End of School Year Review

End of School Year Review

Well we really aren’t ending school. I think we’ll continue on right through the summer. But I’m going to have to submit a progress report to the local school and anyway my thoughts are still in the habit of regarding the cycle of the academic year. It seems a good enough time to pause and take stock of where we’ve been and where we are headed. Retrench, rethink. Clarify goals, recover what might have fallen by the wayside, re-envigorate myself at least. I’ve been having conversations with various people in various formats. I think what I’d like to do here is to revisit my education plan I created last fall. Then maybe look at some other things that weren’t in that plan. Also, I want to take another look at what I’m doing with Sophie and Ben. Realizing I want to be a little more deliberate in guiding them so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. And maybe if I focus a bit more on them, it will take some of the pressure off of Bella and free both of us up to relax and regroup.

So here I’ll excerpt from my formal education plan and then comment on what has worked, what hasn’t what we’ve changed, etc. (You can find my beginning of year post here)


Textbook: Saxon Math
We will complete Saxon K and then move into Saxon 1

We loved Saxon K, flew through it. We did skip some lessons. Finished in March, I think.

Saxon 1 has been a different story. I think we’re going to ditch it. There’s just too much emphasis on writing. And it seems to have made a huge jump conceptually from the kind of work kindergarteners were expected to do to that of first graders. Bella is just not there. She needs a lot more hands on math. More figuring things out with manipulatives and less writing stuff down.

So I decided to try Life of Fred since it’s a story-based math. Bella loves it. But even the little writing Fred requires is more than she can handle. Fred clearly is geared for children who have some proficiency at reading and writing with its insistence that children should write out all their answers. So I think we’ll finish the first book, which I got from the library, and then stop until her writing ability catches up.

In the meantime I’d like to find more math games and activities. I’ve been putting together a list of stuff I’ll post soon. I wish I could find something that is more scripted and designed to cover a wide range of topics systematically. I looked at a Montessori curriculum in a box but there are no reviews and very little description on the page.

I’m just not a very mathy person. I’m not the kind of parent who naturally plays math games. Math doesn’t come up in casual conversations and I don’t notice teachable moments. So I can’t do with math the kind of laid back stuff I do with literature and art and history. Or I can, but I need a good resource list and a bunch of ideas. Just having the manipulatives isn’t enough, I need to know how to help her use them. I’m going to do a follow-up post on math. It really demands I give the topic more space to think and meander.

Music Appreciation

We will choose one composer each six-week term and will read a biography and listen to a selection of compositions.
Composers may include: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak, Brahms, Handel, Schubert.

Haven’t been doing anything as structured as this sounds. But we have read bios of and listened to music by: Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Vivaldi. Bella really has loved learning about these composers and listening to their music. She’s so passionate about it, loved Beethoven especially.

And as I’ve been thinking about music, I’ve realized that she’s also had more than a little exposure to a wide range of genres, not just classical music. She’s been loving the albums of music inspired by the Little House books. Recently we’ve been enjoying sea shanties. I have a huge collection of varied folk music, especially Irish. We often sing hymns, we listen to chant and jazz and rock and country. Bella can identify guitars and violins and trumpets and all sorts of musical instruments.

Really, now that I think of it, we do lots of music and while I want to pick up more on classical composers, I feel like we’re doing very well with music appreciation. At some point music lessons of some kind would be nice. No way it’s happening now, though.

Art Appreciation

We will chose one artist to study each six-week term and will read a biography and will study one picture per week.
Artists may include: Georgia O’Keeffe
Mary Cassat
Jan Vermeer
Marc Chagall
Andrei Rublev
Edouard Manet
Lilly Martin Spencer
Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun
Rembrandt van Rijn

We will supplement with trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and other local museums.

I don’t know why when I drew up my list I neglected to consider how art lessons will accompany and be integrated into our history lessons. So in addition to knowing about Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe and Jan Vermeer, we’ve also done Egyptian art, ancient Mesopotamian art, Minoan art, Greek art. We’ve been to the Museum of Fine Arts three times so far. The first time we mainly looked at the Impressionists—there was a Renoir exhibit—and we glanced through a bunch of other collections. We got a general sense of the museum and had fun seeing what was there. The second time we mainly focused on Egyptian art, though we also peeked at some other galleries too. The third time we mainly focused on Mespotamian art—Babylonian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Hittite, etc. We also went back to the Egyptian galleries, glanced at the Greek and Etruscan galleries, and then viewed the special Samurai exhibit.

We also took a special trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which has a very eclectic collection spanning centuries and continents.

Bella can often identify the artist even on a work of art she hasn’t seen before. She can tell you at length who her favorite artists are and knows quite a bit about Egyptian culture and art. She loves poring over books of paintings and loves to visit art museums. I feel extremely satisfied with our coverage of art.

Fine Art—Drawing/Painting/Sculpting

Art supplies are available for her to use at will. She frequently finds her own projects such as making paper doll families and doll houses.
Occasional guided art projects to experiment with various media such as collage, modeling clay.
Nature notebook (see Science above)

We haven’t done as much experimenting as I’d like. Too hard with little ones. But Bella loves to draw and paint and is highly motivated to learn more. I do plan to devote time to cultivating this interest in the future. Wish I could do more with it now.


Primary textbook: Elementary Science Education: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, Vol. I, grades K-2 : Bernard J Nebel PhD

This will be supplemented with various books from the reading lists appended to each chapter.

Additional special topics as she expresses interest. For example, she’s asked to learn more about insects and fungi.

Also, firsthand observations of flora and fauna in our immediate neighborhood and on field trips. Observations will be kept in a nature notebook.

I have planned supplemental field trips to the zoo, science museum, arboretum, butterfly exhibit, etc.

Science is definitely the subject that has slid the most. I find the lessons take a long time to prepare and really drain me. But we’ve done maybe half a dozen different topics—energy, gravity, living vs non-living things, the difference between plants and animals, life cycles, archaeology—and we often get science books from the library, especially books about animals. For a while her bedtime book was a book about geology. So really, I think we’re doing just fine. Bella enjoys science—she sometimes says she wants to be a scientist—and she adores nature study. She can identify almost every bird that comes into our back yard and if she doesn’t recognize one she is adept at noting markings so she can look it up. She’s pretty good at identifying plants as well and is interested in learning more. Right now we’ve got several books on botany that we’re working through. We make a habit of trying to identify various trees and shrubs and flowers. We’re both learning together and having a great time. I’m planning to write a follow-up post on botany. Stay tuned.

History—History of the Ancient World

Primary textbook: The Story of the World Volume I by Susan Wise Bauer
Will supplement with additional books from the library and online resources as needed.
Will supplement with field trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

So far we’ve finished maybe 2/3 to 3/4 of the book. We spent a very long time with Egypt and are spending a very long time with Greece. Everything else we’ve done less extra work with. Bella adores history and gobbles it up. I’d say it’s definitely her best subject. It’s the one we are both most excited about, a real passion. Now I just need to figure out what we’re doing when we finish Story of the World Part 1. Do we go on to Part 2? I’ve heard some things that make me have reservations. I’d kind of like to do American History too. I know some of it is covered in Story of the World 2. Maybe I just need to get the book and read it? I also know some people do both American history and world history as two separate courses in parallel. Would that even make sense for us? I’m still pondering this. Yes, it does sound like a separate follow-up post will be forthcoming.


Lessons with globe and atlas will tie in with history lessons and literature studies.
Supplemental work with maps and cultural studies as interest arises.
Additionally Isabella has been keeping a geography notebook with a section for each continent that includes a map, pictures of indigenous animals, and will include pictures of people we’ve read about. Currently we are engaged in a unit study on Antarctica. I anticipate that we will move on to study of Australia and then Africa as Isabella’s interests dictate.

After Antarctica and Australia the geography notebook fell by the wayside, but it was fun while it lasted. Maybe we’ll come back to it later. We often look at maps and at the globe, we try to place her history lessons and literature lessons on the map. Bella knows what a map is for and the basics of how to use one. I’d like to spend more time talking about landforms and perhaps get an atlas to dig deeper into map reading. Until she can actually read on her own, though, most map reading will be dependent on me to read and interpret to her. I think we need to pick up with either Africa or Asia—Asia might make more sense since we’ve already been doing mini lessons on Japan. I guess that’s geography, though we haven’t spent much time looking at Japan on the map.


Read aloud books may include:
Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Melissa Wiley
Pooh stories by A.A. Milne
Doll stories by Rumer Godden
Milly-Molly-Mandy stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace
Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Others will be added as interest arises.

We’ve almost finished the whole Little House series. All but The First Four Years.
We’ve read the first two Narnia books and are midway into The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
We loved Padraic Colum’s retelling of the Odyssey and Iliad.
We read All of a Kind Family and Audrey of the Outback.
I’ve not been very good at keeping a reading list. One thing I want to do better next year is keeping a record of everything we read.

Bella is an excellent narrator. She remembers so much of what she reads and often recounts it at great length to Dom, sometimes to me. We don’t do Charlotte Mason style narrations though and I wonder if it would be good to keep pushing. Bella is very resistant to narrating or even answering questions immediately after we’ve read a chapter. She wants to have time to process it. Would it be good to try to overcome that resistance? What is the benefit of narrating immediately versus waiting till days later? Does the act of trying to organize one’s ideas right away make a marked difference on the ability to pay attention and to synthesize? I’d love to have more information. If I could get Bella to narrate right away would she be able to improve her retention even more? Is it worth it fighting a battle? I have more questions than ever.


Daily copy work, first working on forming the letters of the alphabet, then, as she develops proficiency, moving on to short passages from our literature selections.

Bella sometimes chooses to spend time practicing writing her letters but is very resistant to formal practice. I tend to let it slide. When she feels a need to write something, she pushes herself. Eventually she’s going to decide to do it right and will take off. Until then, not worth making it into a fight. I think once she does have a basic proficiency I would like to try to get her to do some daily copy work. I think this will be easier when Sophie is doing it too. In fact, I think I might just stop trying to teach Bella to read and write and just focus on teaching Sophie those skills. Sophie wants instruction, Bella does not. Bella will pick them up when she’s ready.

Note: today when we went out to dinner she wrote out five words on her menu with crayon: IN, OUT, EXIT, TOMMY’S, JOIN. She wanted to practice her writing using words she saw in the restaurant. She said she thought it would be a good idea to have paper and pencil with her wherever she goes so she can always practice her writing in this way. I think that’s a great idea. I really want to encourage her in this endeavor. I love it when she’s so motivated. Now how can we do it? Have a notebook I keep in the diaper bag? And one in the car?


The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise
Reading practice with various books at grade level.
Spelling practice using lists culled from the same books.

Bella and Sophie loved the first section where they memorized the poems that taught them the sounds of the letters. But once we hit the stage of practicing reading the sentences Bella hit some kind of wall. I tried to use the Bob books instead. Same wall. Tears and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I backed off.

We took a break and tried again. More of the same. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. I tried different strategies. I made cards with the initial sounds and two letter combinations to make three letter words. Sophie loved it. Bella got bored: I already know how to read all those words, she said. I just can’t always say it out loud. I’m not sure what’s up with that. So I play that game with Sophie occasionally. Bella sometimes kind of listens in.

What has worked a bit better with Bella has been installing a whiteboard on the wall in the dining room. Every day (mostly) I write up a sentence or two from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide. At some point in the day Bella or Sophie will wonder what it says and I will help them sound it out. One day Bella copied the sentence too. So far this is the most effective method yet. Bella only attempts to read it when she’s ready, not when I think I have time. Because it isn’t dependent on me pulling out the book, she is in control. If she wants to just ignore it, I can leave it up another day.

I’m also trying to remember to play games when we are out and about. Asking them to find letters, to read short words. Sometimes I try to get them to sound out words in the books we are reading. Just one or two words so they don’t get annoyed. And a game Sophie and Ben think is hilarious is to cover up each letter in a longer word and to say the word without that letter, or to cover up all the letters and reveal them one at a time: “M” “Mo” “Mon” Mons” “Monst” “Monste” “Monster.” They laugh at all the silly nonsense words but also at the real words that are revealed. I think they are probably learning a bit of phonics in with all the giggles and silliness, so I don’t mind playing this game at all. Bella is not really amused, though she does sometimes listen in.

Faith Formation (Catechesis)

Bible stories
Biographies of saints
Catechism memorization using the book Jesus and I
Additional work based on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, lesson plans found in Home Catechesis 3-6 by Moira Farrell

We are going through the Catechism book slowly, we lost it for about six months. Bella doesn’t love the format, but tolerates it. Sophie rather likes it. During Lent Bella and I started to read the Gospel of Mark a chapter at a time. We finished it during Easter season. We read The First Christians: The Acts of the Apostles for children during Easter too. Then we started on Genesis and The Gospel of John. We’ve been reading various saints books. St Pio of Pietrocina, Blessed Pier Giorgio, St Gianna Molla, St Augustine of Canterbury. So far only one attempt at CGS works. That’s one of those things I like the idea of, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to pull it out when Anthony is awake and in the afternoon when he’s napping I tend to be a bit sleepy. Reading books to the kids yes, trying to herd them for hands-on activities, not so much.

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One thing I’m realizing as I look over this is that I’ve been terrible at record keeping. I think a new goal will be to keep a running list of what we’re reading, especially of library books. I think I need to write a monthly homeschooling book post rather like the monthly post I write to keep track of my own reading. Maybe it would be a good idea to have a secondary blog where I can do a daily learning log. That just would seem to be too much chatter for here, but just jotting down a list of what we’ve done seems like a good idea.

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  • +JMJ+

    I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to find a unique apple tree and to save it! The line about our sense of the apple narrowing is very sad to me. Imagine our sense of cheese or wine narrowing because a few unimaginative people thought a larger profit margin was the way to go!

    But this top-down approach doesn’t seem to be limited the food industry. Just the other day, I was speaking to someone in France who explained seasonal colours to me. Apparently, in some places, it is next to impossible to find bright coloured winter clothes because the designers and stores have decided that winter is for black, grey, dark blue and only red to break up the monotony—and stuff you buy in spring and summer is too light for winter. So if you want a pink coat or neon green sweater, you’ll probably have to make it yourself! Not that this is a big deal: we’re only a few generations removed from the time when most clothes were handmade. But what a lot of skills we’ve forgotten because we’ve let other people decide what we should eat or wear!

  • As I was reading this post I was thinking you need The Botany of Desire – so happy you are already there.  I found it fascinating and it addressed so many questions I’ve had.

  • Yes, it does make me want to seek out rare apples. Point taken about how often our choices are limited by what some marketing person thinks will sell or what “they” decide the trend will be.

  • Jenn, I know I added The Botany of Desire to my library queue because of your blog post about it. Thanks for the recommendation.