Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

Collage “Friday” (on Sunday): First Two Weeks of Summer Fun June 10, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:29 pm

It’s summer break around here, and that brings a total change in rhythm.  It’s hard to even remember to find time to blog on the usual days.  🙂  Here are a few highlights of our “summer fun” so far:

Our weekends have been jam-packed with camping, BBQs with friends, a weekend-long car project for Tony, swimming at the pool (we bought a pass for the summer, thanks to a great deal on Living Social!), and a morning of garage sale bargain hunting.

Our evenings were much busier than usual too, thanks to seven nights of swimming lessons over the past two weeks for Miss M and Mr. E.  They both passed their levels and showed much improvement.

Luckily our days have been pretty slow-paced so far.  Other than the fact that a two-day camping trip really takes more like 4 or 5 days of our life due to shopping, packing, unpacking, laundry, and so on…we’ve had lots of time to enjoy slow paced summer days at home.  We brainstormed what we want to put on our “bucket list” for the summer.  We’ve had plenty of time spent reading. The kids have enjoyed extra time for art, legos, and creative play.  We’ve played with friends that it is harder to find time to connect with during the year.  We are raising and observing caterpillars for the third or fourth summer in a row.

Next week, our days get busier as we participate in a a few special days of service to our community called “Mission to the City” along with others in our church.

Hope you are enjoying your summer so far too!

Linking up with….

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: The Friendship Doll and The Cricket in Times Square June 7, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:13 pm

Today Miss M and I did something we haven’t done in a long time – we actually had extensive read-aloud time during the day instead of just at bedtime! With the slower pace of summer (and the boys otherwise occupied playing), we hung out on the couch and read.  Then we moved our reading outside to a blanket under a tree while baby J enjoyed playing with his toys on the blanket with us.  When Mr. K was a baby (and Miss M was not yet reading chapter books on her own), Miss M and I would spend what seemed like hours reading almost every afternoon.  Maybe I should get a “patience” award for the fact that I read her dozens of the “Rainbow Magic” fairy books that she just loved during that year.  😉

Luckily Miss M’s taste for read-alouds has improved drastically in the past two or three years.  Today we were finishing up The Cricket in Times Square” by George Selden.  This was a relatively straight-forward read that Miss M could have accomplished on her own, but since I had never read it, I decided to select it as a read aloud.  The chapters are short and had our schedule been typical over the past two weeks, I think we would have finished it quickly.  But our life has been consumed by busy weekends and evening swimming lessons the past two weeks, very much disrupting our usual bedtime schedules.

In The Cricket in Times Square, Chester Cricket accidentally makes his way from Connecticut to New York City trapped in a picnic basket.  He finds himself in the Times Square subway station, and becomes the pet of a young boy named Mario, and a friend of a mouse and a cat.  Chester turns out to be no ordinary cricket — he has musical talent and uses it to bring joy to those around him.   This was a pretty straightforward story of friendship and finding out what truly makes one happy.

Miss M asked if this book was one of a series, and I replied that no, I didn’t think it was.  However a quick search on Amazon just informed me otherwise! Selden wrote a few other books about Chester and his friends! I think I’ll be reserving those for Miss M at our library.

Prior to finishing The Cricket in Times Square, we read The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson.  I was just too busy packing for a camping trip to write about it last week.  🙂 Another book in the “dolls that have a life of their own” sub-genre, this story features Miss Kanagawa,  a rather large handmade doll from Japan that is sent to America with a whole group of Japanese dolls to serve as ambassadors of goodwill in the late 1920s.  The Friendship Doll alternates from a 3rd person narrator’s point of view, telling the story of four different girls who come in contact with Miss Kanagawa over the years, and a first person point of view of Miss Kanagawa relating her experiences.  Miss Kanagawa doesn’t quite have the charm or grand historical scope of Hitty (a favorite of ours from this sub-genre this year), but it has a lot of depth.

Bunny, the first girl in the story to cross paths with Miss Kanagawa is a bit of a spoiled brat who learns a lesson about friendship and stepping into the shoes of others in the late 1920s.  The following three girls are in a bit more desperate situations.  These three girls all live during the Great Depression.  Themes of economic hardship, poverty, discrimination, sickness and death are all touched upon as Miss Kanagawa influences the lives of three girls in three very different situations.  For a while in the middle of The Friendship Doll, I was beginning to think that the subjects were getting too heavy for me to really enjoy this book.  I must admit that at this stage of life I am really preferring books that are a bit more “light and happy” in general.  But I pushed on through my doubts and was finding myself moved by Miss Kanagawa and the lives she touches.

Miss M didn’t seem bothered by the heavy themes in this book, though I am glad we didn’t read it any sooner in the school year than we did.  She was excited to hear about each of the girls in the story, though she wished that more of the story had been told from the doll’s vantage point (the sections written in the doll’s “voice” are really a pretty minor percentage of the book as a whole).

Finishing The Cricket in Times Square marked the completion of our 25th read-aloud for this school year!  We’ll be taking a bit of a different turn with our read-alouds this summer by working on a series together.  (I was going to make that change after Friendship Doll since we completed that at about the same time as our actual school year, but I just couldn’t resist making it 25!).  This summer Miss M and I are going to start the “Rose” series of Little House books that follows the life of the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  We’ll read those until we finish the series, the fall arrives or we get bored of it I guess…whichever comes first!

I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


Initial Impressions of “The Logic of English Essentials” Curriculum

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:15 am
Tags: ,

At our state homeschooling convention this past April, I made a big investment: I purchased the Logic of English Essentials curriculum and some of its supporting products.  We didn’t have very many weeks to use it before we hit our six week summer break but, it made a big impression on Miss M. When asked about her favorite thing that happened during 2nd grade, she said “finding a new spelling curriculum!”  I was pretty shocked to hear her say this. After all, we did a lot of great stuff this year!  I have to agree though that stumbling across Logic of English is something I’m pretty happy about from this year too.

Our Past Spelling Experiences

Before I get into my impressions of the Essentials curriculum, here’s a little background on what led me to the decision to buy it.  Our first experience with a spelling curriculum came along for the ride with the phonics package I wanted to use with Miss M.  After a few missteps and a bit of experimentation, we hit upon a method of reading/phonics instruction that worked well for Miss M.  We used the curriculum Alphabet Island, which teaches phonics by turning the alphabet into some clever characters.   It then uses a variety of songs and stories to teach various phonics rules and concepts.  This was my first exposure to any type of phonics or spelling rule beyond “i before e except after c” and a few simple statements of that ilk.  I had no idea that there was any sort of pattern, for instance to when “c” or “g” said their hard or soft sounds.

Alphabet Island level 1 got Miss M through reading and spelling three-letter cvc words in Kindergarten.  Then level 2A helped Miss M in first grade to improve her phonics skills to a bit more complex level and start reading and spelling a few varieties of words four letters and longer.  A couple months into first grade, Miss M’s reading ability suddenly took off.  I don’t know exactly how this worked out, but in a matter of weeks she went from solidly sounding out a variety of four letter words, to reading easier chapter books with ease.   We didn’t really need Alphabet Island for learning phonics any longer, but it quickly became clear that Miss M could not spell many, many of the word she could read.

We pressed on through Level 2A of Alphabet Island and started level 2B.  Miss M did weekly spelling lists and filled out workbook pages.  I loved the clever way it presented various spelling rules.  But it wasn’t sticking.  Words that Miss M knew one week were gone the next.  Words correct on a spelling test would be incorrect everywhere else. She didn’t know when to apply which rule.

One thing Alphabet Island does not emphasize is the teaching of all the sounds each phonogram makes.  After a bit of reading and research, I thought a program that teaches phonograms might help Miss M to make improvements.  Being the generally budget-conscious person that I am, I decided to try out “How to Teach Spelling” (HTTS) and it’s companion workbooks. It’s one of several curricula based on the Orton-Gillingham approach to spelling and phonics.

We tried out HTTS for the first few months of this past year (Miss M’s 2nd grade year).  I really can’t fault this curriculum much at all in terms of its underlying principles.   How to Teach Spelling has many of the same underlying principles as Logic of English!  However, it is not particularly user friendly.  I could ask Miss M to fill out workbook pages, but then I had to skip around to various portions of a teacher manual and use some guesswork to figure out exactly which portions I was supposed to use when to somehow teach the rest of a lesson.  The authors recommend teaching all the phonograms and their sounds, but I was on my own to make flash cards or find other ways to accomplish this task.  So, in other words, we really didn’t practice the phonograms much at all.  I didn’t have the time or energy to figure all that out on my own.

After Christmas I pretty much abandoned How to Teach Spelling in favor of just trying to teach Miss M the words she herself was misspelling.  She completed exercises in a writing workbook, and then I would correct her spelling and make lists of oft-misspelled words.  She practiced these words on scratch paper or on the iPad.  But still her spelling was not improving.  She was still spelling the same words wrong over and over again and misapplying the rules she did know.

Enter “The Logic of English”!

Earlier this year, I read Denise Eide’s book, Uncovering The Logic of English.  You can read my thoughts on it in this post, but needless to say it made a big impression on me.   The more I learned about teaching reading and spelling by teaching the phonograms and a few simple spelling rules, the more I wanted to really do a good job of teaching spelling in this way.

And based on my experiences with How to Teach Spelling, I knew I needed a curriculum that would “hold my hand” and tell me what to do each day to make it happen.  Life is just busy around here and while I can fly by the seat of my pants or do my own planning for some subjects, spelling just isn’t one of them.

Using Logic of English Essentials

I started using the Logic of English Essentials as soon as I brought it home from the convention.  After reviewing the teacher manual, I decided we would try and work through the curriculum at the curriculum at the pace of 1 lesson per week with Miss M (finishing 2nd grade, and moving into 3rd grade next year), while simultaneously teaching Mr. E (age 5, just starting Kindergarten) the phonograms.  The Logic of English Essentials teacher’s manual offers a variety of suggested schedules — from an intense remedial schedule that could be completed in a couple of months to a multi-year schedule for younger learners.

I’ve already been teaching Mr. E to read using Phonics Pathways as well as a variety of phonics-based easy readers.  That method is working well for him, so we’ll continue that while incorporating information from Logic of English.  We discuss spelling in informal ways currently, and my gut feeling is that spelling will come more easily to him than it has to Miss M.  I’ll start moving through the spelling lessons with Mr. E once he is reading a bit better and is more comfortable writing in something other than just all upper case printing.  That may be right away this fall, or it may be later — I’m not quite sure yet.

The format of the lessons in the Logic of English Essentials teacher’s manual makes it easy for the parent to pick up the manual and use it without a lot of prior preparation.  Each lesson tells you what to say if you need exact prompts, tells you what materials to use and which activities or workbook pages to complete.  The lesson is divided into several parts, making it easy to spread the lesson out over a week or more and still know what to do each day. The only prior preparation that may be necessary is sorting through the phonogram flash cards (and game cards if you are going to use any) to find the new sounds you want to add to your “deck.”  The first week I didn’t do this ahead of time, and I had some frustrated students on my hands while I looked through a big stack of cards and decided what we needed.

Each lesson generally seems to follow the same basic format, so even after just three lessons (aka three weeks of use), Miss M seemed very comfortable with the process and knew just what to expect.  Each lesson has several “optional” exercises as well as the main exercises if students need more practice in certain areas.  Grammar and Vocabulary development activities are included, but you can omit those if you prefer or spend less time on them.  With the grammar in particular, we will be just lightly covering this material as I have plans for more in-depth grammar study once Miss M reaches 4th grade.

I bought the optional, but very useful, Phonogram and Spelling Game Book as well.  Not every lesson incorporates games, but if you have a younger learner or a learner who finds games to be a very useful method of study having the game book will be very useful in finding additional ways to practice.  The book features card games, paper games (like bingo), games that could be played with a chalk/dry erase board and active games for learning while playing something like hopscotch.  I like the fact that the games can easily be tailored to multiple ability levels.  I expect Miss M to know all the sounds a phonogram makes, I allow Mr. E some leeway to remember “most” of the sounds (as a five-year-old it is taking him a bit longer to remember all the sounds for some of the phonograms that have three or four sounds!) and I can even include Mr. K at times as he is beginning to learn the names of letters and perhaps one sound that each letter makes.

Q and A about Logic of English Essentials

I’ve been gushing to friends about our new spelling curriculum, and they have asked some good questions.  I’m guessing that other people may be wondering about some of the same things:

Is it worth the money?

This is a big question on many people’s minds! Logic of English is more expensive than some “basic” spelling programs.   The teacher’s manual and one workbook without any extras runs $120.  However most of those “basic” spelling programs either require more teacher prep/decision making (as I discovered with How to Teach Spelling) OR they are not phonogram/rule based.  If you have a student who needs direct instruction in spelling (aka they aren’t just a really natural speller) and you want the benefits of a rule/phonogram based spelling program and you want the prep-work done for you, then clearly this is worth your money.

If you have a student who seems to excel with weekly spelling lists or just remembers easily how to spell words, then this whole program might not be worth the money.  However, I believe that everyone could benefit from the basic principles outlined in “Uncovering the Logic of English”, so you could just consider purchasing Denise Eide’s book and teaching your student some of those rules and principles to give them the “why” behind the words they already know how to spell.

Also, keep in mind you are getting big, high quality books for your $120.  The teacher’s manual is a large, sturdy, hardcover book. It should hold up well over use for multiple students and I would guess retain its resale value well because it won’t be falling apart.  The student workbook is definitely consumable, but again, you are getting a big book for your $25.    You might be able to just use a notebook instead or have students write their work on a dry-erase board, but I have seen much smaller/thinner workbooks sold for a similar price!

Purchases of the supporting materials for this curriculum do add up a bit as well (phonogram cards, rule cards, game cards, etc).  Other than the Game book, many of the other “extras” could be made yourself if you have time on your hands.  If time is on your side, go for it.  But if you are limited on time as I am with four kids, then it seems very worth while to just have all the phonogram cards and so on ready to go!

How much time do you need to spend each day on spelling? Can the student work independently?

The amount of time spent will depend on the schedule selected.  If you want to go with the fast-paced remedial learner schedule, Eide recommends as much as an hour or two per day.  For the schedule we are following, 30 to 60 minutes per day is recommended.   I find that we are spending about 30 minutes per day, unless we are playing a game that takes longer to complete.  A portion of the lesson (mainly workbook practice) can be done independently but the parent will be spending a majority of the lesson time with the student.  Time spent with younger students will vary depending on their patience and readiness.   Mr. E’s patience so far for practicing phonograms or playing games is rarely longer than 15 minutes or so.  That’s fine, since I don’t expect a five year old to move through the material very quickly.

Have you found any similar programs? Who would or wouldn’t like Logic of English?

The program I most often see Logic of English compared to is All About Spelling.  Both programs have a lot of the same underpinnings, but teach the material differently.  All About Spelling is divided into more levels that are individually less than the cost of this program, but purchases of those levels will quickly add up as well.  I have not used All About Spelling so I can’t really fairly compare the two.  If you are looking for a rules/phonogram based spelling program, however, that is probably the other program you would want to check out.  As you read about both, you can find out which program’s approach and teachings methods appeal more to you and your students.

If you are looking for a program with a limited amount of writing, then Logic of English Essentials might not be the program for you, though you could conceivably do many of the exercises in modified ways if you have a student that struggles with writing.

If you don’t like having lots of pieces and parts to keep track of, then you might find the “games” aspect of this program annoying — but the program should work without the games, so don’t let that alone keep you from checking out this program.

It’s also not a program that can be completed independently, as I mentioned earlier.  You need to make sure that you as the parent have the time to spend teaching your student.

How well do you think this would work as a stand-alone curriculum to teach a younger student (Preschool or Kindergarten) how to read and spell?

Logic of English essentials does have a schedule for younger students to complete the program over the course of two years.  I think using the program with younger students is not quite as “open and go” as it is for a bit older students who already know how to read and have the maturity to sit and complete 30 minutes of spelling work.  First, you would need to make sure your younger student can recognize, know the sounds of, and probably also write the letters A to Z in lower case. Students also need a basic level of phonemic awareness (activities are included, but not extensively scheduled out). You would then have to decide how to break up the parts of each lesson into smaller chunks and when to add additional games.

Since Logic of English is primarily a spelling curriculum, you would at minimum need to add plenty of phonics-based readers for practicing blending words together.  LOE Essentials moves in one lesson from mostly three letter words to four and five letter words.  Based on my limited experience, most beginning readers need lots of practice at the CVC or  “three letter word” blending phase, and additional practice for consonant blends, and so on. While the building blocks (the phonograms and rules) are presented, you would be “on your own” to practice these concepts.

I have a suspicion that most parents would be happier using some other curriculum prior to or along side of Logic of English Essentials for teaching a younger student to read.  I would suggest checking out Phonics Pathways or The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, as these programs will provide more step-by-step reading practice.

Have any other questions? I will try and answer them in the comments, or check out the Logic of English website, including their forums!


P.S. (Added May 12, 2013):  We’ve now been using Logic of English Essentials for over a year! Read my one-year-later update here.


O is for Organizing June 6, 2012

Filed under: Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:07 am

We’re currently on a six week summer break from most of our formal academic work.  And wow, it has been hard to get in the mindset to think about anything homeschool-related at all, whether it be for this blog or for planning and getting organized for next year!   But I also know that now (when we are on break, and really all summer long until we get back to a “full” school schedule) is the time to get all my ducks in a row for a great start to the next school year!

The past few summers I’ve had to spend major time organizing our school room/supplies.  This year, we are still fresh from a big re-do of our school room back in January:

I only wish it still looked that clean! (The only down side I’ve found so far to the Trofast drawer set up is that big, flat open space…it’s a clutter magnet!).    The main thing I need to do is clear out this past year’s stuff and possibly make some labels so everyone knows whose stuff is where! Our art and game cabinets need a bit of “touch up” organizing — but they are still pretty fresh from our big January clean-out as well.

I do have two other areas that need my organizing attention this summer: Our non-fiction kids books and my electronic files.  I tried to get some of our non-fiction books organized into Ikea magazine holders last summer.  But I never got the magazine holders labeled, and the result was those books didn’t get used very much.  I need to move out of the way some history books we probably won’t use this year to make more space, and find a better system (or maybe just labels on the old system) for the rest of the non-fiction books.

My electronic files need the most organization of all.   You know all those great free PDF-format printables and Ebooks?  Or those $1 sale files from the Scholastic teachers express store? Or the great deals that currclick offers? I must have dozens of those files, spread out between two computers, my iPad and even still sitting on Currclick and Scholastic’s servers, having never been downloaded.  A few files are nicely in a big folder labled “homeschooling” and some are just in the general “downloads” folder along with every other random thing we’ve downloaded in the last couple years.   I’m not making good use of the files I have, and I have nearly re-purchased a file for a second time that I had already paid for once (because it looked just as good the second time!).

So one of my challenges to myself this summer is to take care of this organizational disaster.  I think I need to condense everything to one place, possibly with file folders labeled by subject area and maybe even a master list of files I have purchased.   And now that I’ve told the world I’m going to do it, I’ll need to follow through and actually do it! 😉

To see what other bloggers are writing about for the letter O, visit “Blogging through the Alphabet” at Ben and Me!