Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fall Semester Homeschool Plans for the 6th and 8th Grades

For the 2017-2018 school year, Syd is in the sixth grade and Will is in the eighth grade--and it only took me eight or so years to work out a good system for homeschooling them! I'm still creating most of my own curricula, but I try to have a textbook as a spine for many of the subjects, and then I fill in the syllabus with extra readings and activities. Thankfully, though, I have found some go-to packaged curricula that I like, and that offer several levels, so I don't have to reinvent the wheel for every kid in every subject.

Even though Will is an eighth-grader, I've also decided this year to present her with high school work. She's well able to study at the high school level, and she's made some suggestions that she might want to consider going to public high school next year, so I wanted to give her a preview this year of what homeschooling high school would look like, as well as provide her with a background transcript that will make it clear that she's prepared for high-level academic classes if she does decide to enroll. She might as well reap the benefits of being bookish by nature!

A couple of Will's high school-level courses are year-round, which means that we'll be doing far fewer themed units for science and history. I'm a little bummed, but it's already clear that what we're losing in variety we'll be gaining in depth. The other challenge is leveling the work for Syd, as I am NOT planning two entirely different curricula for each subject. 

Here, then, is our overall course of study for this year:

Service Learning

We'll be continuing to volunteer with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis this year, primarily as tabletop activity facilitators. It's a little tedious, since tabletop activity facilitators generally have to sit for two hours and I prefer activities in which we're up and moving, but I do enjoy interacting with all kinds of children, and the skills that we practice--communication to all kinds of children, teaching/demonstrating an educational activity and a scientific concept, leadership (especially Will, who usually gets to run her own table independently, while Syd works with me), and patience--are terrific for the kids. I also really love the environment of the Children's Museum, a place where learning is eagerly encouraged, and I love that the adult staff members treat my children as equal and valued members of the team, fully capable and respected.


Syd is continuing with Math Mammoth, generally completing one lesson a day. Will went through the same curriculum, so it's old hat to me by now. I often have to help teach the lesson by using hands-on manipulatives--

--but otherwise it's an independent work that she completes and then hands to me to mark. I mark the incorrect answers, hand it back, and she tries those problems again. If she misses a problem for the second time, we go over the solution together.

We are still getting into the groove of Will's brand-new math curriculum, Art of Problem Solving's Introduction to Algebra. It's also written to the student, but the format, in which a kid tries a few problems at the beginning of the lesson, then reads the solutions to to those problems, learning the lesson material along the way, and finally tries a new set of problems to see if she's mastered the lesson, is not yet working well for my kid who deeply desires to do the minimum effort possible. I'm still reminding her that yes, she has to work the problems out, not just write down answers, and yes, she has to read through the solutions to the problem, not just erase her wrong answer and write in the correct one, and yes, she has to work the problems out, and yes, she has to read through the solutions, etc. etc. ETC.!!!!!!! This week I have her working through the AOPS online reinforcement problems to see if that will help her cement the concepts that she's barely learned the past two weeks, but ultimately, she's just going to have to get the hang of doing the work. 

This could be a year-long curriculum, but after she settles into it, it actually shouldn't take the whole year, allowing her to get a head start on another of their Introduction series--I'm looking forward to geometry!

Because neither of the children's math curricula provide much in the way of hands-on reinforcement, I also run a math lab with them every week. Usually, this is a hands-on activity that relates to what at least one of them is currently studying. This week, for instance, both kids are working with exponents, so I had them use poster paper and centimeter graph paper to model the perfect squares up to 400, writing the equations next to each square. It made a giant and lovely Montessori-esque paper tower, and I've already seen Syd referring to it as she did her math work. 


Both children are using the Analytical Grammar curriculum, and I'm quite happy with it. Will completed the first third of the Reinforcement and Review book over the summer, and has begun the second season of Analytical Grammar, just as Syd finished Junior Analytical Grammar over the summer and has begun the first season of Analytical Grammar. I'd like Will to get through the remaining two seasons of Analytical Grammar this year, in case she does want to go to public school next year, but after Syd finishes the first season of Analytical Grammar, she'll likely just have a Reinforcement and Review lesson to complete once a week for the remainder of her school year, and then she'll start season two of Analytical Grammar in the seventh grade.

I've toyed with the idea of also having a grammar lab once a week, and we do so sometimes--

--but it's too much work for me to plan to do it consistently, mostly because hands-on grammar activities are thin on the ground and so I have to invent, create, and then plan most of them myself. Perhaps I'll prioritize it when the kids aren't doing Analytical Grammar every single school day.


This is one of the studies that I'm creating as I go this year, and it's my favorite so far. Music study has been very much a failure for our entire time homeschooling--nothing sticks, because I've found nothing that the kids care for and want to invest any effort in. But last semester, almost on a whim, I added a weekly folk song to our work plans. I'd introduce the song on Monday, we'd talk a little about it, and learn it over the week.

Oh, my gosh, the kids have LOVED this! I've put more thought into it this semester, seeking out folk songs that have interesting social, geographic, or historical context, and we highlight the important themes and specific elements of each folk song as we discuss it. I find a variety of interpretations of each folk song to present to the kids, and I've become more interested in finding more resources, as well. This week, for instance, we're studying "As I Go Down in the River To Pray," and so in the evenings we've been watching O Brother, Where Art Thou. It never would have occurred to me to show this to the kids before, but they're familiar with The Odyssey, they're now more familiar with folk songs, and so they LOVE it. It's turning out to be a really fun unit.

Foreign Language

This is another subject that we've struggled with, as I keep trying to get the kids invested in learning a language and they keep just. Not. Caring. We are two lessons in, however, to private language classes with a personal tutor through italki, and so far it's successful. Syd is still a little shy with their tutor, who's a native French speaker who Skypes us from her current home in Russia, but it helps that Will is with her, and I'm liking the personal attention, and the personalized homework that the tutor assigns. Maybe it's the fact that there's another adult who's not me that they're accountable to, but they work on French every day without complaint. I've also told them that if they continue to study hard, they'd know enough French that we could take our next big vacation to Canada. They're excited about possibly seeing the Northern Lights, and I want to go to Prince Edward Island!


Will wanted to study biology this year, and Syd didn't object, so biology it is! For our spine, I'm using the CK-12 Biology flexbook, which is written at the 9th/10th grade level, so this will be listed as Honors Biology on Will's transcript. Both children are required to read the chapter assignment, although Will is also required to answer the end-of-chapter questions, and Syd is not. I've been relying a lot on Teachers Pay Teachers resources to flesh out this unit, both for interactive notebook elements that help the children cement the concepts, and for ideas for the labs. I'll be spending a lot of our homeschool budget on this class, as I'm making it very lab-heavy, since that's what both kids are interested in. This week, for instance, we'll be completing a two-day lab to isolate certain organic compounds in food, and I think we'll also be experimenting on spit, urine, and--if I can convince Matt to prick his finger again--blood. I don't have a deadline for this class, and it's already taking longer than I thought it would, as we've been having to wait for some supplies, so I won't mind if it takes us through the entire year.


This will be another year-long class, although it does have a deadline--the AP exams take place in Mid-May! I wanted Will to take an AP class this year, so I showed her the list of options, and she chose AP European History. I'm currently in the process of writing a syllabus for this class to send in to the College Board for approval so that I can list it in her transcript as an AP class, and I'll also expect her to sit the exam. This class is, by far, the most work that any of us will have done for homeschool to date--it has a ton of material to cover, a ton of writing that Will needs to do, a ton of facts to memorize, and although I do most of the homeschooling in our family, Matt will assisting me with this class by providing weekly lectures and a weekly art history lesson. It helps that we homeschool, because we can manipulate our environment and our family time to provide more enrichment, from the movies that we watch at night to the podcasts that we listen to while we craft and the audiobooks that we listen to in the car to upcoming field trips like this weekend's Medieval Faire and the monastery that we'll visit later this year.

Since this is a college-level class, it's way too difficult for Syd, so she is going to be keeping up with the time period by listening to Story of the World and participating in the lectures and art history lessons. I also have one catch-up day a week in which I ask Will to also read through the time period in Story of the World, and I've already found that it adds some excellent depth and a lot of interest to the study. 


Syd does NOT enjoy Worldly Wise, so she's allowed to work as slowly as she likes, which means that she's still halfway through Book 4 at the start of sixth grade. What she doesn't know is that when she finally finishes Book 4, I'll just skip Book 5 and put her straight in to Book 6. Since she moves so slowly, this will likely remain a daily work for her for the entire year. Will zips through Wordly Wise at a lesson a week, since she enjoys it, so she'll finish Book 8 well before the year is out. She'll have a little more free time then, as I won't give her Book 9 until ninth grade.

Girl Scouts

This is a large component of our school week, because it's one of the kids' absolute favorite things--and mine! I love that the kids are so invested in it, and that the badges are so cross-curricular, and that they expose them to subjects and activities that they wouldn't usually choose, and encourage them to do things that they wouldn't usually do. For instance, this week alone both kids are planning the activity that they want to do to complete Step 5 of the Outdoor Art Apprentice badge, and then we'll collect and/or buy the materials, and then they'll complete that activity later this week; they're finishing making dog toys and decorating donation jars for a local Humane Society as the last leftover bits of Syd's Bronze Award project; setting up their online stores for the Girl Scout Fall Product Sale (buy magazines from my kid!); and Syd is finishing up one last Junior badge, the retired Art in 3D, before she officially Bridges to Cadette at the end of the month.

I'm making extra use of this year, as it's the ONLY year for the kids' entire Girl Scout career (until they both Bridge to Adult) that they're in the SAME LEVEL!!! And can earn the SAME BADGES!!! SQUEEEEEE!!!!! So although I do ask the kids to choose most of their own badges to work on, and to plan how to earn them, I'll be planning several badges that I want to do with the both of them, while I've got them both at the same level. I'm also incorporating some badges, mostly Council's Own or Retired ones, into our biology study--one council has a badge for wildflowers, another for bats, and another for manatees! To complicate the matter, Will decided very recently that she wants to earn the Summit Award, which means that she needs to complete two more Journeys this year, and Journeys are a lot more work to plan and complete. AND Will wants to earn her Silver Award, so that's another huge project that she needs to plan and complete. Squeee? 


We read a lot, as a family and as individuals, and I'd thought that I would have a separate literature study this year, but honestly, I think Will is going to be doing enough essay writing for her biology and AP European History studies. Syd is still working through the MENSA reading list for her grade, so we'll continue to have our casual discussions of those books, and I've added to Will's history study the MENSA books for her level that apply. It's turning out that we're also doing a lot of critical analysis in our folk study unit, so it's seeming that a separate literature unit is a no-go for this semester, at least for Will. I might let a few more school weeks settle in, and then consider adding book reports to Syd's plans.

SAT Prep

This is just for Will, obviously. She's going to sit the SAT in early November, and to that end has completed the Khan Academy SAT Prep unit, and is doing daily prep work in the Barron's SAT manual, supplemented with LOTS of example problems from actual SAT exams. I expect her to do extremely well in the Verbal section, and to perform at her grade level in the Math section. And when the exam is over, so is this study! Well... until next year, at least...

History of Fashion

This is a unit just for me and Syd! We use this history of fashion book as a spine, with some supplemental readings and YouTube videos, but the meat of the study is that for every time period, we do some actual fashion projects for that period. We spend more time on some periods than others--for prehistory, we decorated shells and wove on a loom and worked with leather, and for Ancient Egypt Syd learned how to put on their eye makeup, but for Greece Syd just made a laurel wreath and for Rome she simply learned how to put on a chiton. For the barbarians, though, we're making soap together AND I'm teaching Syd how to sew leggings. If you want to know how that applies to barbarians, you should read the book! This is another unit that will take as long as it takes, with no particular deadline.


This is another simple, easy to plan, and not very challenging unit for the kids. They both adore earning Junior Ranger badges, and many national parks encourage children to complete their Junior Ranger badges by mail--so that's what we do, every single week! I pick out the badge book for them to complete, after previewing it to make sure that the work can be done at home or through internet research and that the site accepts badge books by mail, the kids do the work, I mail it in, and a few weeks later, here come the badges! Just yesterday, the kids received their Junior Ranger badges for Hot Springs National Park, which was actually one of Will's favorite national parks to do this badge work for, and it is now on our must-see list solely for that fact. We also plan to visit Jimmy Carter's birthplace one day, also because she was so inspired by him thanks to her badge work.

It's not terribly relevant to a geography study, but I do require that the kids know where each place is that they're studying, and I do try to find a couple of relevant secondary resources for us to peruse for each place. Two nights ago, we were watching a very dry documentary that covered several national parks, including Glen Canyon, which the kids had just completed the Junior Ranger badge for. I was confused by it, and I asked out loud, "How did they choose what parks they're covering?" Will immediately answered, "Mom, it's because these are all on the Colorado River," and then Syd began going on and on about dams, so they're getting more out of it than just plastic badges!


Matt is the children's art professor, and every Sunday, just after breakfast, he holds art class. Sometimes he teaches them a new technique--this weekend, they used our light table to trace images to make a more elaborate piece of art--and sometimes a new media--a couple of weeks ago, he showed them how to use Photoshop, and the kids had a fabulous time making very ridiculous Photoshopped images--but it's always something hands-on and creative.


Horseback riding. Pony Club. Ballet. Ice skating. Girl Scouts. Homeschool playgroup. Mommy is a chauffeur! 

Other Daily Work

Every school day, the children also have to watch CNN10 for current events, do a 10-minute workout with me (we did take turns leading the workout, but that caused a lot of fighting, so now we take turns choosing a 10-minute workout video from YouTube) for physical training, and spend 30-minutes doing chores (mostly they're just asked to clean, but they have to come to me first and ask me what their priorities should be--I might really need for them to empty the dishwasher first, or clean the kitchen table, or sweep the back deck). 

And that's our planned school year! Some studies will last into summer, some will only go through this semester, we'll have an entire month during Nutcracker season and another during Girl Scout cookie season when we have a light schedule, and I'll add in extra units before and after our planned travels, and follow the children's interests for other studies. 

What are YOU studying this year?

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