Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why We Will Be Switching Curriculum Next Year

Let me just say, this has been a great school year for us thus far. Making the decisions to wait another year for Big Brother to jump into "official" 4th grade, to change to a more relaxed year-round schedule, and to use a fun, history-based unit study curriculum have all worked out well this year. I would not change anything about this 2016-2017 school year.

But changes are coming next year!

I think most of us by about mid-March (if not sooner) start taking an honest look at where we are and pondering on our plans for the next school year. And one of the wonderful things about homeschooling is that you can customize your children's education and make necessary changes as you go. I love having the freedom to do that!

We are still somewhat in the pondering stage at the moment, but I think I have a pretty decent idea of where we are headed.

And to be honest, I never thought we would go this route!

Next year we will be switching several subjects to...

Drumroll please...

Accelerated Christian Education (ACE)

I used a lot of ACE growing up, my husband graduated from an ACE Christian school, and I used to work as a part-time monitor in an ACE school when Big Brother was in Pre-K/Kindergarten. He even went through all the 1st level Science and Social Studies PACEs for extra reading practice that year in the school's K-1st Learning Center while I was working.

I still never really imagined us using ACE in our own homeschool.

But in about an hour, Big Brother is going to be taking the ACE Diagnostic Test to find out exactly where he should start in their curriculum.

Right now, I am thinking we will be switching him to ACE for at least Math, English, and Literature/Writing; and we may also plan on using their Science and Social Studies in addition to reading ABeka's textbooks and adding in some unit study fun

So what brings about this switch? Several things really.


Big Brother will very soon be 9 years old. Like it or not, he's becoming a "big kid" now. (OK, if you know him, you know he's already a "big kid!" He's about the size of an average 12 year old and he is so strong, too!)

So as a boy coming up on his pre-teen years (did I really just admit that?!), we feel he is ready to start learning to be more independent and take more control of his learning. With its simple goal setting system, ACE is good for fostering some independence.

Another reason he needs to be a bit more independent is for me to have a little more time to do some other things during the day. Little Brother needs more interaction from me than what he is currently getting, and our house needs a bit more of my attention as well (ahem).

While I had hoped Little Brother would just join in with what we were doing in our unit studies this year, that just hasn't happened as much as I had envisioned. He will soon be turning 3 (where did my baby go?!), and he is ready for more learning time of his own.


As you may recall from other posts, Big Brother has some struggles with focus, attention, and auditory processing. We have never sought any formal diagnosis, but his struggles are pretty obvious.

In the past we have had great success using written instructions and a workbox system to help Big Brother get through his academic work each day. ACE is perfectly suited for this kind of system. He will know exactly what he needs to do each day, and he will even be involved in making those decisions.

And when we have those days (oh we have some days, folks!) when I am either not feeling well, or Little Brother is being himself, or I just really need to get other things done: his ACE PACEs will give him a predictable, familiar structure he can be reasonably expected to follow on his own.


I know I have talked a lot about how much we love mastery-based learning. We have used Rod & Staff math for the past 3 years and loved it's mastery approach. Rod & Staff is a WONDERFUL curriculum, and I still highly recommend it; but ACE also teaches for mastery, so we will not be changing methods.

We are simply switching to ACE Math because it can be completed a bit more independently than the Rod & Staff we are currently using. Rod & Staff uses a textbook that problems must be copied from by hand. This has become rather difficult for a boy who struggles with the physical process of copying problems correctly from one book to another. So I have been writing out all his problems in a notebook for him each day. ACE will eliminate this time-consuming step so he can simply focus on working the math problems (which he is amazingly good at doing!).

The entire ACE system, not just their math, is based on teaching for mastery. Students work on one concept until it is mastered, and they do not progress to more complex concepts until the simpler ones have been grasped. This is a natural, and even Biblical, approach to learning.

My plan is to allow him to spend an hour each morning reading, practicing music, exercising, and enjoying hands-on learning together before he completes his independent work each day. Then if we still have time after his goals are completed, we will continue with more interest-led learning. He will NOT be sitting at a desk staring at a wall all day, as some have imagined the ACE system being used.

And I can hardly wait to share with you my plans for learning over the summer! Stay tuned for that post soon!

How many times have you switched curriculum or methods in your homeschool? Or have you always used the same? Talk to me in the comments!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Where Have We Been?

I apologize it has been a while since I have posted any updates. Little Brother recently developed metabolic acidosis and dehydration after contracting a virus, and that put him in the hospital for a few days. Thankfully, he is much better now, and things are starting to get back to some resemblance of "normal."

I have started doing some freelance writing from home, started up a home business, and begun taking violin lessons; so "busy" is understatement right now. But I really miss posting here, so I am hoping to get back to sharing on this blog at least weekly. I hope you will keep joining me here!

We finished up our Middle Ages & Botany unit study last week. Big Brother has really discovered an interest in herb gardening. In fact, he just recently won a champion ribbon for demonstrating how to plant an indoor herb garden for our county 4H demonstration competition.

Our local library offered to give us a special tour of an engineering exhibit they are currently hosting, so we took advantage of that. The boys had fun building everything from gliders to robots to catapults.

Big Brother is still very involved in the local 4H program here. He's recently done everything from taking first aid & CPR certification training to making clay masks as part of 4H. He is hoping to get to attend 4H Cloverbuds Camp this summer, too.

He is looking forward to attending Kentucky's One Day Teen Pact Leadership Class in April. (He had earned enough 4H Bucks to pay for his class tuition.) My younger brother and I participated in Teen Pact when we were young, and it was a great experience! Check out their website for details. Participants learn about state government in a very hands-on, Christ-centered way. I am so excited for Big Brother to have this opportunity!

Today we begin Unit 5 of A World of Adventure: Renaissance & Reformation/Astronomy! We kicked off the study this morning with the boys watching a short cartoon video about the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. I am hoping to take field trips to an art museum and the Creation Museum planetarium during this unit.

We are still enjoying working through A World of Adventure for Bible, Social Studies, Science, Literature, and Language Arts this year. We are continuing through Rod & Staff's 3rd grade math, and Big Brother is still going to my mother's home twice per week for spelling tutoring using the Barton Reading & Spelling System.

It is hard to believe March is already here, and we will be finishing this school year in just a couple more months! Time flies when you're having fun (actually it flies whether you have fun or not...but we might as well have fun along the way!)

Thanks for joining us on this journey, and please stay tuned for more adventure and inspiration... homeschool style!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Back to School - Day 1 of Our Middle Ages Unit

After a long Christmas break, today we were back to school and started A World of Adventure Unit 4: The Middle Ages!

We actually kicked off our study by watching a few different Robin Hood movies we had checked out from the library over the past few days. This really helped me introduce Big Brother to this interesting time period in a fun way.

It's been a while since I have done a "day in the life" post, so I am happy to share a glimpse into our day with you.

6:30 a.m. - I get up, get dressed, exercise, and spend some time with the Lord. I'm reading through the book of Romans right now.

7:45 a.m. - I hear the pitter-patter of Little Brother's feet coming down the hallway. We snuggle a bit, I direct him to the potty, and he gets dressed for the day.

8:00 a.m. - Big Brother's alarm clock goes off. He groggily makes his way down from his top bunk to turn it off and read the note I have left beside it telling him exactly what he needs to do before school time. I do this because #1 - He's not a morning person (which he gets from me) and needs some direction for how to get moving with his day and #2 - He struggles with auditory processing and responds best to written instructions. He heads to the shower to wake up while I start pulling a simple breakfast together.

8:15 a.m. - We eat breakfast then Big Brother practices piano for a bit. Then he vacuums the living room and sweeps the kitchen while Little Brother puts a load of laundry in the washer.

9:00 a.m. - Our school day officially starts with prayer time together. I set out a castle play set, and let the boys play with some knights as I read them our Bible lesson from Revelation 3:8. This verse will tie in with our literature selection later on in the morning.

After Bible time we recite the nursery rhyme "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" together and discuss what this rhyme meant to the farmers in the Middle Ages. Then we recite it again and clap the rhythm. Little Brother enjoys clapping along and making "baa" sounds.

Next we do a quick multiplication drill with flash cards followed by a note reading drill at the piano.

Since we are studying plants for science during this unit, next I read From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons. There is enough detail and information in this picture book to be useful to Big Brother, but it is also short enough to hold Little Brother's attention.

Then Little Brother heads back over to the castle playset and I read St. George and the Dragon aloud. I point out that this book won the Caldecott Award for its brilliant illustrations. This story is obviously quite exciting, so Big Brother loves it!

We checked out some CDs of medieval music from the library, so I turn one of them on now. As he listens for a while, Big Brother chooses a picture in his Life in a Medieval Castle and Village Coloring Book to begin coloring. I take the opportunity to work on a page I have been coloring in one of my adult coloring books. Little Brother does some scribblings with markers and practices naming the colors. It's rather peaceful.

Next we grab our current literature assignment, The Door in the Wall. This book is set in England the mid-1300's. We go over some new vocabulary, read the first section aloud, and I ask some comprehension questions afterward. During this time, Little Brother watches a few educational video clips on his PBS Kids Android Tablet.

10:30 a.m. - Big Brother is eager to actually "do something" now after doing so much listening and talking. So we decide to go ahead and start our unit science project: an herb garden. He is going to grow his own dill, thyme, oregano, mint, and chives to be used in some yummy recipes later in this unit. He fills little yogurt cups with soil and carefully plants the seeds. He makes labels for each cup and gives each a little water. Then we place them in the window in the boys' bedroom.

11:00 a.m. - We clean up our mess and pull out our atlas and globe. Big Brother finds England and we review some basic geography. He finds London, the River Thames (and complains about how it is spelled), Scotland, Ireland, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. I quiz him on directions (North, South, East, West). Then I give him a few minutes to read about England in his atlas while I take Little Brother to potty.

Once Little Brother is settled once again, we Google King Edward III who is king at the time of The Door in the Wall and check out what Wikipedia has to say about him.

11:30 a.m. - The boys are asking for food, so we go ahead and take lunch and a break. After we eat I go hang up some laundry and check my email and Facebook. Little Brother does some coloring and roaming around, and Big Brother plays Robin Hood with his LEGOs for a while.

12:30 p.m. - Little Brother declines a nap today, so I allow him to have some more tablet time. Big Brother and I read about monks and then he pretends to be a monk while doing his cursive copywork for the day.

Next we discuss some figurative language from our literature selection and learn a bit about the Cockney English accent.

In today's reading section from The Door in the Wall we had read a detailed description of the main character's bedroom. So for his writing assignment today, Big Brother composes a paragraph describing his own bedroom.

1:30 p.m. - We play a round of our "Worlds of Adventure" quiz game to review all the things we had learned about today. This is great for reviewing all the new vocabulary words and special terms we have encountered throughout the day.

1:45 p.m. - Big Brother independently completes his Rod & Staff math lesson for the day. He's reviewing his 5's multiplication facts today.

**2:00 p.m. - With his scheduled work all completed, Big Brother decides to turn on the medieval music CD again and do some silent reading in the library books we checked out about knights and castles.

And that was our school day!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Homeschool Update, Potty Training, and Christmas Break!

We are in the midst of our Christmas Break right now, and Big Brother thinks it is pretty awesome that he gets to take a longer break than the local public schoolers thanks to our flexible year-round schedule!

I want to share what we are up to during our break, but first an update on our school year:

So far this year in our homeschool, we have explored Ancient Egypt, deserts, Ancient Greece, the human body, Ancient Rome, and geology using a fun unit study curriculum. (We are looking forward to learning all about the Middle Ages and plants next when we start back in January!)

Our recent study on Rome included Bible study on the life of Jesus. We read Old Testament prophecies about Christ and discovered how He fulfilled each one during His life. We also did an amazing study of Handel's Messiah, which was so enriching and a great way to lead us up to this Christmas season.

Our most recent literature read-aloud was The Bronze Bow. We were able to check it out from our library, and Big Brother and I both agree this was probably one of the best stories we had ever read. Highly recommend!

We have focussed a LOT on earthquakes and volcanoes in science lately. Big Brother even simulated both an earthquake and a volcanic eruption. We watched videos on YouTube of actual eartquakes and volcanic eruptions, too.

To tie this in with our study of Rome, we basically became experts on the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii, Italy during the time of the Roman empire. We read every book we could find on the subject, watched numerous documentaries about the eruption on YouTube, and watched a movie that our library had about Pompeii. Fascinating stuff!

Of course Big Brother also read many books about ancient Rome, watched both Ben Hur and The Robe, made a timeline of all the Roman emporers, and constructed LEGO models of several important Roman landmarks.

Something else we've started recently is having Big Brother go to my mom 2 mornings a week for tutoring in spelling (his only weak score on standardized tests). My mom is a certified tutor with the Barton Reading & Spelling System. Big Brother looks forward to doing these fun lessons at Grana's house...and to the special lunch of macaroni and cheese she makes for him afterward! If you have a child who is dislexic or just seems to be struggling in some way with spelling or reading, the Barton system is definitely worth a look. We are truly blessed that my mom is close by and has this expertise.

Little Brother (2 1/2 now) has reached an important milestone in his life: no more diapers (except at bedtime)! We used a 3 day potty training "boot camp" approach with him, and it pretty much worked. It was probably one of the most exhausting things I've ever done (besides labor), but it worked. Thank the Lord! Potty training and weaning are the two necessary milestones I dread dealing with the most as a mommy. Glad we have both behind us now!


So that brings us to Christmas break!

December 9th was our first day off, and we will not start back until January 4th! Woohoo!! All the hard work we put in over the summer is really paying off now as we are able to slow down and enjoy the Christmas season.

How do you think Big Brother wanted to celebrate the beginning of his break? Why a trip to the library, of course!

He was intent on finding as many books as possible on pirates to enjoy over the next few weeks. Allowing him to choose books on a topic he currently finds interesting has helped keep the spark of learning alive while we are technically out of school. He has had some new and interesting fact about either a specific pirate, the history of pirating, or ships to report to us pretty much every day. And of course he has spent some time dressing up and pretending to be a pirate. Ahoy there, mates!

Big Brother is president of our county's Cloverbuds and 4-H Homeschool clubs. He has had several recent meetings and workshops to attend. He sold candy bars to help earn money for his Cloverbuds Club to sponsor a needy child for Christmas. He and his friends had fun wrapping their gifts for the child. This whole experience was so good for him as he learned a little bit about making sales, worked on counting change, and helped a child in need along the way.

In that same spirit of learning the joy of giving to others this Christmas season, Big Brother also filled 2 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child this year. We just discovered that his boxes were sent to a boy and girl Columbia.

Another fun service project we did was collecting pairs of "silly socks" to send to hospitalized children this Christmas. Big Brother used some of the money he had earned from his chores and collected donations from family and friends. In all he was able to send 105 pairs of socks to the cause! We had so much fun with this that I definitely want to do it again next year!

Christmas music has been major focus for our family this year. We participated in two different community Christmas caroling services, and Big Brother also performed last weekend in his first official piano recital. He worked so hard preparing and perfecting his assigned piece (Angels We Have Heard on High), and he did a wonderful job. His teacher had even taught him how to give a proper bow. Getting to play a real grand piano on stage at a large church in our area for the recital was so exciting for him.

Little Brother has been enjoying all the music, too. Several times this week I have heard him singing parts of Beautiful Star of Bethlehem while playing with his toys. So sweet! He absolutely LOVES the song The Little Drummer Boy. I can hardly wait to see his blue eyes light up when he opens the new drum set we are giving him for Christmas!!

Another way we are creatively spending our time off is by simply coloring. Big Brother has been on somewhat of a coloring craze these last few days especially, and he has finished an entire coloring book for the first time in his life. Little Brother wants to do whatever Big Brother does, of course, so he has been "coloring" a lot, too (mostly drawing lines and little circles with his crayon on the pages in his coloring books, but it is great fine motor skills practice just the same). I have taken the time to do some coloring in some of my Scripture coloring books, too. We all seem to find it so relaxing and fun that I am seriously considering including coloring time into our regular school day routine in the coming semester!

We will be spending lots of time with family on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Thankfully my husband gets 11 total days off from work for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, so we are looking forward to lots of family fun and relaxation coming up!

To you and yours: Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year 2017!