The “Not” Back-to-School Blog Hop {Curriculum Week}

"Not" Back to School Blog Hop at iHomeschool Network

It’s here!  The crazy weekly blog hop that will make us all feel wonderfully inspired and a teeny bit inadequate all at the same time!  Woohoo!

Hey, just keepin’ it real folks…

But seriously, as we all are getting started with our schooling, wading gently into the water after a low-key summer, the iHomeschool Network blog hop is the place to be.  Let’s get motivated!

Homeschool Planning 2012-2013

Speaking of motivated, have I mentioned lately that I’m up to my ears in planning?  Well, actually now it’s only up to my belly button, so I’m making progress.  Last week the living room looked like this:

Homeschool Planning

And now my supplies and materials are organized into nice neat piles on the floor instead and it looks like this:

Homeschool Planning

Progress, people!  That’s what I’m talking about!  (Don’t you dare say you don’t see a difference!)

So for those of you who don’t know much about me, here’s the scoop in a nutshell: I have four children whom I’ve been homeschooling for seven years (this year will be my eighth).  My oldest son is 12 and will be in 7th grade; my only daughter is 9 and will be in 4th grade; my two younger boys are 6 and 5 and will be in 1st and K respectively, though they are learning almost as if they were twins.  My youngest won’t be left behind.  He’s very stubborn and precocious.

We started out GRE test prep in Denver, CO, but have moved into more of an eclectic homeschool, mostly due to the fact that I want to give the best, preschool programs denver co to each child, and each of my children is unique.  So we now base our structure loosely on the Well-Trained Mind skeleton and resources, but add a lot of Charlotte Mason methods, and whatever else I feel will work in our home.

This year is the first time I will be intentionally including the younger two in the bulk of our subjects.  For things like history, science, geography, and art, we will all learn together, get further into the adventure of notebooking (all together- fabulous!) and then my older two will have some independent work to take away as well.

7th grade curricula and resources

  • Teaching Textbooks Algebra I – We moved into TT last year for Pre-Algebra on the recommendation of our assessor (in Ohio we have to get yearly portfolio assessments if we choose not to do standardized tests) and we like it very much.  Before TT we used Saxon for Colin and it worked very well, but TT can be done independently which helps with Mom-time management.
  • Rod and Staff Grammar 7 – We’ve been using R & S since 4th grade and are very happy with the thoroughness and rigor of the program.  I’m a grammar nerd and get all giddy about diagramming, word roots, and stuff like that.
  • Thames and Cosmos Chem C2000 Chemistry Set and Mastering the Periodic Table – Our chemistry this year is going to be out of my comfort zone.  There will be a lot of experiments, some of which will include the younger ones, and I have a lot of peripheral resources.  (We’ve never used textbooks, and I hope to avoid them until highschool.)  Unlike history, which is chronological, all of our resources choose to go through the periodic table differently.  I’ll keep you posted on how things work out, but since I’m a non-science mom, this is the subject I’m least excited about.
  • History – We have always used the Well-Trained Mind resource suggestions and this is our second time going through the Story of the World series.  We are studying the Middle Ages this year (with activity book) and Colin will supplement with outlining and timeline work through the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and other living books webpage.  One exciting new-to-us resource is Heritage History** CD sets of public domain books.  We have the Christian Europe and Spanish Empire libraries as well as the British Middle Ages curriculum (which includes supplemental resources in addition to the books) and there are great books for family read-alouds and independent reading for Colin.  We will be primarily using notebooking as a way to document all we are learning.  Notebooking Pages has a wonderful set of Middle Ages resources, including basic pages, and specific pages for people and events of the time.
  • Rosetta Stone German 3 – Colin is probably halfway finished with this program and we’re considering finding him an online highschool German course when he completes it.  Rosetta Stone has been great for our children’s pronunciation, understanding and vocabulary, but the grammar is all by immersion so there are no rules taught.  I’m looking forward to getting him the nuts and bolts to round out his German skills.
  • US Geography – We will be notebooking through the 50 states as a family.  This is something the kids enjoy immensely, and we try to take trips, watch documentaries, and cook fun cuisine from some of the states as well.  This year we’re planning a weekend trip to Tennessee.  (You can get a free sample of a state notebooking page set here!)
  • Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Intensive – We haven’t focused a lot on writing in the past in terms of curriculum simply because I didn’t think it was all that necessary yet.  I think good writing is incredibly important, don’t get me wrong; I just think that the way it is taught is counter-productive.  I think kids who read great literature, and a lot of it, will have a natural bent toward writing as they get older.  So now that Colin is in middle school we are focusing a bit more on it so we can build skills for high school.

4th grade curricula and resources

  • Math on the Level – Our sweet Maddy is not a math person.  We have tried a handful of different math curricula over the years and all have frustrated her until I finally stepped outside of the textbook box.  It was a scary transition, but looking back I see a lot of progress and a lot less angst.  Math on the Level is a non-traditional program that includes all concepts required to learn from PreK to Pre-Algebra organized in books that give tips and tricks for teaching each of the concepts.  It is teacher intensive and requires a lot of assessment on my part, but it has been worth it.  The company also has a very active yahoo email group that supports each other and answers questions.
  • Rod and Staff Grammar 4
  • Sequential Spelling – We took off of formal spelling last year.  I have never liked the traditional spelling curricula with the words per week that you have to write and rewrite until you memorize them.  I trust my children’s reading to give them good skills in spelling, and for the most part it has.  I am going to lightly work through Sequential Spelling lessons with Maddy just to add to her knowledge of spelling patterns.  SS is a program not based around levels of words for each grade, but instead on patterns and was originally created for dyslexic children.  One word list, for example, includes the words: all, stall, install, recall, and installment.
  • HistoryStory of the World, Volume 2 (Middle Ages), beginner level ebooks from Heritage History**, and notebooking.
  • Chemistry for the Grammar Stage – This classical-based curriculum was affordable, lays out all readings and includes all worksheets and notebooking pages.  Again, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the way our different chemistry resources each choose to go through the material differently, but it will simply take a bit more intentionality in my planning to make it work.
  • Rosetta Stone German 1 & 2 – Maddy’s just about done with German 1 and will be moving up this fall.  She sounds so cute speaking German!
  • Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Intensive – We’re doing the middle school level; I’m including her along with my oldest because Maddy loves to write and she can handle the activities.
  • US Geography – Notebooking all the way!  Here’s a free North American bird example for you to try out from Notebooking Pages.

1st grade curricula and resources

Kindergarten curricula and resources

Together we will cover art, music, health, nutrition, and life skills. That can mean Dentist Near Me are priced using a sliding scale, so lower income patients pay less for the dental services they receive.

My husband and I are classical musicians so our home is filled with the music of Bach and Mozart and Stravinsky and we “talk shop” often.  I also am an art junkie, and love to test myself and the kids on their knowledge of famous styles and techniques of the great master artists.  These kinds of things just happen in our home and I’ve learned that it is enough, that I don’t need to make sure I get a composer study in each week.  It’s just another way to embrace the actual reality of our life and not get overwhelmed with expectations that are inappropriate for our family or too high.


Whew!!  So there you have it.  Our plan for the year!  Link up with the “Not” Back-to-School Hop with your own curriculum plans!

**To get a free Spanish Empire CD library, purchase any other library or curriculum at Heritage History and enter code CHRISglo at checkout!  You must add the Spanish Empire CD as well and the amount will come off when you add the code.**

This post contains affiliate links.  See my Disclosure page for details.

1000 Yard Solar System Model

1000 Yard Solar System

This spring and summer we’ve been studying astronomy.  We visited our local observatory to see the stars (and Saturn for the first time through a telescope!), read about all of the planets and the sun, and have done notebooking pages about what we’ve learned.

This past week I came across a great activity I hoped would help my kids understand just how vast the solar system is, in a way that even my younger ones could appreciate.   So on a beautiful, sunny and breezy day, we trekked out to a local park with some materials in hand.

The 1000 Yard Solar System

This activity uses a scaled down solar system, based around a sun that is 8 inches in diameter.  I bought a bouncy ball at Walmart and gathered other items that would approximate the sizes of the planets in comparison.

Kids holding planets

We used peppercorns for Earth and Venus, a less-than-one-inch stone for Jupiter and an even smaller one for Saturn, two beads for Neptune and Uranus, and three sesame seeds for Mercury, Mars and Pluto, knowing full well that the sesame seeds were actually way too big.  I simply needed something they could actually carry and sesame seeds were the smallest things we had!

I gave each child two or three planets and coached (especially the younger ones) to be very careful not to drop them!

Peppercorn earth

We then proceeded to place the sun in the grass at the far end of the field and talk about how big each of our steps would be.  One giant step (a yard) in this model would be 3,600,000 miles!  We talked about how big the earth is to us, and how long it takes to drive the 500 miles to see Nanny and Gramps in New Jersey; we talked about light years and how long it takes the sun’s light to reach us (8 minutes) in comparison to how long it takes the light of the nearest star to reach us (Alpha Centauri- 4.3 years).  When they were fully impressed by the sheer numbers, we began walking out the distances to the planets.

Walking to Mercury

It was ten yards to get to Mercury.  Ten groups of 3,600,000 miles!!  So my oldest dropped Mercury where it belonged.

Mercury as sesame seed

We continued on, taking the necessary steps, placing the inner planets in their respective places.  My oldest, in charge of the tiniest planets, dropped the sesame-seed Mars.  While it was in the air, the breeze took it a foot out of orbit.  We laughed about how one foot was actually 1,200,000 miles!  I told him he messed up the whole solar system.  He was crushed.

When it came time to march to Jupiter, the kids started giggling.  It was 95 yards away!  So we began the steps and somewhere along the way my youngest lost Uranus in the asteroid belt.  Alas, never trust a five-year-old with such an important planet.  So far we’d thrown off the whole solar system, and maybe the Milky Way, before we even reached the outer planets.

By the time we got to this point, we could barely see the sun.  The bright orange ball was waaaay in the distance and would soon be unrecognizable.  Can you see it out by the tree?

Solar System model- sun from asteroid belt

We continued on our way, out to Saturn (112 yards) and then out to where Uranus would be if Zachary hadn’t dropped it (249 yards).  But we couldn’t even make it that far.  We ran into a forest (and I am prone to bad poison ivy) and had to stop.

By this point, the kids were tired of walking and had gained a great appreciation for the vastness of space and how small our little place in it really is.  God is amazing!

So the little ones wanted to run back to the sun, and eventually they all collapsed of exhaustion around the bright orange ball.

1000 yard solar system finish

This was a fantastic activity!  We loved getting out into a wide-open space and trying to fathom together how big our solar system really is.

What fun activities have you done lately?

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Elemental Science Habitats Lapbook

Elemental Science Habitats Lapbook

The Challenge of Homeschooling Multiple Ages

As a homeschooler with children of various ages, I am always looking for options and resources which will allow me to include multiple children in our subjects.  I was offered a gem in the Habitats Lapbook by Elemental Science, and three of my four children were thrilled to work on this lapbook together.  (Pssst!  There’s a giveaway at the end of the review!)

Working on the Habitats Lapbook

This is a wonderful first lapbook, or a lapbook that can be successfully completed and enjoyed by young elementary students and even preschoolers.  My three younger children– a 3rd grader, Kindergartner and preschooler– loved working on the four mini-books and extension activities and even my youngest was able to work almost completely independent of me, a big plus in my book!  Elemental Science has made an excellent resource that allows for Mom to be a facilitator and children to have significant ownership in their finished product.

Elemental Science Habitats Lapbook preschool
Zach cutting his mini book

The Habitats Lapbook is divided into four sections to be completed over four weeks– Grassland, Forest, Arctic, and Desert– with templates, vocabulary, extension activities and book suggestions.  The lapbook was set up almost as a mini unit study and I loved that I could use as much or as little of the supplementary suggestions as we had available in the time we had in our weekly schedule.  While I didn’t have all of the books on the list, for example, I used other similar titles from our home library and could easily search the library as well.  This was a major plus in my book!

The extension activities, one per week, included a suggested documentary, art projects, and a diorama.  My boys especially loved the desert diorama.  They were very proud of their finished product!  I think there will be more of these in our homeschool science going forward, and I’m excited that there are more Elemental Science lapbooks where this one came from!

Habitats lapbook- desert diorama

Benefits of the Habitats Lapbook

  • I am not a science mom; it’s not so much my thing.  So while we do it regularly, I’m more into reading about it than hands-on activities.  My younger children, though, loved the hands-on nature of the Habitats Lapbook and begged to work on it on more than one occasion.  And as I mentioned above, they were able to do most of the work themselves!

    Elliot copywork habitats lapbook

  • Easy time commitment.  This lapbook required four weeks to complete, but I think a homeschool family could easily do two of the habitats in one week and cut it down to two weeks total, or extend it to eight weeks and dig in even deeper!
  • Flexibility.  While the spine of this curriculum is very simple, concrete and well-laid out, there is wiggle room to bring in more or leave something out.  For example, my oldest did to walk your dog on her own and the feeding thing.  As a more relaxed homeschooler, I loved this flexibility!
  • Wide age range.  I did not intend to do this with my 3rd grader, but she was super excited to work on it with us.  The different reading level suggestions were perfect for including her as well.

    Maddy habitats lapbook

Habitats Lapbook giveaway!

Now for the fun part!  Elemental Science has agreed to provide one lucky reader with the Habitats Lapbook for use in her own schooling.  You’re planning for the next homeschool year, right?  What a perfect and easy addition to your science curriculum!

To enter, simply leave a comment below to say “hi”!

For additional entries, you can:

Elemental Science habitats Lapbook Zach

Please remember to leave a comment for each entry!  Giveaway will close on Sunday night, June 3rd, at midnight.  The winner will have two days (until midnight on Tuesday the 5th) to reply.  Make sure you include an valid email address with your comments.

Tomorrow, stop by Tabitha’s blog to read about her experience with Earth Science Grammar Stage.  She’ll be having a giveaway as well!  Be sure to visit Carlie’s blog review from yesterday to learn about Lapbooking through Animals. (Another giveaway- you can get your whole science year covered this week!)

I received this product for the purpose of review and was compensated for my time.  However, I only give honest opinions here and stand behind each product; I am not required to give a positive review. See my disclosure policy for more details.