3 Weeks Into the 2020/21 School Year
Thus far, my carefully laid plans have survived enemy contact far better than in years past.
Here are a few thoughts on our new curriculum choices, 3 weeks in
1) All About Spelling
We are already about 75-80% through Level 1, because neither kid needed much practice on basic CVC or simple blend words, nor did they struggle with chunking or breaking into syllables. We slowed when we reached the introduction of the "arcane rules:" when "c" says "s," when to use "k" vs. "ck" at the end of a word, and when to double a final consonant. I cannot remember Ever being taught this stuff when I was in grade school. Maybe I was : I can barely remember what I did last week, so recalling precisely how I learned to spell 35 years ago is probably asking a bit much. It is definitely fair to say that, if I ever knew them, I certainly don't use them now. But I Like rules. I am holding out hope that Grace also likes rules (or at least can learn to rely upon them), right-brained though she may be. Certainly both girls are getting a kick out of "Flossing" when we practice the double consonant f-l-s words!
I can entirely understand why this system is considered tedious
and/or boring by many. For a "natural" speller, dragging tiles around,
learning arcane rules, and drilling via flash-card is going to be
frustrating and unnecessarily time consuming. We are definitely not doing Everything the teacher's manual says. We're not practicing every word. We're eschewing the tiles much of the time. We're writing on white boards (or cookie sheets!) or Boogie Boards instead of paper. And we're writing complete sentences rather than the 2-word phrases, since they're both developmentally ready.
In this, plus many other, ways the AAS system reminds me strongly of "Teach Your Kid to Read in 100 Easy Lessons." It's great, but when you don't need it any more, don't beat your head against it by doing Every Little Step.
Anyway, I'm still pretty hopeful about this system. I have ordered Level 2 - unfortunately, I'm so spoiled by Amazon Prime that I put this off too long and I think we'll have a gap between the levels. Oh, and the myriad spelling cards Barely fit in my standard sized file box. I can see why they market a larger one. But again, we're not going to need to review all 150 of the things. We can put them aside when the next level starts!
2) Crosswired Science
This curriculum is definitely in its infancy, and while the videos are pretty well produced, informative, and fun, the website, printable, and online materials suffer from a slightly clunky navigation system and ill-defined overlaps. That doesn't make sense. Specifically, there is a large, 100+ page notebook you are encouraged to print, and it references several other things. There are calendars - several, in fact - that purport to show you what to do each day or week depending on how you are using the course. And then when you actually get down into it, you find that (a) there are also worksheets for each video that are Not included in the giant notebook, (b) there are a BUNCH of experiments, referenced but not printed in said notebook, (c) Each video has an online true/false quiz that does not appear in the printed material, (d) the printed material has links in it that you obviously can't follow and suggests that you do things like draw dragonfly wings and build fish models but doesn't go into hardly Any detail... (e) there are occasional references to "points" and "bonus" and "extra credit," and places to painstakingly record which videos you watched and when. It's not that they didn't think it through, it's that they didn't quite finish fleshing their explanations of everything out so the Teacher could have a good feel for things before she was in the thick of them.
At this point I am starting to feel like I probably didn't need the notebook. Except where I do. And it's super clear that you will have to have a computer open and ready at nearly every stage because of the many off-site videos and links.
We are definitely not doing everything, and we're not going at anything like the speed they recommend. And I confess to a little frustration and more confusion about the whole thing. In my heart of hearts I wish for something a little more clearly spelled out - more "open-and-go." But we're enjoying what we are doing, learning, and watching. I have no idea if we'll do it again next year, but I'm happy for now.
3) Literature Kits from School House Teachers
For someone who enjoys both reading and writing as much as I do, I really get a complex about teaching it. I'm never comfortable that I am "doing enough," while at the same time I don't want to waste time on boring books or useless (my opinion, easily argued!) sentence diagramming.
Anyway, we are using the "Literature Kit" for "Call it Courage," an 80 year old fictional story about pre-missionary French Polynesia.
Again I'm suffering from the print / online / tablet dilemma. The teacher's guide contains a lot of links (some expired - inevitable, I know!) which would be of no value when printed. So I decided to shoot it over to one of the Kindle Fire tablets so as to avoid firing up the laptop. No dice: the PDF reader on both tablet and phone disables web links. So I Must use the laptop to print out coloring pages or see photos of the flying fish. Oh well. I am using the tablet for the teacher's guide while actually teaching, but it's not a perfect solution even when there are no links. I'm starting to think I should print them after all.
I'm also suffering from the "not doing my lesson planning in advance" dilemma. I'd scanned the whole week of lessons they were basing on only the first chapter of the book, and decided I was not interested in significant art projects nor recipes for smoothies. So I went ahead and read the second chapter of the book. Then re-scanned the teacher's guide and noticed that it was encouraging me to talk about Elements of Story (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, etc.) for the *previous* chapter. "Good Idea," I thought. But it was already 8:30 am. For once the kids cooperated by sleeping late and eating slow, and I was able to quickly put together some cards and worksheets on the subject, using mostly stuff right off the teacher's guide. Long story short, we had a reasonably cooperative and informative discussion of Story Elements, applied them to no fewer than 3 recently completed or current family reading projects, and even discussed how The Story has dictated through all of human history the sorts of stories (fictional or otherwise) that we enjoy reading, telling, and hearing. So I'm counting it a real success. But I need to be reading Ahead of time next week!
4) The Tuttle Twins - Libertarian "Civics"
I bought the Tuttle Twins series of elementary aged books thinking that I would mostly use them for James. They have some associated worksheets from the publisher, which - like many things I'm dealing with lately - have to be picked through because they run the gamut from Pre-K to late Middle School in terms of content. Anyway, I hadn't actually Read the silly things. I suspect if I had I would have decided against them: they are simply too young for James, and possibly for Grace. Lucy suffers from youngest-kid syndrome. She's exactly the right age for them, but because her siblings consider them a bit silly, so must she. That said, I'm going to use them anyway. Over-simplified or not, the concepts are worth reviewing formally. And even though they weren't assigned, both girls read the first book and Grace read the second. James didn't feel like there was much new to discuss about the first book, but I expect they'll get a little more interesting / chewy as they build on the basic foundation.
5) Bible Memory System
So far, so good. It's working. We'll see how it goes when there are 10 verses or 30 in their boxes instead of 3. But for now, it's a win.
My own question is how can I use this system to memorize Passages that we work on for several weeks. Because of the way the review works, it seems like those passages are going to get split and be practiced out of order, rather than all the way through. We may have to make exceptions or modifications if - as I am tempted - I assign something long like 1/2 of the 3rd chapter of Colossians.
This year is breaking new ground for me as I have committed myself to actively teaching far more subjects than in the past. For a good deal of last year I sporadically did Life of Fred chapters with the girls, sporadically worked on some Bible memory with everyone, and outside of that functioned more as a resource than a teacher. While we got through it and everyone learned quite a lot, it wasn't ideal. This is about 2x as organized as I've been in the past, and while I am happy about it, there's a cynical / anxious part of me waiting for a shoe to drop. Or perhaps I'm waiting to personally drop the ball. I was surprised to realize today that we were not done with school for everyone until about 2 pm. I really only have until noon reserved in my head. Now, we did Lit, Bible (read-aloud), and Science together, which is more than most days. But when you add the necessarily 1x1 math that lined up today, plus the 1x2 spelling, it took a long time.
Other things are getting dropped, and I don't mean my daily siesta. I mean housework, and meal planning / cooking.
So I hope and pray I can sustain this level of involvement, and that I can set things up to "fail gracefully" when, for whatever reason, balls start dropping. And that it will get easier such that I can pick up the non-academic balls.