Homeschool Discoveries

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

D is for Dolls (an Expert Day project and book list) April 8, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Themes — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:50 pm

In first and second grade, Miss M knew well in advance of “Expert Day” at co-op what she wanted her project to be about.  In the case of her second-grade project on horses, she knew almost a year in advance that this would be her topic of choice.  This year, Miss M had a little bit harder time deciding.  After listening to numerous suggestions from me, she decided she wanted to do her project on the history of dolls.

She says she picked this topic because she is always interested in learning about the kinds of toys in general, and the kinds of dolls in particular, that children played with in different times in history that we have studied.Dolls Expert Day 2013

Like the topic of horses, the history of dolls is a pretty broad topic.  Unlike the study of horses (or even the study of the history of horses, which was the focus of Miss M’s expert day presentation), there weren’t a lot of books available at the library to help us learn about the topic.

We really only found two children’s books that fit the bill in our large library system:

Dolls by Kristine Hooks — a shorter book discussing the history and collecting of dolls

Dolls: An Inside Look from Raggedy Ann to Barbie by Vivian Werner — an older, somewhat longer book covering the history of all kinds of dolls in some depth.  This book was written in 1991, so it doesn’t discuss newer doll “trends” very much, such as the American Girl dolls.

After Miss M read and took a few notes on these two books, we began discussing how she might like to narrow her project down in a way that she could convey the information in a three minute presentation.

Last year we broadened Miss M’s expert day topic by completing a lapbook and reading many library books — but with the difficulty of finding books or pre-prepared products dealing with this topic, it didn’t make a lot of sense to devote a lot of extra time beyond what Miss M would be able to convey in her presentation and display board.

I offered a number of suggestions of how she could focus her three minutes of presentation time — a very broad overview of doll history highlights, a focus on a particular genre of doll (aka rag dolls, baby dolls, etc), unusual dolls, homemade dolls, or highlighting a few popular dolls over the years.

After giving it some thought, Miss M decided she wanted to pick a few “famous dolls” from more recent history and talk about this history of each individual type of  doll.   She chose American Girl dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbie and Raggedy Ann.

From this point on out, we decided the internet would be her best source of information.  I helped Miss M look at Wikipedia and a few official or reputable-looking collector sites for each doll to learn a few interesting and important facts about their history.  We also put together a timeline of dates for each doll — since with under a minute to talk about each doll, there were many historical highlights that Miss M would not have time to include in her talk.

We did not add in any literature to correlate with this project — but mostly because we have already read a number of wonderful books with characters who are dolls!  Books with “dolls that come to life” in some way are one of Miss M’s favorite types of books.

Last year as read-alouds we read (linked to my reviews):

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

and The Friendship Doll

Miss M has previously read on her own:

The Doll Shop Downstairs and The Cats in the Doll Shop

The Very Little Princess: Rose’s Story

The Doll People and its sequels

The Story of Holly and Ivy

And of course she loves Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy Stories and has listened to the audio books of both many times.

I think there may be other books we have read together or that Miss M has read on her own, but those are the ones that come to mind at the moment.  🙂

I’m linking up with Blogging Through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!

Blogging Through the Alphabet


Collage Friday: Simple Machines, Math Success, and a trip to the Zoo April 5, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:51 pm

Things finally seemed more spring-like this week here in Minnesota!  After a nice Easter weekend as a family, Tony left for a trip for most of the week — then he took after afternoon off on Friday after returning home so we could take a whole-family field trip to the MN Zoo!

Here are a few highlights from our week:


1.-2. Simple Machines:  We started a unit on Simple Machines for science.   There are a couple lessons from BFSU Vol. 2 on this topic I meant to look at…but meanwhile, the kids have been busy with library books on the topic and creating their own simple machines (like inclined planes, levers, and pulleys).

3.  Also science-related:  Miss M has taken a real interest in backyard birds, especially robins.  Here the kids are watching a video I found for them about baby robins.  They loved the cute baby birds that seemed always hungry with mouths open wide.  🙂

Not pictured is anything about our new history unit — we started studying the Civil War this week!

4.  Mr E is mostly ready for his turn at “Expert Day” next Thursday at co-op.  He selected, printed, cut and glued pictures on his board.  We also worked together on his 3 minute presentation, and he practiced it for Grandma and for friends.

5.  In Spelling/Phonics this week, Mr. E completed 5 lessons of Logic of English foundations.  He’s up to lesson 90 already!  He liked a list of words early in the week that he turned into two silly sentences: “Mothers have apple seeds.  Birds have buckets.”  (I think mother, apple, seed, bird and bucket were the five words on the list).  Meanwhile Miss M finished lesson 31 of LOE Essentials.

6-7.  Math can sometimes be a struggle for Miss M.  We experience more frustration with math than with any other subject.   We made a few small tweaks this week that I felt really made a big difference for her:  We tried to do math most days earlier in the school day than we have in the past, we put classical music on in the background, a few days I photocopied a section of the teacher’s manual (with answers then blacked out on her copy) for her to “read along” with me, and I was able to identify the fact that one thing that was frustrating her on Thursday was a lack of space for long multiplication problems, so on Friday I taped up a large sheet of paper to do the work on!  I think we “officially” did 3 or 4 lessons of RightStart D this week.  But I am super pleased that Miss M went at the beginning of the week having no idea how to do two digit by two digit multiplication, and by Friday told me it was “easy peasy lemon squeezy”  (a favorite expression of hers).

Mr. E worked on Roman Numerals this week in RightStart C, as well as playing a few games!  Games played this week by Miss M and/or Mr. E included Rows and Columns, Corners, Speed, and a four-digit subtraction game (that I have already forgotten the name of) that proved to be way more fun than I thought it would be!

8.  Most weeks lately we’ve headed to the Gymnastics studio for open gym, but this week we went to an open gym/indoor play area on Monday afternoon (we needed to be out of the house for a bit while some work was being done).  J was thrilled that he could play here too (he’s not old enough to play at the gymnastics open gym.  We also took a trip to Trader Joe’s afterwards as we were quite close by.  We bought some treats and fun food items.  “Cookie Butter” might be one of the tastiest foods ever invented!

9.  Most of our snow has finally melted! Grandma Karen came for a few hours on Thursday, and the kids enjoyed doing sidewalk chalk with Grandma.

Minnesota Zoo Outing:

We enjoyed our trip to the Zoo this afternoon, though the temperature started dropping quickly after we arrived, and by the time we were walking from the “farm” area back to the main buildings, it was snowing!  We weren’t really prepared for the sudden change in the weather, but had fun anyway.


Just for fun…here are some of my favorite pics of  Mr. J, our 17 month old from this week.  Toddlers are such a riot!


I’m linking up with Collage Friday, The Weekly Wrap-Up, and Homeschool Review!

Homegrown Learners

Thoughts on Formal Grammar Instruction

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 12:07 am

In my recent post about our experiences with The Sentence Family, Ashely asked in the comments if I would share more thoughts about my decision to delay grammar instruction. I thought about just writing a comment in reply, but as I gathered my thoughts I realized that they would be more post-like in length.  So here it goes… 🙂

I didn’t necessarily start out my homeschooling journey intending to wait until later elementary school to start grammar instruction.  As I read books about various homeschool philosophies, there was a time when the Classical model of education sounded a bit appealing.  One thing the classical philosophy of education recommends is extensive memorization in the elementary years, including memorization of grammar knowledge starting at an early age.

The closer I got to starting “real” homeschooling (not that teaching a 2 year old the alphabet isn’t “homeschooling” in some sense…but, I think you know what I mean!), the more I realized that many aspects of the classical model didn’t really fit me, and I wasn’t sure they were going to be a good fit for my oldest child either.  The truth is, I hate verbatim memorization.  I have memorized a sad few number of Bible verses in my lifetime.   Miss M showed no particular strength at being able to memorize things, and, in fact, seemed to struggle with even very basic memorization.

Now, I know that Classical education isn’t all about the memorization, but some of the most popular Classically-influenced curricula for grammar instruction are basically about rote memorization of grammar information, possibly before a child is really old enough to need it or apply it.  I looked at a popular curriculum called First Language Lessons, and I thought it would drive me crazy repeating some of this grammar information over and over again in order to get a first grader who could barely read to memorize the definition of a noun.

I had to take a step back and ask myself, “What is the point of grammar instruction anyway? Can a student be successful without it?”  My own grammar instruction was pretty minimal.  By sixth grade I remember being bored out of my mind that we were learning again that year about nouns and verbs and subjects and predicates.  I don’t recall any formal grammar instruction after sixth grade, though I am sure we must have studied a few punctuation rules here and there in junior high.

Somehow, I made it through learning to write various forms of essays and research papers in high school, easily got A’s on nearly every paper I wrote in college, and got a degree in English with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Professional Communication.  And I did all of this without so much as a single higher-level grammar course, and without being able to diagram a sentence or really explain what a dangling modifier might be.

How I learned to be a good writer (at least, good enough for A’s in college), is still a bit of a mystery to me.  I think a good deal of it must be attributable to a natural skill or inclination toward writing.   So, I think it is very possible to be successful with a minimum of formal grammar instruction.  I have a desire now, myself, to study formal grammar — but mostly for the sheer joy of better understanding the English language (and to be a better editor — my co-editor corrects my punctuation way too often!).

Now, back to my journey in homeschooling.  Few people teach grammar in Kindergarten anyway, and at the beginning of her first grade year Miss M was still struggling to get beyond three and four letter words in reading.  Sometime during the late fall of her first grade year, her reading skill exploded without further intervention from me.   Her spelling skills did not take off, so we focused on spelling.

Meanwhile, we were not doing very much writing either.  Miss M started out her school years being pretty writing-phobic.  At first it was a fatigue issue — she couldn’t write more than a few words without getting very tired.  Later, I think it was more of an issue related to her difficulties with spelling (though I am not sure she could have articulated that).  Since Miss M wasn’t doing a lot of writing, grammar seemed relatively…irrelevant.  Yet, when Miss M would orally dictate to me something she wanted written down, her sentences were naturally full and complete, and typically quite grammatical.  So, even without formal instruction she was clearly picking up on something!

By second grade, I was still spending a great deal of time on spelling with Miss M.  We tried out a couple more spelling programs to see if we could find one that would “click.”   Writing was still frustrating — she would write something, and not only could I not understand what she wrote due to the spelling mistakes, she herself couldn’t even decipher it later.

By the spring of Miss M’s second grade year (about a year ago), I discovered Logic of English and we got on the road to better spelling in a way that really works for Miss M.  Spelling is still a bit of a struggle, but it is so much better now that she is finally this year willing to do some writing.   Now, Logic of English Essentials does have grammar instruction, but in order to spend more time on spelling we have simply skipped the grammar portions.  We’ll be going back through LOE-E next year with more advanced words, and we will probably cover some of the grammar at that time.

With smoother sailing in the spelling arena, I finally felt like a bit of grammar instruction might be welcome.  Curricula that teach in the form of a story are always a hit with my kids, hence my decision to try out first the Sentence Family, and now a classic public-domain book called Grammarland.

A final piece of that decision to wait until sometime “later”  for grammar was the advice my good friend and co-editor gave me.  She is a seasoned homeschooling veteran who has now graduated all her children (and several have gone on to writing or other language-related careers.)  D. V. recommends Winston Grammar and advises, “Instead of teaching them the same things every year from an A Beka workbook, which they will promptly forget, let them slowly go through these two work books, and that’s about all they need to know.”

This advice seems so wise to me! A common complaint about grammar programs is how repetitive the are!  Why not just avoid the repetition in the first place and teach this information at an age when the student is truly ready to remember it.

She also mentions that standardized testing is often not done until 2nd or 3rd grade anyway (it’s age 7 by Oct 1st here in MN, so some test as early as 1st grade) — and even those first standardized tests only expect a knowledge of the most very basic grammar terms like noun, adjective and verb and a few common-sense things about writing (like using a period at the end of a sentence).

The Winston Grammar website itself offers this advice on when to begin instruction: “Most grammar concepts are abstract with the exception of nouns (things a child can hold in their hand), action verbs (things children do) and adjectives (descriptive words such as colors or numbers). State of being verbs, helping verbs, nouns that are concepts (such as a May 1, or love, happiness, etc), many adverbs, all the ways nouns and pronouns are used (direct and indirect objects, predicate nominatives, etc) are all quite abstract. Until a child has developed their abstract thinking skills, which usually occurs about 5th-6th grade or 10-12 years of age, trying to teach and have him/her retain abstract concepts is very difficult. My advice is to not worry much about grammar until 5th grade. If you feel a great need to do grammar, then just start with the very basic concrete nouns, action verbs, and adjectives.”

So what will I do with Miss M? Next year, when she is in 4th grade, we will try Winston Grammar along with some of the LOE-E grammar instruction.  But if it is a struggle, we will wait again.  I think most of what is truly key to know about grammar could be learned in a very short time when a child is at the right age and stage of maturity. Meanwhile, I will be looking for my own reference or text to help me become a better editor.  Commas, clauses and dangling modifiers watch out! I may finally learn some editing based on technical details rather than intuition!


Book Discoveries this Week: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler April 4, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:03 pm

This year for our bedtime reading, Miss M and I have mostly read books to correlate with our American History studies.    Before beginning a serious read-aloud about the Civil War, however, Miss M and I decided to pick something more on the “light and fun” side of things.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is a book I am mrs_basil_frankweilernearly certain I read in elementary school, though before we started reading I couldn’t really remember much about it other than it had something to do with kids running away to an art museum.

Claudia and Jamie are two kids from the suburbs who decide to run away together.  Claudia is the instigator in this effort, and she wants not just to run away to some random place — she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art as her destination.  Claudia is dissatisfied with all the typical things — life is boring, parents are unfair, allowance is too small, brothers (except for Jamie, apparently) are too annoying.   She and Jamie leave for school one day with instrument cases packed with clothes, and head for the city instead of the school building.

The two kids manage to hide well enough in the museum to not get caught each night, and find a large old bed to sleep in.   They become intrigued by the mystery of a statue that the museum purchased at a bargain price, and may have sculpted by Michelangelo.  Claudia and Jamie hope they can solve the mystery of the statue — a quest that takes over any other reason they may have run away.

Miss M and I had a good time with this book — it was hard to put down each night at bedtime (always the sign of a good book!).  I’m sure Miss M could relate to many of Claudia’s complaints about life (especially the part about the brothers!).  I think there is something appealing at any age to hiding somewhere exciting like a museum and getting away with it!  Miss M and I had a great discussion about how a story like this might have been somewhat realistic in the 1960s when this book was published (It won the Newberry in 1968), it could probably not happen now — art museums have much more sophisticated security systems these days!

This is a bit of a “finding yourself” sort of a story as well.  Claudia wrestles with why she really wanted to run away — what her purpose was in it and what she wanted to accomplish.  I found Claudia to be very relate-able as a character — when she is a bad mood or frustrated she “needs an argument.” I may or may not resemble that characteristic.  😉 I’m sure I must have really enjoyed it as a child as well.

From the Mixed Up Files… would be another great choice for a mid to upper elementary student to read alone, but it made a very enjoyable read-aloud to share together too.

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


Curriculum Discoveries: The Sentence Family

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 12:11 am

It’s been my plan for a while to delay formal grammar instruction until at least 4th grade.  A friend I really respect in this aspect of homeschooling gave me advice that tended in this direction, and given that a big priority for me with Miss M has been to work on her spelling, I was eager to follow this advice.

With spelling going quite well, I decided that it might be time to add in a little bit of “fun” grammar as a preparation for more serious grammar studies next year. I had read some good reviews of  The Sentence Family, so I decided to give it a try.  It’s available as an inexpensive download at, and this was the format I purchased it in.

The Sentence Family takes the parts of speech, as well as four main types of sentences, and sentence family notebook page 1turns them into characters that are all part of the same family. Each member of the family has a short story about him/her, and these comprise the chapters or lessons of the text.  Each lesson also has suggestions or directions for drawing a picture of the character, and sample pictures are provided.  The chapters are quite short and take only a few minutes to read, though there is also the additional time for drawing to consider.  The drawing is really a pretty key part of his program, as the drawings help the student remember key details about how each part of speech or type of sentence operates.

Since no student workbook or notebooking pages are provided for drawing each character, I created my own simple notebooking pages to go along with The Sentence Family.   I bound a little notebook together for each of the three older kids using my proclick filled with one page for each Sentence Family character.

sentence family color codingAfter the four sentence types and several of the parts of speech are introduced, there is a brief lesson on diagramming sentences. We skipped this portion, as I didn’t want to take our study to that depth.    Example sentences are provided in several places in The Sentence Family, and we did use these sentence to do some “color coding.”  Each part of speech is assigned a favorite color, and Miss M coded the sentences using these colors.

I originally assumed that only Miss M (3rd grade, age 8.5) would participate in The Sentence Family.  Much to my surprise, Mr. E (Age 6, Kindergarten) and even Mr. K (age 4, Pre-K) wanted to listen in and draw pictures for each character as well!  While I am not sure the boys will remember the parts of speech very clearly, early exposure to grammar concepts certainly won’t hurt anything!

We read Sentence Family two or three times per week, and possibly even missed a few weeks here and there all together.  It’s a fairly short book (only 14 chapters if you don’t count the section on diagramming), and we completed it in less than three months.  All the kids were sad to see it come to an end!

sentence family notebook page 2sentence family drawing


C is for Chronological April 1, 2013

Filed under: History — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:00 pm

I decided pretty early on in my research about homeschooling that a chronological study of history was sensible and appealing.  After all, history has a clear path to it — it begins at creation and moves steadily toward the present day.  Why not study it that way?

Like most of us, I didn’t study history chronologically when I was in school.  In fact, other than a brief study of state history in sixth grade, I don’t remember studying history very much at all in school until I had US History from the Civil War to the present in 8th grade.  After 8th grade we moved to a different school district, and I took a year of Ancient History in 10th grade, and another year of US History from the Civil War to the present in 11th grade.  Lucky me to get the same thing twice! I guess if we wouldn’t have moved, I might have gotten the first part of American History sometime after having gotten the second part.

Despite my lack of history study at school, I grew up in a family that loved and appreciated history, and we watched many historical movies and documentaries at home.  My mom passed on to me her love for European history (especially the history of England), so in college I selected the History of Western Medieval Europe and The History of England as humanities electives.

While I did enjoy all this exposure to history, it was very disjointed.  I knew a lot about a few time periods, while knowing next to nothing about other important time periods (like the Revolutionary War or other early American history).

With Miss M, after dabbling in a bit of light US History and World Geography in her Kindergarten year, we embarked on what I planned to be a 4 year history cycle when she was in 1st grade.  We covered world history from creation to about 1600 using Mystery of History, then switched to US History, which I plan to cover over two years.  Then we’ll go back to Ancient History.

All of that is a backdrop to a recent conversation I had with Miss M:

Me:  Mrs. B___ told me that this book [a book about the underground railroad] was her daughter M___’s favorite about that topic.

Miss M:  Oh, is the B____ family studying American History this year too?

Me: No, they study history a little bit differently than we do.  They study different picture books, and use those to inspire their studies of different topics in history and geography.  I prefer a chronological study of history, so that’s what I planned for our family.

Miss M:  Oh, so what does chronological mean again?

Me: It means studying history in time order, from the beginning until now

Miss M:  That makes sense.  Like we started this year at the beginning of American history, and we are moving closer and closer to now.

Me: Right, but we started a couple years ago, way back at the beginning of time.  Do you remember that?

Miss M: Oh, you mean those books we used to read?

Me:  Yes, Mystery of History

Miss M: Yeah, those seemed kind of like a bunch of random stories.  You mean they were chronological too?

Me: (wanting to smack my forehead).  Yes, they were definitely chronological.  I guess we should have kept up on our timeline.  Maybe then it would have been a bit more obvious that it was chronological!


Do I regret using Mystery of History (volume 1 through the first half of volume 3) in first and second grade? No, but I now can look back on it and see that we could have done “something else” and her overall memory and understanding of history from Creation to 1600 might not be all that different.  She definitely enjoyed it most of the time while we were reading MOH those two years, and she always looked forward to our history time together.

Will I continue with a chronological study of history? Yes, if nothing else because it does make sense and seem easier to me as far as planning goes.  We may even repeat Mystery of History again, since Miss M will get a lot more out of it as a 5th-6th grader (and Mr. E will be a 2nd-3rd grader when we wrap back around to ancient history!).   But maybe we’ll also take more time for tangents or “out of timeline” topical studies.  After all, there is so much history to learn that a person can easily spend a lifetime learning about it!

I’m linking up with Blogging through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!

Blogging Through the Alphabet