Curriculum 2011-2012 (with reviews)

I hate being honest, especially when it comes to admitting my own shortcomings. Nevertheless, I'm going to try to be brutally honest when it comes to reviewing what worked for us last year. The good, the bad, and the lame.

Geography, History, Government

Last year we used the Exploring Countries and Cultures curriculum from My Father's World. It was, hands down, our best homeschooling year ever. I highly recommend the curriculum. 

This year, we are using the same philosophy as My Father's World, but not purchasing a curriculum package from them. We have made this choice for three reasons. One, because once we got into the swing of things last year, we didn't really need the MFW lesson plans. We got a routine down and stuck with it. Two, Sweetling already has a very nice set of books, The History of U.S. by Joy Hakim, so we don't really need a set of resource books from MFW. And Three, even if we did purchase the MFW curriculum for Reconstruction to the Present, we'd have to purchase additional books from the first half of American History which wouldn't be included in the packet. I'm only including this to explain why we aren't going with MFW this year, even though they were such a stellar success last year.

But, I absolutely don't want to lose the great approach to schooling which MFW introduced us to. Here are some of the key principles that I want to uphold:
  • We learned  together as a family.
  • We used a lot of library books and read together daily.
  • We enjoyed immersing ourselves, as much as possible, in the country/culture we were studying.
  • We did lots of cool, hands-on projects
This year, we are going to study the History of the 20th Century. And yes, I'm going to call it that even though we will start at Reconstruction and teach through 9-11 and the War on Terror.

Our key source books will be
Each week, I have blocked out time for projects. Each child can choose their own project type for the week. Here are some of the ideas I have put out on the table, but I'm not restricting us to these:
  • A labeled, illustrated timeline
  • A history detective who seeks out 10 interesting facts about a person or event
  • A power-point presentation on a specific topic, person, event
  • A film producer who reenacts a scene from history using whatever paper puppets, live actors, stuffed animals or claymation type character he/she would like
  • A lap book or trifold display on a specific topic, person, event
  • A brief discourse, presented orally or in writing, on the significance of a specific event both in terms of its immediate impact and its long-term effects
  • A recreation of the front page of a newspaper from a given time or a newspaper article which could have been written about a specific occurrence. MS Publisher can be used, but isn't required. 
We're also putting in place a "badge" earning system, which we will be using for history as well as other subjects. It is part of my response to Toa's request for "grades" for his school work this year. 

End of the year review: This totally wasn't as productive as I wanted it to be. We would up with few cool projects, but overall, it was way too much work to reinvent the wheel every single week. We did wind up purchasing the Time Traveler material from Homeschool in the Wood and used that as our spine. Toa of Boy did the lapbook and Sweetling wrote articles for the newspaper format provided. Learning took place, but it wasn't nearly what I envisioned at the beginning of the year.


We are going to study an Overview of the Old Testament together. We'll use an old, out of print edition of Bible Truths for Christian Schools from Bob Jones University Press. I had one unused workbook and the teacher edition, and was able to find a second unused student workbook online.

There are pros and cons to chosing this program. The pros are: it was nearly free; it contains a good historical overview of the entire old testament; and, we can do it together. The cons are: it uses KJV version for its scripture verses; and, I don't always agree with the BJU philosophy. However, I think we can make it work. And if we can' was nearly free ;)

This year Toa moves up to the TNT level in Awana and Sweetling continues with The Brink Youth Group.

End of the Year Review: This worked well. We read and discussed the Bible passages together and then each child completed the short workbook activity. Sweetling did all the short answer questions, and Toa did the simple fill in the blank type questions. We didn't get through the entire Old Testament, but I am satisfied because we really went in depth with the first half of the Old Testament.

Language: Toa of Boy

Language Arts (Grammar, Poetry, Writing, Vocabulary)

We went to the vendor's section in the Cincinnati Homeschool Convention this spring. We looked at tons, tons, tons of language arts and reading curriculum. We found nothing. Toa of Boy thought they were all boring. I had to agree with him. We were tired, we were frustrated, we were hungry and ready to go home. Then, in one of the last aisles we walked down, we found a booth for Royal Fireworks Press. It didn't look flashy. It looked rather blase. It was pricey and I didn't notice anything about it that would appeal to Toa of Boy. I don't even know why I bothered to pick something up instead of just walking by, but I did.

And I was immersed in the magical world of a fish named Mud who was off in search of a sentence.
Mud swam to the blue island
and rose through the splashing waves.
Mud was all wet.
He saw blue trees and blue ferns.
“I have to find a sentence,”
thought Mud.
I called Toa over. Toa literally began to tear up at the thought of looking at one more book. Then I began reading to him. Immediately his mood shifted. Immediately he brightened up. Immediately he was engaged.

We are absolutely getting the language arts Island Series. (I'm still a little worried that the poetry might be too difficult for Toa of Boy whose English language skills are still developing, but I'm hopeful that a beautiful imaginative approach to breaking down how English is constructed will do wonders to advancing Toa's understanding.)

End of the Year Review: This was an amazing program. Toa learned more about grammar and sentence structure than I think many middle schoolers do. And he enjoyed it. And it was meaningful. We looked at the next set of books from this company, but they look too similar to the first set. The content is more in depth, I'm sure, but I know Toa, and he will be turned off by doing a second year of something he feels his already mastered. We'll save this, and come back to it again in sixth or seventh grade. 


Toa of Boy is also taking Creative Writing at our co-op this year. Because, says he, he likes writing stories.

End of the Year Review: Toa was one of two signed up for this class at co-op, so it got cancelled. Toa spent the year writing his own stories anyway. I encouraged him and loved reading what he wrote, and didn't try to make him correct any spelling or grammar errors. That will come in time. Right now, I'm thrilled that he likes to write and I'm not about to do anything to squelch that desire.


Last year, we worked a little more than halfway through the book Sequential Spelling. We'll continue in this book this year, and order the second in the series when needed. I like the way they 'teach' spelling patterns. I like how short and sweet the daily lessons are. I like that words aren't 'learned' for a week, and then chucked aside, but that words are reviewed, and the patterns build on one another. I've seen Toa recognizing words as he is reading, that he has used in spelling.

End of the Year Review: Spelling was Toa's least favorite subject this year. I still think he benefited from the program, and all the pros I've already listed still stand....but we're going with a new program next year, because we need to mix it up. 


Last year, reading went from Toa's least favorite subject, to his favorite subject. The change that made that all possible was an extremely simple on to make. We just took a library book to the water bed, stretched out, and worked our way through reading the book. (Last year, Toa was reading from the beginning reader shelf.) But, the thing that really made reading his favorite subject was that as soon as we finished the book, we had a five minute tickle time on the bed.

This year, I want to continue using library books for reading. Toa wants to be finished with the beginning reader shelf, but he can't quite master most chapter books. That leads me in a bit of a quandry with what to do. I'm looking for some recommended reading lists for third grade.

I found this great list about historical fiction. I also found this "Love to Read" list. AND I found an amazing site that searches an enormous data base of award winning children's literature according to parameters I can set up.

He's getting too big and strong for tickle/wrestling time with Mommy. But I think we'll continue on the waterbed and snuggle together to talk about the book. I'll also search for some activities to go along with some of the books....maybe just doing one book related activity a week. Though I don't know. What would the point of this be? Isn't reading time about becoming a stronger reader? Not about cutting and pasting a diaroma or a lapbook together?

End of the Year Review: I read The Book Whisperer and loved all the things she did and said about reading. I tried to incorporate as many of those philosophies as I could into Toa's reading for the year. We just enjoyed good books together, we took turns reading sections aloud, and on Friday of each week, Toa made a brief entry into a literature log. My goal here is to build a life-long reader. He doesn't have to pick reading a book as a favorite weekend activity. But I do want him to be able to read, to enjoy reading, and to understand what he's read. And when I catch him reading a book by choice for a few minutes on a Saturday afternoon, I quietly and privately do the happy-happy-joy-joy dance.

Language: Sweetling


Sweetling has decided she would like to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I think this is an awesome goal. We have a friend who is an aspiring children's novelist who has recommended a resource book and workbook to help Sweetling in this goal. (The recommendation is for Writing the Breakout Novel.)

End of the Year Review: Sweetling has decided she wants to be a screen writer. She did participate in the NaNoWriMo and she did read and take notes on Writing the Breakout Novel. She also checked out and read lots of books from the library about becoming a writer, breaking into the market, etc. I'm so pleased and proud of how self directed and motivated she is.



She is continuing in Vocabulary from Classical Roots. She's up to level D this year. I like that they have vocab words all grouped with their corresponding root. It makes sense.

End of the Year Review: We didn't do this. Just flat out, it didn't happen. Lots of other things did, but this didn't.  We never even ordered the book. Don't judge us.


Once again, we hit the many recommended reading lists available on line. This year, for at least some of the books, we'll grab two copies of the book from the library so that we can read them at the same time and discuss them. Also, Sweetling is going to pick out two study guides from Progeny Press--one to complete at the beginning of the year and one to complete mid-year.

End of the Year Review: The Book Whisperer strikes again. I chucked the study guide approach to literature and went with a weekly literature log and the goal of just reading lots of different types of books. Sweetling has always been an avid reader, so this year our goal was to round out her exposure to different genres. 

Language Arts

I really could have just called this subsection "other." Here's what else we are doing for language arts--

Poetry and Humanity. This is also from Royal Fireworks Press. Here's the publisher's description, "This volume develops and expands the program even further and is built on a theme of understanding humanity and our existence. It shows how poets push language to its maximum in order to express those things about humanity that are most true, or difficult or subtle. Longer and more challenging poems are used as examples."

And, Free at Last: The Language of Dr. King's Dream. Again, from Royal Fireworks Press. " This examination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr's I have a Dream speech, looks at the poetry, grammar and vocabulary of the most important modern statement of America's commitment to the equality of its citizens.
Free at Last examines how powerful emotion is built up by repeated ideas and words; how King's vision of the future and great call to freedom was achieved by carefully chosen vocabulary and word pictures conjured by metaphor; by the poetics of meter, alliteration and assonance, and by other carefully selected grammatical devices."

End of the Year Review: Thursdays in the spring became our poetry days. Wow. The level of understanding that Michael Clay Thompson presents was just amazing. I loved it. Sweetling liked it. It was a hit. We didn't get to Free At Last, because we never made it that far in history. (Again, no judging.) But the poetry Thursdays were a huge success.


Sweetling is taking an Introduction to Spanish at co-op this year.

End of the Year Review: Not only did Sweetling love this class, but she got invited into the Spanish 2 class, which she aced, despite the fact that she skipped Spanish 1. Now she's moving on to Spanish 3.

Greek Mythology

Also a co-op class for Sweetling this year.

End of the Year Review: Familiarity with the Greek myths and great stories is so essential to understanding other great literature and references. This class was a win. They read through D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Mythology, Nick McCarty's retelling of The Iliad, and Robin Lister's retelling of The Odyssey.

Math: Toa of Boy

We are skipping 3rd grade math. That's right. Skipping it entirely. I looked at it, and I looked at the fourth grade math, and I decided to skip 3rd grade.

We are going straight to 4th grade, and we are using textbooks, workbooks and resources from Bob Jones University Press. The choice for this program was made because one, I already had it, and two, I like how it incorporates Biblical principles.

Toa of Boy is also doing Lego Quest at co-op and Chess at co-op. 

End of the Year Review: Skipping a year of math was absolutely the way to go. By the end of the year, I was a little unsatisfied with the workbook approach to math learning. Overall, good choice to skip, but we need a better math curriculum. 

Geometry: Sweetling

Go Unicorn power, go!

We found this textbook at the Cincinnati Homeschool Convention. We downloaded the first chapter of it and worked through it in April. It was a smashing success. Because I'm feeling like a lazy bum, let me copy and paste what I wrote about it last April.

This year's math was a success. Our main goal was to simply enjoy math once again. Having achieved that goal, I really am not eager to pick up another dry, lifeless, soul-sucking math textbook. If I were a better mathematician myself, we'd just wing it. But I'm not. We need something we can learn from. At the convention, we saw a booth who's big display sign said something along the lines of "Hate Algebra? You need a FRESH approach." We thought that applied to us, so we headed over. We found three textbooks written by an Algebra tutor. We've downloaded the first chapter of the Geometry textbook and did a few pages in it today.

This is how it went. I posted this up on Facebook today:

The math lesson is on logic and reasoning, specifically inductive and deductive reasoning, the Law of Detachment and the Law of Syllogism.

We were to analyze some statements and determine if they were true or false.

#9 is "There is a unicorn on Saturn that loves pepperoni pizza."

The answer key listed #9 as false. I was trying to figure out why #9 was false.

Says a Sweetling, "Why do you THINK???"

I'm not quite sold on these books yet. They have absolutely no color. Sweetling probably is pleased by the lack of visual distractions on the page. I personally think all math should have the decency to cover up its stark black and white nakedness with a little bit of color and some tastefully selected graphics.
Despite my reservations on the lack of eye candy in these textbooks, Sweetling really likes them. So them we are getting.

End of the Year Review: We were so disappointed with this Geometry book. It was full of misprints and typos, and in general, did a miserable job of explaining some geometry concepts. Our saving grace was that Sweetling is brilliant enough to grasp very abstract concepts pretty easily, so she understood what the author was trying to say, despite the fact that it sounded like dry legalese to me. 


Another awesome find at the Homeschool Convention, Education Exploration comes with an interactive CD rom textbook plus ALL the stuff you need to do a hands-on project or experiment for each week. We're getting the Elementary package for Toa of Boy and the Advanced package for Sweetling.

End of the Year Review: The concepts were way underchallenging for both the kids. Toa of Boy's Elementary book would have been good for a kindergartener or a first grade, but not at all on the level of a clever third grader. Sweetling liked making her projects, and they were awesome projects, but said that the CD rom textbook was rather on the light side for her tastes. We only used this curriculum until November.

I think we'll study artists and genres that correspond to our history curriculum.There are lots of great art education blogs out there. I'm listing a few here so that I can find them again.

Also, Sweetling is very much into Manga, and would like to spend her art time practicing her manga drawing techniques. She also just got this cool software Manga Studio Debut 4.0. I'm sure she won't be heartbroken to do some drawing and such in that. 

End of the Year Review: Sweetling did some amazing Manga and also really got into sewing and designing of costumes. She excelled at that. Toa did a few art projects for me, but mostly loved building and creating his own stuff out of boxes and other recycled materials. I let them both run with their own interests and they did dynamite. 


Toa goes back and forth between wanting to learn recorder and maybe he'll learn the piano. His first preference is to "just skip music." But since that's not legally an option, I think we'll get John Thompson's Easiest Piano Course.

Sweetling is taking music and drama at co-op.

End of the Year Review: We never found an affordable electric keyboard for our house. Toa was in two musicals at church, so we let that stand for his music for the year.

Physical Education

 Both Sweelting and Toa of Boy are continuing in Tae Kwon Do Classes. Sweetling is currently a junior black belt, and Toa just tested for his high green belt.

End of the Year Review: Sweetling worked her butt off, tested for, and earned her black belt! Toa advanced through two belt levels over the course of the year. Toa also took a phys ed class at co-op. 

Health, Home Economics, Life Skills

I came up with a list of life skills that I'd like Sweetling to learn over the course of her teen years. Sweetling hasn't yet decided which one she wants to pursue this fall.

And I don't know what I'll do for health with Toa of Boy yet.

End of the Year Review: Sweetling became an incredible seamstress this year and an accomplished chef, both of which were self-directed and self-selected. Toa of Boy really took an interest in nutrition this year and is learning to read and check labels on food products.

Overall Thoughts about our Year: Some of their best learning and biggest achievements came when I just let them run with their own interests and pursue their own goals and projects. All the unschoolers who are reading this are nodding their heads and smiling.

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