Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Language Arts and Extras

Language Arts has to be Nico's least favorite subject. I don't blame him, I hated it too in grade school. However, in 7th grade I had the best English teacher. Not only did she help me in my grammar she helped me in my handwriting!

We have jumped around through the years with language arts programs. We started with First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. It was great for Kindergarten, but he and I both got tired of doing nouns very quickly. I then moved onto Learning Language Arts through Literature from Common Sense Press. It also worked for one year. I found it not to have enough reinforcement and again, just doing the same basic thing every day. Finally in 4th grade I found Voyages in English Grammar and Writing. FINALLY, I found one we liked. Each unit focuses on a form of writing (ie: descriptive paper, personal letter, etc) and a part of grammar. It has exercises in the book, a workbook, and pre and post tests. I have to admit, I am learning more myself. I also don't get too frustrated when Nico can't remember what past participle means because I never really understood it myself, until NOW. I mean, I know how to speak correctly and use the correct words, but to say, what is the past participle in the sentence....never, until now and now it is helping us in Latin. It is like the light bulb went off in MY head! Sad, but true and I am not afraid to admit it.

Speaking of Latin, that is one of our 'electives' this year and will be our foreign language for the next few years. The plan is to then move onto Spanish. Classical Academic Press, Latin for Children Primer A, is what we are using for Latin.
Latin for Children, Primer A (Textbook)
No, I do not speak Latin myself, but I have taken Spanish and Italian in my highschool and college years. Thus, Nico and I are learning it together, but lucky for me, I know a few extra things, like verb conjugation. We have made it through one complete chapter and ready to move on. There is a CD and DVD that comes with the books. The CD has the chants that we learn on them so we can listen to them in the car or in the house. The DVD has a 'teacher' on it. It is a man teaching Latin to his kids. This was a must for me so I can be sure to get the pronunciations correct. I found it funny when Nico and I started our chant and Luca started singing right along! As a matter of fact, I asked Nico to conjugate amare, suddenly Luca started chanting it. I have decided to go ahead and start Luca on Song School Latin which is the early years Latin. He is loving it, but he enjoys singing whereas Nico hates to sing. Both boys are doing well and it is something new and fun for us.

Another elective we added this year and for the next few years is Greek Mythology.
This is the book we are using. There is also a workbook. There are tests included, but they are quit in depth. I have decided to create my own tests basically focusing on the vocabulary and the stories. This has been a lot of fun for us to read together and discuss. The pictures in the book are great!

You are probably wondering why the heck I would want to teach these. We are turning toward a more classical education. I am trying to make my children as well rounded as they can be. Nico has stressed an interest in being a vet. Latin is used widely in medical terms. It will also help expand his English vocabulary as many of our words are derived from Latin words.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It has seemed reading with boys has always been a challenge. Brian, now 19, finally likes to pick up a book and just read for fun. Nico is getting there - if he has a Pokemon book or something that can really keep his interest. Now Luca, he LOVES books. He is always asking me to read to him. (finally got a reader)

I have to say reading is the one subject I was most worried about teaching when I started homeschooling. With Nico I used Hooked On Phonics Kindergarten - 3rd grade. In 4th grade we started focusing more on reading comprehension and picking a book apart. I know this does not make reading fun but I allow Nico to have free reading every day where he can pick any book he wants to read. It can be a simple chapter book if that is what he wants. He usually picks that because he can finish it in one sitting.

This year in 5th grade we are still working on reading comprehension. As we are turning our learning to be more literature based, he is getting more reading in for each of his subjects. His reading has improved immensley this year. I was really getting concerned about his reading because he would always leave out the little words such as the, and, an, it, our, etc. Often he would read the sentence and it wasn't what was written there at all, BUT had the same meaning. It was like his brain read it ahead and then he paraphrased it. I started looking into dyslexia or some other reading/learning issue, but nothing surfaced or fit. Finally I ran across an article on the right brained learner. I started digging deeper into it and truely believe Nico is a right brained learner. He was also struggling with spelling and I struggled with finding a spelling program I liked. I had Spelling Power, but put it aside in 3rd grade, frustrated because it didn't seem to work. I pulled it back out this year and decided that I should use it correctly! When he misspells a word he gets to pick an activity to do that will help him remember how to spell it. So far, so good! I also notice that in his daily writings his spelling has improved too.

This week we started reading the book "Loser" by Jerry Spinelli. We are loving it!!!! Scholastic has a mini lesson on it with comprehension and questions on it, making it more fun for me to wait and read it with him. Friday he actually read a whole chapter out loud to me (without me sitting next to him correcting him) and did a great job. The book is really holding his interest because in the past he would never volunteer to read a whole chapter at once outloud.

My goal in reading this year is not just reading comprehension, but to start reading some of the classics. I have the Wind in the Willow, Desperaux, Trumpet of the Swan, and others lined up as a few of the readings. If I can find a movie to go with the reading then we watch the movie after we finish the book as a special treat. Next year we are going to focus on Mark Twain's works with reading and activities. We also live only an hour from Hannibal, MO so will plan another field trip there.

Luca is learning his letters this year. A friend introduced me to Headsprout. It is a reading program online. I went ahead and signed Luca up for it even though he is 4. He made it through the first 5 lessons and is working on reading the first book. I think it is a bit advanced for him, but he asks every day to do a lesson and does not like to have to redo one! We will continue working with this, but I am also going to start Hooked on Phonics K with just the CD and singing the sounds the letters make. We will continue with learning how to write the letters as well. We are using Handwriting Without Tears for writing.

We also started focusing on letters this week starting with the vowels and their sounds. This week was letter A for apple and acorn. We collected acorns from the yard and he filled his letter A with them. Each time he glued an acorn on, he had to say "A". He does know the lower case 'a' because it is in his name. With just small workings with Luca he will master his studies fine this year. He does like to do his lessons and cooperates.

I am a big reader and have a huge library of books. I hope with Luca being my last little one, that the books on the shelves will finally get read by someone.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Nico actually asked me this year to include health in our curriculum. We completed Harcourt 3rd grade health two years ago. It was one of his favorite subjects. I didn't want to do the same style book and workbook so searched out something new and exciting. WinterPromise pulled through again. They have Human Body and Forensics, grades 4-6. Again, WinterPromise is a literature based program with lots of hands on activities. Our first unit was on cells, which Nico found really interesting even though it was just a touch on the basics. Next we started into the respiratory system. When I was homeschooling Brian I had bought a couple of specimens to dissect with him. I think Brian only did one before he quit. Although it wasn't written in WinterPromises curriculum I decided to add it myself. I ordered a sheep pluck (includes sheep heart, lungs, and trachea) from Home Science Tools...a small fee of $13.00.

I used to teach dissecting classes at Florissant Valley Community college. They were Saturday classes for kids. Nico would attend the classes with me....he was only 4, but loved it. By the time I quit teaching them, he was walking around helping the kids with me.

Nico has stressed a desire to be a veterinarian. (I had dreams of being a vet myself. I had the school all set up, then decided to stay home. I now work as a chemist, but my true love is biology). We started chemistry early too with Nico. We are one our second year of that. Their brains are such sponges at these young ages. Nico couldn't wait to dive into class today.

Mike was home so he lowered the pressure on the air compressor and stuck the end down the trachea and watched the lungs inflate. It was so cool. Then one of the lungs pop, causing a split in the lung. That lung, of course, no longer worked properly. He was able to see that one lung is indeed smaller than the other and why (because the heart takes up part of that space).

Nico on his initial inspection.

I got  a kick out of Luca. Immediately he said, "It stinks!" but he still wanted to see what was going on.

Making the cuts.

I have a great dissecting microscope (and a great slide scope), but the dissecting one is great to look at the larger specimens up close. Luca really wanted to see. I loved the way he held his nose.

Getting a look at the inside of the heart.
Nico does have worksheets he completes after dissecting. He remembers so much more by actually seeing and touching things. To actually see the aveoli in the lungs and the blood vessels and arteries running through the heart. He is able to identify parts most kids his age will never see until high school or college.

I just can't stress enough the joy I have in homeschooling my children. Even if children aren't exposed to this in school, the materials are readily available for anyone to order and do at home themselves. Nico, as I write this, is dissecting some more on the heart and lungs with his friend.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Ahhh, Math....I can honestly say I am enjoying teaching math. I hated math growing up. We were not allowed to use our fingers and I was horrible at memorizing all those addition and subtraction problems. The math program I use is MathUSee. It starts out from the very beginning using colored blocks  - the wonderful manipulatives used to actually SEE math work.

It has also helped that while I was working on a Special Ed degree I took a teaching math class. I loved it!!! She taught us how to use the manipulatives to teach. It is sad to say at that time math really started to make sense to me! (Although I loved geometry and trig in high school).

We are behind on what would be considered a regular class setting in that Nico is wrapping up the multiplication book and getting ready to move onto division. The bonus in taking it slow is that he totally gets it. We had a little rough start getting back into math after having the summer off, but a month into he is moving along steadily. I have found that if I put the problems into a word problem he works them so much better than if I just have 76x84 written so he can work it out. I think putting into a picture puzzle gives him the tangible thing he needs. (my right braind learner!) He can actually 'see' what the numbers mean, making the problem worth while to solve.

Here he is working on the factoring page. He was building all the different rectangles and writing the numbers down when it suddenly hit him...."oh, they are the numbers that when multiplied together equal that number!" I love when the light bulb goes on and they figured it out themselves.

Luca is really just learning how to count and make one to one associations. He is also learnig to recognize the numbers themselves. He does enjoy counting. In MathUSee they instruct to count 10 as 'onety', then 'onety-one, onety-two, etc'....it makes total sense to me and he loves saying onety-one. He had to tell Mike he was wrong today when Mike said eleven...Luca said no 'onety-one'. Don't worry they switch over suddenly, on their own, to ten, eleven, twelve, etc. I have found a lot of fun activities to do for math. We will start him on the primer MathUSee later this school year. We play a lot of games. Here he is playing a game from Muggins Math Series with Mike. The kids have the best time playing them. Mike helps quit often with math. He will work with Luca while I am working with Nico. Today, Luca actually asked his dad to come watch him do his lessons. I love it! (as long as I can put Mike to work teaching him - otherwise daddy is a distraction in the classroom).

http://www.2teachingmommies.com/ blog has the most wonderful lesson theme plans! I am totally hooked on their things and have printed out many of the fall ones so we have a different theme to work on each week with different pictures to look at. (I just love the internet!)  Their items cover all subject areas.