ahead.  On days (or weeks, or months) when I just couldn’t get my act together, the lesson plans told me what to do and the workbooks were ready to go.

Morning SchoolAs we adjusted to having two little ones, we shed off the layers of structure and the pieces that were just not working for us.  And now, with only three weeks left in our school year, we are down to just reading whatever strikes our fancy and doing math.  The boys spend most of the day outdoors.

The very organized and rule-following part of me is a tiny bit scared that we didn’t finish all of the assignments.  I keep thinking that someone from Seton is going to call me and ask why I haven’t entered any fourth quarter grades or turned in the last round of tests.  Someone could berate me for not seeing the dire importance of those damned book reports.  Mostly I’m nervous that a very nice and concerned Seton representative will tell me that I needn’t worry; I have a whole year to finish the program and could ask for an extension.  Then I would be forced to tell them that I have no intention of ever finishing despite how much I do like them and what they are doing for homeschooling families.

Boys Letters

Looking ahead to next year, we will say goodbye to Seton.  It is just way too much like school for us to stick with for long.  Alex and I burn out on traditional methods of teaching.  Though it was nice to see that when it is really needed, we can turn to workbooks to keep on track.

I suppose if anyone asks my opinion of Seton, I would say that it is really good, but only if the style suits your homeschool.  I went with Seton because the consensus among homeschoolers was “you can’t go wrong with Seton.”  I now completely understand that statement.  With Seton your child will get a solid, Catholic, liberal arts education.  Yet, I just can’t see my child soaring with them.  I don’t see their curriculum lighting a fire in his heart and igniting a lifelong passion for any one thing they are trying to teach him.  In fact, I could see by the end of this year that he was beginning to dread some of the subjects that he used to enjoy.  I am starting to believe in the words of John Holt.  That no child, no matter how intelligent, will ever be able to learn anything that does not first strike his interest.  Sure, they can retain data for a short time, but no real connections are actually made with the information.

Brain HatSo next year, we are looking to change things up a bit.  You can almost entirely ignore this post on third grade language arts.  Our year will include a hodgepodge of methods from classical to Charlotte Mason and traditional to unschooling.  But it really doesn’t matter what you call it, the goal is to keep on learning together and growing in holiness.

More details on third grade planning will trickle in over the next few weeks.  I have been very busy behind the scenes piecing it all together.  I once again have that new school year excitement, and the beauty of homeschool is that we don’t have to wait three months to begin!

May God bless you all as you close out your school year (or not).

~ Catie

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Why I Don’t Eat Meat on Fridays of Lent

It really is quite amazing to me that I chose to be a Catholic.  I am the first to bristle at any kind of authority telling me what I can and cannot do.  Maybe it is that inborn American desire for rebellion.  More likely it is my own pride and arrogance.  But when it comes to the Church, I submit to her teaching authority.  It is through the Church that Jesus instructs and leads his sheep to heaven. 

Following the teachings of Christ is not always easy, especially when it is my inclination to defy.  Like a small child though, I am called to obey first and seek understanding after.  So for the past decade or so, I have dutifully abstained from eating meat on Fridays of Lent.  And to answer the obvious question of why, I say because it is a sacrifice.  But then come the inevitable litany of rebuttals:

  • Am I really making a sacrifice to plan a different meal once a week?
  • Do eggs and chicken broth count?
  • What if I am pregnant?
  • Why is fish okay to eat?
  • And so on…

I know, absolutely know, in my heart that the Church’s teachings are true and just and for my spiritual benefit.  So I began to ask myself, why are we still obligated in this day to abstain from meat.  Certainly for the average American, this is truly not a sacrifice.  There must be another purpose beyond the meager inconvenience of not eating a particular food. 

Today is Mardi Gras, but all week, I have already begun to think about what I will plan for my family’s meals on Ash Wednesday and the upcoming Fridays.  Today, while I was contemplating how to maintain my metabolism while fasting, it finally hit me.  Every time I think about meals for these days, I think about sacrifice and I think about Jesus.  That is my purpose for fasting and abstaining.  It has very little to do with what I actually eat. 

Just imagine your day tomorrow or Friday.  At least three times a day, and probably more, your body will tell you that it is hungry and you will think about food.  But rather than just meeting the physical need, you will remember that today is special and you will need to adjust your habits.  Multiple times a day, you will recall the sacrifice of Jesus and make a tiny attempt to join your sacrifice with His.  Isn’t it brilliant that the Church chose such a fundamental and universal desire, hunger, to help us orient ourselves to God again and again throughout the day?  In my busy life, I often forget that God is here with me, but I won’t forget that I am hungry.  The physical desire for food reminds us of our insatiable spiritual desire for Christ.  And that is why I do not eat meat on Fridays of Lent.

May you all have a blessed Lenten season as we await the joy of Easter.

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Weekly Wrap-Up: The One With the First Pinewood Derby

homeschool weekly wrap up

I hope everyone had a great week.  The motto around here lately is “Survive and Advance.”  We seem to be accomplishing that goal every time.  Qapla’!

I started the morning with grocery shopping.  Sales were not great today except for some produce at Aldi.  I like to buy meat from a regional store chain called Food Pyramid.  They typically have marked down meat on Saturday morning, but they were wiped out of almost everything this morning.  Not sure what that was about, but I was stuck paying over $3 a pound for hamburger meat.

Everyone was finally healthy enough to go to Mass and Sunday school.  Our long-time nursery workers retired from duty before the holidays and college students have been taking over the job.  Which means that the nursery has been without staff for almost six weeks.  Now, I can’t actually leave my babies there.  Cooper throws a fit and Josh is too young to be left alone (per the nursery rules).  But, I do appreciate having a worker in there.  At least I have someone to talk to. 

The church also forgot/didn’t leave the nursery open for parents to use.  I know how to get in through another room, but no one else seems to so I was stuck in there, just me and the babies, for most of Mass.  We also have a baby cry area, but the glass doors leading into the chapel were left open.  Cooper made a mad dash for the pews at least twice before I decided that wasn’t worth it and broke into the nursery instead.

THEN, I tried to take the babies back inside the chapel for communion, but someone had already slightly opened the doors to the kitchen.  They usually do not do that until after Mass.  Cooper saw the light from the kitchen and started yelling,  “Donut!”  We had to leave again. 

Most of the parishioners and the priest are all very welcoming of children.  No one ever gets shushed or glared at, but my goodness, they didn’t make it easy on me this day. 

In better news, I performed a miracle during Sunday school to everyone’s amazement by turning water into….colored water. 

We tried to get some schoolwork done, but accomplished very little.  I’m pretty sure Alex thinks that Martin Luther King, Jr. fought in the Civil War.  Progress on making a pinewood derby car was made. And finally, the boys were put to bed and I watched Castle.

Josh greeted the day at 5:25AM.  It actually turned out to be a pretty decent day since I was up before (most of) the kids.  I was quite productive doing laundry, keeping the kitchen clean, and giving two haircuts.  I really wish I would get up early every day.  I also wish that I could get 8 hours of sleep in a row.  Sometimes we just don’t get we want.

FINALLY had a playdate with our friends.  It had been more than a month!  I also began sprucing up my YouTube page to mesh with the blog.  I plan on using it with Mother of Divine Grace syllabi next year.  The tentative plan is to use a combination of second and third grades for Alex and kindergarten for Ryan.  We won’t use every subject, but one of the things that I really liked about Seton this year was having a daily lesson plan for at least our core subjects.  I am hoping that MODG gives us that daily plan in a more classical style. 

We’ll see.  MODG encourages more discussion than writing in the elementary years, which is what I prefer.  However, some days it is impossible to hear anyone speak around here with Josh’s constant fussing, Cooper’s constant commotion, and Ryan’s constant interruptions.  I’m sure whatever I choose will be a disaster in its own little way.  Can you tell that I’m ready to start fresh with a new year already?

We survived our morning and accomplished learning about St. Stephen of Hungary.  It was such a stereotypical homeschool lesson.  I had a baby on my hip so he wouldn’t cry, the toddler was pulling things off the shelf behind me, Ryan was seated across from Alex at the table, interrupting my reading and discussion every third word, and Alex tried to learn through the chaos.  By the grace of God, it was actually a successful lesson.  If only I didn’t feel like I were yelling every lesson just to be heard above the circus.

Derby CarIn other news, the derby car is ready for weigh in tomorrow.

We managed to finish up 90% of the scheduled schoolwork plus another 10-15% of unschooled stuff.  I gave Alex a haircut, too, so overall, a very successful day.  The big event was weighing in the car for the derby.  Ryan got to go, too.  Dad managed to get the weight of the car right up to the 5 ounce limit.  We’ll see if it wins any races tomorrow.

Big plans for the weekend include the derby for the big boys and a date to see Chicago for hubby and me.  We’ll wrap it up with Mass, Sunday school, and dinner with Aunt Caren. 

Have a great one!



This post is linked up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Posted in Preschool, Second Grade, Weekly Wrap-Up | Tagged | 2 Comments

Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Took Four Boys to Wal-Mart by Myself

homeschool weekly wrap up

This weekend I went fishing around my old Weekly Wrap-Up posts trying to figure out when it was that we visited the fire station.  It was so much fun to go back and read about those weeks, so I am going to make a better effort to keep up with these recaps.

Let’s start with a quick catch-up: Christmas was awesome and exhausting, then everybody was sick for a week, and now we are back to school.

Most of the boys and hubby were still recovering a bit from various sinus and respiratory infections so we stuck close to home and rested.  I (poorly) finished some grocery shopping and drug Alex around to every shoe store in town.  We never did buy any shoes.  Have you seen the cost of those things? Absurd. 

dove paper bag puppetSunday
Hubby and the youngest three boys stayed home from Mass and Sunday school.  One last day of recovery and not coughing all over people and then they were all better.  Alex and I enjoyed a quiet Mass together.  At Sunday school I taught about the Baptism of Jesus.  We talked a lot about the Holy Spirit and made this dove craft.  I had the children trace and cut out their handprints to use as wings.

After church we put away the Christmas decorations and made a blackberry cobbler for after-dinner desert.  It was yummy.   

First day back following the week of illness and the two-week break for Christmas.  Since everyone was feeling pretty good, we packed up and went to PE.  It was really for me more than them.  I haven’t seen one of my very bestest friends in like a month and she was going to be there.  So, the boys played and I chatted with my friend.  We ended the day with homemade chicken soup and biscuits for dinner. 

Confession Time – I suck at making a menu, shopping list, and cooking.  I tend to forget to buy ingredients like hamburger meat for a meal like hamburgers. 

So, I realized that I didn’t have what I needed to make dinner for the night.  I am trying really, really hard to stick to my budget and menu this year, so I weighed my options and opted for hauling all four boys to Wal-Mart this morning to buy what I forgot.  After a half-hour of getting everyone ready and giving them about fifteen pep talks, we piled in the old van and hit the road. 

You know how these talks go.  “No, we can’t look at toys.” “Everyone is going to do exactly what Mommy says, right?”  “We aren’t getting anything that isn’t on the list.”  “No swearing.”  Okay, that last one is for me.

I’m glad to report that we survived the thirty-mile-per-hour wind and all of the looky-loos and successfully obtained the lettuce for taco salad.  Dinner is saved.

We were supposed to have playdate today, but one of our friends was sick.  I hate winter.  Someone is always sick, or it is too cold to go outside.  Either way, it makes for a houseful of crankiness.  I didn’t feel great myself today.  I slept in too much, screwed up my metabolism, and then didn’t eat well.  Ryan didn’t fare much better.  We need to clean up our eating habits again.

This started out as another tough day.  Ryan and I fought all morning, and I was seriously ready to send him to public school for all day pre-K in August.  Let them deal with him.  But instead, I sucked it up and tried to find an eating solution.  He tends to wait it out and only eat the less healthy food, thereby having multiple breakdowns all the live long day.

So I gave him two green craft sticks and two red and told him he gets to use the red to make two food choices for the day, and the green are for eating two vegetables for the day.  It worked pretty well and we certainly had less fighting. 

The weather was also above 50 and not super dooper windy so the big boys spent at least two hours outside.  I think that alone turned everyone’s attitudes around.  I guess I won’t send him to school after all.

Today’s plan is to just get through the week.  We barely did any schoolwork the past two days, but today is colder so we will probably stay inside.  Alex had a den meeting this evening.  I will probably do some grocery shopping.  Nothing special on the horizon for the weekend.  I’m very glad that our busyness has slowed down after Christmas. 

I hope everyone has a blessed weekend.  Stay warm.


This post is linked up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

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Mr.Q’s Classic Science Curriculum Sale 50% Off!

Experienced homeschoolers say it takes about three years to feel like you know what you are doing.  I think it takes about three years to settle on the curriculum that works.

What joy and relief it is when you finally find the right one for your family!  That is how I feel about Math-U-See, and now, that is how I feel about Mr.Q’s Classic Science.

I first stumbled upon this series of PDF textbooks when I found Easy Peasy.  I have been using EP Biology for science this year and that website uses the Free Mr. Q Classic Science Elementary Life Science text for the first half of the year.  Alex loves this book.  He appreciates the humor and funny pictures.  I love this book for the excellent science content.

If you recall, I despised the Seton science book, mostly for lines such as this:

Some people do not think correctly because they do not follow God’s words in the Bible.  They think that the universe created itself!  They say that human beings came from, or ‘evolved’ from, animals.  Such people believe that there is no God so they ‘hypothesize’, or guess, the most incredible things!.

~Seton Science 2 for Young Catholics, 2007 Edition, pg. 3

Even if I agreed with these statements (which I don’t), how condescending is that!  For me, this kind of thing does not belong in a science book.  I quickly abandoned any hope of finding a Christian science text that was both rigorous, non-Creationist, and non-infuriating.  So, I turned to a secular approach, but most of those texts are very expensive and very dry.

Mr.Q’s series is $50 per book, but for this week only you can get your entire order half off!  Use this link to access the discount code.

These books are far from dry.  Mr. Q taps into a humorous approach that only a kid can truly appreciate, especially boys.  His jokes and funny pictures are mixed into lessons that are rich in vocabulary and theory.  The 36-week curriculum is broken into units so you can pick and choose if you like, or use then entire book for the school year.  Lessons are set up for three days: one day for reading and discussion and two for experiments and tests.  The elementary level is for ages 7-12.  I found that Alex could easily read the Life Science text on his own in second grade (about a fourth grade reading level).  It would have been pretty challenging in first grade.

Let me say one more thing about the experiments.  They are unlike any that I have ever seen in a non-college level course.  He uses a method that he calls Exploring Scientific Procedures (ESP).  I know this method by the name inquiry-based investigation. 

Do you remember that dusty old scientific method that your teachers made you learn?  You know, that thing with the five steps.  I bet you learned those steps, maybe did a few word problems where you identified them, but did you ever actually conduct an experiment using them?  I’m guessing not. 

Mr. Q’s ESP experiments are designed to show your child through direct investigation how real scientists use the scientific method to answer questions, design experiments, and solve problems.  Now I have taken a good deal of science classes in my day and I have had one, ONE, that included an inquiry-based laboratory course.  It was in college and it was incredibly challenging since I had absolutely zero experience in this kind of thinking before hand.  But as someone who had planned on science as a career, it was an essential skill.  This is how research is done in a real lab.  I know we are not all training our children to be research scientists, but this level of problem solving will serve a student well in so many ways that go beyond science and career.

I just purchased Elementary Earth Science to use next year.  If you are searching for a great elementary level science curriculum, check out the free Life Science text, or use the link above to purchase another book at 50% off!


I am not an affiliate for Mr. Q Classic Science Curriculum and a review was not solicited.  I do not receive anything if you use the discount code to purchase a book. 

I do love these books and want to share them with my readers! 

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Posted in Science, Second Grade | Tagged | 1 Comment

Curriculum Review: Math-U-See Alpha



  • Student Text – 2004 edition
  • Instruction Pack (Teacher’s Manual and DVD) – 2004 edition
  • Test Booklet – 2004 edition
  • Manipulative Block Set
  • Skip Count CD and Book


All materials were purchased used or in previous school years.  Total cost for Alpha material was about $50.


This curriculum was used to teach a 6 year-old boy at the first-grade level. He used Math-U-See Primer for Kindergarten.


  • The DVD provides all of the teacher instruction necessary to teach the skill, so there is no need to worry that your own knowledge will fall short.
  • Various learning methods (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) are used in each lesson.  
  • Ample practice & review for this level.
  • Downloadable supplements and an online drill application are available.
  • Mastery based lessons are taught in small, manageable chunks so that mastery can be achieved quickly without needing to spend weeks on a particular lesson.
  • A small number of lessons (30) allows for extra time to be spent on a difficult set of facts or time to add in extras that are not covered in the curriculum.


  • The teacher’s manual is more useful than the Primer level, but not much.  It has a few extra ideas for lessons, but most of what is in the book is also on the DVD. It does include some mental math lessons and some review sheets that you can copy.
  • Being a mastery based curriculum, this book focuses heavily on one skill only, single-digit addition and subtraction.  Other than that there is a lesson or two about shapes and skip counting.  It can get a bit boring just learning addition facts week after week – at least for the teacher.
  • I felt that some skills were missing from this curriculum, namely an introduction to fractions, money, time, and measurements. (NOTE – 2013 student texts include enrichment lessons that may have these types of skills added in, if you want to include them.)


We still love Math-U-See and I highly recommend it, especially for these younger years.  While I felt a bit bored by the strict focus on single-digit addition and subtraction, I tried not to pass that on to Alex and he never really seemed bothered by it.  The idea with a mastery based lesson is that you do not move on until the child can teach the lesson back to you or quickly rattle off the facts that were to be memorized.  I honestly probably moved too quickly.  Alex’s recall of some of the more difficult facts is not very fast, but I figured he would still be working on them at the Beta level.  Plus, he is pretty decent at quickly doing drill on the computer or on paper, but aloud is not as proficient. 

I will probably purchase the new student texts in the future to get the enrichment pages.  This will make the Math-U-See curriculum cover a few of those missing skills that are included in programs like Saxon (or in public school.)  Some people are very up in arms about the changes to Math-U-See, claiming these included skills are making the curriculum align with the dreaded common core.  What I say to these people is calm down.  If you compare the early years of the common core standards with the early years of Math-U-See, the lessons already aligned.  I think Math-U-See is the way these types of skills are meant to be taught to attain understanding and retention of the concepts at an early and appropriate age level. And obviously Math-U-See isn’t changing all that much as they are printing new student texts, but not filming new DVDs.  And as always, you are the teacher.  If you don’t like a particular part, just skip it.  The perfect curriculum does not exist so stop looking.



I am not affiliated with Math-U-See in any way. All comments are my own opinion based on personal experience. Math-U-See did not provide any of the above materials to me for free and did not solicit a review.

Posted in First Grade, Math | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Challenges of Scheduling One Student and a Bunch of Littles

I haven’t written much on the blog in the past few years regarding schedules.  Don’t misunderstand – I love schedules, but I have found that much like Apple products, they are obsolete as soon as they are released into the wild.  With the ever changing development of little ones, it just doesn’t make sense to stick with something that no longer works.

Speaking of things that no longer work, our current school routine is feeling some growing pains.  Typically, Alex works in the early morning before I am even out of bed, and then we work together at quiet time when babies are napping.  Lately however, Alex’s mommy has been tired (lazy) and has not set out work for him to do in the early morning.  This means we get nothing done schoolwise until quiet time.  Then Alex has been increasingly tired and uncooperative at quiet time, and that leads to fighting and still no schoolwork.  Plus, his workload has increased to the point that we just cannot get it done in an hour at quiet time even if we are both focused and energized.

Luckily, we are wrapping up our first semester next week.  This is the perfect opportunity to rethink the game plan. 

And here is the new one in all its glory:

Focus Calendar

(Click here for a larger pdf view)

The goal is to sit down during Josh’s morning nap and work on that day’s FOCUS (the pink blocks).  I hope to do this at the dinner table with Ryan and Cooper right there with us.  Ryan may work on his own project, or join what Alex and I are doing.  Cooper will be properly distracted with snacks, quiet toys, coloring, and board books.  I’m sure he will eventually want to get down and play.  I imagine this part of the day will take at least an hour if not two.  Things always take longer when we are all together, but it is so much better.  I hope this cuts down on the TV watching, too. 

The blue blocks are where I will schedule work that Alex can do independently or with very little help from me.  I haven’t decided yet when this work will happen.  I may try the boring stuff in the morning at the table or in his room and leave the stuff he likes for quiet time.  My quiet time goal for Alex is to cut back to only 30 minutes of school, 30 minutes of free choice (meaning iPad), and 30 minutes of reading.

I suppose we can repeat the table time in the afternoon if we are still finding it hard to fit in everything that we want to learn, but I would rather just whittle out the busy work.  It seems to sneak in when I get tired (lazy) and just follow the lesson plans blindly. 

Obviously, the gray blocks mean that we do not cover that subject on that day.

If this plan works, it should set us up nicely for the next couple of years when Ryan begins more formal lessons.  I will just add FOCUS subjects in for him and alternate between working with him and working with Alex and eventually combine a few subjects for both of them.  I know this is how homeschool moms with large families juggle the teaching duties, but they typically have the added benefit of older children that can play with the younger ones.  We aren’t that large…yet.

I’m sure you will be seeing a post in about three months on how this plan isn’t working.  That is just the way of things.  If anyone has advice on how to handle one student and a bunch of littles, just stick it in the comments.  I’ll take anything I can get.

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Early Planning for Third Grade: Language Arts

We are just about to wrap up our second quarter of school before Thanksgiving, so of course that means that I am knee deep in planning the next school year.  I like planning even more than actually teaching.  I thought I would get everyone’s two cents on some of my choices.

The overall theme of next year is more classical.  After going with a highly traditional program this year, I realized that there just isn’t enough actual reading of real books.  I want to change that before too much damage is done, and Alex learns to dislike reading.  What I do love about this year’s curriculum is the lesson plans.  This has saved our homeschool.  I would never have been able to create my own plans this year.  So when I was looking around for more classical curriculum, I kept in mind that I will still need some help in this regard with two toddlers running around.

Let’s take a look at language arts first.

Alex tends to be a consumer of books rather than a critical reader.  It physically pains him to not finish a book in one sitting.  This has ultimately led to him reading only quick and easy books that are no longer than about ten short chapters.  The characters are one-dimensional and few, and the plot usually revolves around solving a simple mystery.  My goal next year is to slowly walk him through digesting and analyzing a few good books. 

I plan to read Farmer Boy, Charlotte’s Web, and The Moffats using Memoria Press Grade Three Guides and Lesson Plans.  I also considered purchasing guides from Angelicum Academy, but have decided to go with Memoria Press because they offer lesson plans.

If anyone has used the guides from both places, I would love to hear a comparison of the two programs.  I also went with Memoria Press because I wanted fewer books in a year and simply preferred their selections for third grade.

Grammar & Writing
So far we have used the English books from Kolbe in first grade and Seton in second grade.  Both were pretty boring workbook types where the child circled nouns in sentences and such.  Seton’s book began to include some writing, but I didn’t really find it beneficial. 

For third grade I am going to try Memoria Press Intro to Composition and English Grammar Recitation.  This program has the added benefit of tying in with the literature guides.  I was very drawn to English Grammar Recitation where the student is encouraged to memorize grammar rules such as what are the types of nouns, rather than just randomly find them in sentences. 

At this point, if I had all the money in the world, I might just throw in the towel and buy All About Spelling.  Rather, I am going to try the How to Teach Spelling program again and use How to Spell Workbook 2.  I think I have tinkered with the program enough to have finally figured it out.  I plan on writing my own guide and lesson plans for Workbooks 1 and 2.  This takes time though, and I can’t make any promises.  I may actually have more money than time, and that is a sad state of being.

I gave up with printing practice and have moved on to teaching cursive using these videos.  Third grade will just be practice through copywork that I will make myself and any writing that he needs to do for other assignments and notebooking.

None!  I think we are more than finished with phonics as its own subject.  Any phonics instruction that he still needs will be part of the spelling curriculum. 

We will finally start learning a second language next year.  I’m pretty excited about that.  I am going to go with Prima Latina though I really don’t have a good reason over any other program.  I am open to suggestions. 


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