Homeschool Discoveries

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

Logic of English Foundations: A Great Start in Reading and Spelling April 26, 2015

Filed under: Curriculum,Spelling — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:55 pm

We’ve been using Logic of English products in our homeschool for about three years now! I’ve written mostly about my experiences using Logic of English Essentials, a program that’s generally best for Ages 7 and up.  Today I’m excited to share about my experiences using Logic of English Foundations with Mr. K, who is currently 6. DSC_0694

I’m actually using the Foundations material for the second time.  I purchased a beta-test version of the Foundations curriculum when Mr. E was in Kindergarten.  I didn’t get in on the first round of beta testers in the fall of Mr. E’s Kindergarten year, and purchased it about half-way through that year.  The Foundations lessons weren’t in their final form yet, everything was in PDF (so workbook pages had to be printed out), and I had already been teaching him reading using standard phonics and some Logic of English methods for almost an entire year before we even began Foundations — so I didn’t feel my experience was “typical” enough to really write about it.

Mr. K is my first child that I have taught to read entirely using Logic of English materials (not counting adding in additional easy-reader/phonics books)!  I began Logic of English Foundations A very slowly when Mr. K was about 4.5, and we continued through his whole PreK year.  Since I felt pretty comfortable with teaching the initial 26 phonograms, we used the program pretty loosely, and mostly when he felt like working on it.  By the end of the last school year, he was reading most any CVC word, and knew all the sounds of those first 26 phonograms.

I waited until this fall to teach him lower case letter formation — he really just wasn’t interested last year as a pre-K’er.  He had taught himself how to make upper case letters, and was content with that.  So, after an initial couple weeks spent on letter formation, we started Logic of English Foundations B near the beginning of this past fall when Mr. K was 5.5 and a Kindergartener.

Mr. K absolutely loves “doing dragon” as he calls Logic of English Foundations (the workbook covers have cute dragon illustrations).  He loves that the lessons have a lot of variety, including games and movement activities.  This year we’ve shot at phonograms with a nerf gun, drove toy trains around a track to “follow the directions,” crawled through the tunnel of a “silent e machine,” as well as plenty of hopping, skipping, slapping and tossing baskets as we practice words and phonograms. Mr. K also loves the satisfaction of writing words and reading interesting books that are included at the back of the workbook.

LoE Foundations 2014-2015

There are a lot of things I love about Foundations — the teacher manual is well laid-out and easy to understand, it’s easy to keep the attention of even a distractable kid, and the prep-work for me is minimal. Lessons typically include a short phonogram and/or spelling rule lesson, sometimes a phonemic awareness activity, phonogram practice (usually a game or active activity), a couple of interesting workbook pages (they might be matching, reading, rhyming, or writing) and five spelling words to write down.  After each five regular lessons, there’s a review lesson.

For us, an average pace of about three lessons per week has been just about perfect.  We finished level B in January and moved right on to level C, which we should finish up right as we end the school year at the end of May.  Early on we may have done closer to four lessons per week, and it has been a bit more of a challenge to complete three lessons per week in the second half of level C as the lessons get a bit longer.

It’s hard to think of very much I don’t like about Foundations! Perhaps the one thing I’ve noticed is those pacing differences as we progress in C.  I feel like the last handful of phonograms are being presented a bit more quickly and there is more material to cover.   I know Mr. K needs more time to learn all these new phonograms — and with so many new phonograms he as started to confuse some “old” ones he had previously mastered! So, I’m not really expecting mastery of all the more obscure phonograms.  While I have followed the teacher manual for Foundations a lot more closely than I follow the teacher manuals for a lot of programs, if there is one thing we’ve slacked on a bit, it is probably phonogram games —  certain games take longer than others (card games in particular), or introduce extra distractions as our three-year-old thinks he should play too (it’s tough to tell the toddler that he can’t have a turn to shoot the phonograms, so we usually just let him have a turn too).  We’ll play extra phonogram games all summer and review them next year as well in Level D, which should hopefully make up for this shortcoming.

Mr. K is a pretty good reader for a six-year-old Kindergartener.  While we haven’t done a lot of reading outside of Foundations lessons lately, I am excited for a break from new lessons in the summer just to read! With having had at least exposure to all the basic phonograms by the end of the school year, he’ll be ready to dive into plenty of real books.

Overall, I highly recommend Logic of English Foundations if you have a 4-6 year old who is ready to learn letters and letter sounds.  With the variety of activities, it should be adaptable to the needs of children with many personalities and learning styles.  If you are hoping for a quick “sit for ten minutes a day and get it done” sort of program with no other activities or extras, you might not enjoy Foundations as much.   But if you want to tackle teaching reading and spelling in a fun, multisensory approach, then Foundations is definitely a curriculum you should consider.


Our Continuing Experiences with Logic of English — Part 1 (The 2013-2014 school year) February 25, 2015

Filed under: Curriculum,Spelling — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:37 pm

IMG_20130927_141540When logging back into my blog after my long blogging hiatus, one thing I noticed is that my various posts about Logic of English are still getting frequent visits.   We’re still using and benefiting from Logic of English, and I feel like I have learned as an instructor how I can better use the Logic of English techniques and curricula with my students.

To read a little bit about our past journey with Logic of English, you can check out these posts:

I’ll pick up in this post where I left off in the last post, which I wrote at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.  That year, I had finished up using Essentials with Miss M (a third grader at the time), and had completed most of the beta-test lessons of Logic of English Foundations (we primarily used what became levels B and C) with Mr. E (a Kindergartener at the time).

As I had planned, I used the Advanced Lists for Essentials with Miss M (4th grader at the time), and started working through Essentials with the basic lists for Mr. E (a 1st grader at the time).

One of the first things that went out the door was the idea of keeping both kids together on the same “week” of the curriculum with different lists.  Mr. E wasn’t ready for a full Essentials lesson each week.  Had Foundations D been available that year when Mr. E was a 1st grader, it would have been a perfect fit).  He had a basic knowledge of the phonograms, but needed more practice at using them.  He needed more reading practice with early readers and easy chapter books to gain fluency.  But, alas, Foundations D wasn’t published until this school year due to various delays.    As it was, I tried my best to make reviewing phonograms and learning the spelling rules fun for Mr. E while we worked through Essentials, and we varied in pace through the year, doing half lessons some weeks and full lessons other weeks.  By the end of the school year, we had completed about 25 lessons.   He made lots of reading progress through the year as he practiced reading daily, and was spelling more than adequately for a first grader!

Miss M had a mixed experience last year with the Advanced Lists for essentials.  The advanced lists for Essentials weren’t necessarily designed as a “second year” of Essentials, though they certainly can be used that way.  The LoE website describes them as an “alternate” to the basic lists provided in Essentials.   Not having any other ideas of what to do with Miss M for spelling and knowing she needed continued instruction and practice, we gave the “Advanced Lists” a go.

Without a doubt, Miss M’s spelling continued to improve as she practiced analyzing and then learning a list of 25 words each week.  However, some words on the advanced list were almost too easy or were repeats from the previous year, while other words were quite challenging.  “Ice” was too easy, while “Cacophony” was not only a spelling and vocabulary challenge, it was a word that my 4th grader was unlikely to need to read, much less spell, any time soon.

I wish I would have realized before the end of the year that 25 words is too long of a list for Miss M in particular.  We’ve used much shorter lists for spelling this year (more about that in an upcoming post), and she is much better at mastering new words, however difficult, when she is less overwhelmed by a long list.

Meanwhile, Mr. K (who turned 5 in February of 2014), started showing a growing interest in learning to read.  Since, as a beta tester, I already had in hand the Foundations materials, I began working through Foundations A with him in January of 2014.   He turned out to be a natural at many of the phonemic awareness activities! With very little practice or prompting, he was able to blend, segment and identify beginning, ending and middle sounds.  Most of the spring of last school year for Mr. K was spent with me loosely going through Foundations A to teach him the sounds of the first 26 phonograms, then helping him with reading the I See Sam beginning readers.   He wasn’t very interested in learning to write, so I decided to save that for Fall 2014, his Kindergarten year.

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, I was definitely pleased with everyone’s progress.  But I also knew I needed to take things a little bit of a different direction for Miss M and Mr. E, while at the same time really diving into Foundations B with Mr. K.   More on that in my next post!


History Plans for 2013-2014: US History “Year 2” August 1, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:25 am

This past year we studied the “first half” of United States History using my own literature-and-library-book based plans.  We started at the beginning with Native Americans, and I originally thought we would only study up until 1850, or just before the Civil War.

As the year went on, I saw that I had over-estimated how long some of the units were going HTTA-TTto take, and we also were able to get a nice early start on our history studies last year (starting in July).   After we completed my original plans through 1850, we did a unit on Slavery and the Underground Railroad and a unit on the Civil War (I never managed to write blog posts about those units though…maybe I should still go back and do that!).

We’re going to finish our US History studies this year, starting with the post Civil War Reconstruction era, and making our way up to the present, or at least somewhat recent events.  I realized the other day that events I remember (like the political changes in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and the terrorist attacks of 9/11) are history for my kids!

I’m still making my own book-based plans for read-aloud literature, read-alone lit for Miss M, and a “book basket” of picture book and short non-fiction selections for Miss M to read alone or me to read to the boys.

I’m also adding in at least one “History Through the Ages: Time Travelers” study for Miss M.  I’ve already purchased the Industrial Revolution through the Great Depression title.   There’s one more on WWII, then if all is going well, we also might use the 20th Century Lap-Pak.  That title has only the lapbook component, and not the short readings and other projects that come along with the Time Travelers…but it would give us some written component to take us to the present day.

I’m excited to have the short reading sections form a bit of a spine for Miss M, since I don’t have another spine text in mind.  I’m also hoping that since the lapbook pieces and other projects are assigned lesson-by-lesson, it will help us stay on track with having some written aspect to our history studies (something we failed to do last year).

I’m still refining my reading lists (and I may not get them all done before the school year starts), but here is my overall plan for the year…subject to change, of course, if some time periods take more or less time to cover than I am expecting!



Unit: # Weeks Lessons from HTTA Time Travelers Approximate Dates
1865 – 1899 7 Lessons 1-10, except 6 Sept 3 – Oct 18
1900 – 1914 5 Lessons 6 & 11 through 16 Oct 21 – Nov 22
World War I 3 17-18 Dec 2 – Dec 20
1920s 2 19 – 20 Jan 6 – 17
1930s (Great Depression) 2 21-25 Jan 20 – 31
WWII/1940s 6 WWII study — all Feb 3 – Mar 21 (incl. a winter break)
1950s-1970s 4 20th Century Lap-Pak March 24 – April 18
1980s to Present 3 20th Century Lap-Pak April 21 – May 9



I’m hoping to find the time to post by book lists and unit wrap-ups throughout the year!

Linking up with…Curriculum Planning at Highhill Education and History/Geography Link-Up at All Things Beautiful!



A trip to the Oliver H. Kelley Historic Farm July 28, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:03 pm

This past week we spent a few hours at the Oliver H. Kelley farm near Elk River, Minnesota:



Oliver H. Kelley Farm

This Minnesota Historical Society site is a working 1860s farm.  Costumed farmers dress as they would have in that time period, and crops and livestock are raised as it was done in the 19th century.  This is a great “hands on” place for kids to visit.   Visitors are encouraged to jump in and pitch hay, pull weeds, work alongside the women cooking in the kitchen, and even help in the fields or feed the animals (when the farmers give the okay).

I had heard that this historic farm was a fun field trip from friends who had visited before (and it’s only about a 45 minute drive from our house!).   What I didn’t know until our visit was that Oliver H. Kelley was a person of historical significance.  Besides being the original owner of this farm, Mr. Kelley was the founder of a farming organization called the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, or “Grange” as it is commonly known.  The Grange is a fraternal organization for farmers that is still in existence today.  Grange causes over the years have included regulation of railroads and grain warehouses, rural free mail delivery, temperance, direct election of senators and women’s suffrage.

Linking up to Fantastic Foto Field Trips!

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S is for Science Plans July 23, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum,Science — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:29 am

We try to be a “science-y” family.  It’s a pretty important subject — especially to my husband, who makes his living as a scientist!  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while and saw my “curriculum preview” in last week’s wrap-up post, you might have noticed we’re taking a different direction with science this year.

For the past three and a half years, we’ve used BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding) as our primary science curriculum.   Volume one of this program gives kids an excellent foundation in all the disciplines of science.  I love how the author, Dr. Nebel, has a way of explaining concepts often not presented until late elementary school in a way that even 1st graders can understand.  It’s not a program that’s “easy” to use, but after several years of using Vol. 1, I can say I know it well and can present most of the lessons with ease.  I even used it as a basis for teaching a co-op class this past year.

By early last year, we had finished nearly all the Vol 1. lessons with Miss M, so I purchased an e-book of Vol 2.  I was much more intimidated!  While I was able to easily teach a few topics from it, like Simple Machines, a lot of the topics in Vol. 2 were things I didn’t learn about until high school or later, and I am not sure how solid my personal understanding is on some of them.  My last biology class was as a freshman in high school, over 20 years ago.  A number of lessons call for using a nice microscope, something we weren’t quite yet ready to purchase.   There are fewer “fun” activities and much more lecture/discussion.

We filled in our science plans pretty well last year with a combination of a few lessons from BFSU 2, Sassafras Science Vol 1 – Zoology, and interest-led studies on various topics.  I kept thinking, “we’ll be ready to do BFSU 2…soon.”

As I thought about next year, I had to face up to the fact BFSU 2 is not the curriculum for me.  I have no doubt that given enough time to study and prepare, I could learn the concepts well enough from the BFSU 2 manual to present them.  But I don’t think that’s how I need to be spending my time at this point.  I also decided I wanted something with text that is designed to be read directly to or by the student, so that the main content delivery doesn’t rely on library books or a lecture from me — something that BFSU doesn’t provide.

While I like the BFSU approach of studying topics from several science disciplines in the same year, most homeschool science curricula are not set up in this way.  I decided that this might be a good year to start a four year “rotation” for Miss M through the four main disciplines of science.   We are going to start with Earth and Space science this year, then we will do Chemistry, Physics and finally Biology (not quite sure yet if Chem or Physics will be first, but I am excited about saving Biology for last when Miss M is a 7th grader and quite ready for dissections!).

I’ve decided we’ll use Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space as our primary curriculum CKEESthis year for science.  While I am not always very impressed with the quality of “Christian” science curricula (sometimes they seem heavy on the Bible and Apologetics content and lighter on the science content), I thought this looked pretty good.  Since we believe in a young earth creation, I thought that especially for an Earth science text, I wanted to not spend the whole year saying, “This says ‘millions of years,’  but we know that God did it in a much shorter time frame.”    My kids have definitely been exposed to science materials with this perspective, but I don’t want our main text to be coming from that angle.

Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space is divided into six units, each with a few lessons.  We’ll be following those units/lessons, as well as adding in a few Earth/Space related topics I wanted to cover that aren’t in the text.  This text will (I think) primarily be for Miss M (4th grade), but the boys will tag along as interested, and I will find library books for them.

Unit One:  Creation/Earth’s Structure (2 – 3 weeks)

Unit Two: The Lithosphere (6-8 weeks)

Unit Three: The Hydrosphere (5 weeks)

Unit Four: The Atmosphere (5 weeks)

Unit Five: Earth’s Weather (6 weeks)

Unit Six: Beyond Earth (5-6 weeks)

That should take us most of the way to the end of our school year in mid-May.  It also does not include our summer vacation out west (including Yellowstone!) where we will see first-hand many interesting Earth-Science related sights.  🙂

Miss M has also requested more nature study this year, so I am planning to set her up with some resources that will help her do that somewhat independently this year.

I am not abandoning BFSU all together — I still plan to use it for teaching my c0-op science class.  I also want to incorporate content from BFSU each year for the boys — whether that is through informal discussions or doing a lesson or two here and there with them.  I want to make sure they are getting that same good foundation in scientific principles that Miss M received.



I’m linking up with Blogging through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me, and with the Lesson Planning link-up for Science at Highhill Education.


Blogging Through the AlphabetSpeed!


Collage Friday: 3 Weeks in Pictures + A Curriculum Preview for Next Year July 19, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum,Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:30 pm

Time flies when you’re having fun…and we’ve certainly been having a ton of fun in the past three weeks since I have found time for a wrap-up post.

We had a 4th of July weekend that including representing our church in a parade on the 4th, and a 3 day camping trip that also included some sight seeing to the Hermann Monument and the Wanda Gag house:


4th of July, 2013

Here are a few other highlights and fun shots from the past three weeks:


July 2013

  • We watched our caterpillars make their chrysalises (we actually saw the process for two out of the three!), and then released our three monarchs into the neighborhood
  • We’ve spent a lot of time at the pool — usually at least two afternoons per week
  • We viewed sand castles from a sand castle competition
  • We are enjoying summer treats like trips to DQ, and plenty of Popsicles and root beer floats at home
  • The boys made their own version of Monopoly called “Money Man.”
  • Not pictured:  Lots of playing with neighbor friends, Mr. E spending several days with Grandma, a couple lemonade stands, afternoons spent reading during Mr. J’s nap time, a neighborhood newspaper created by Miss M, watching Liberty’s Kids with our new full-series DVD set we received this week, and the end of the kids’ four week tennis class.


What we’ve been doing hardly any of is any formal school work.  By this time last summer, we had started back with a couple subjects.  That just doesn’t seem like it is in the cards this summer.   I’ve only just in the past week or two started really cleaning out the school room from our last school year, and working again on planning for the fall.  In the next six weeks we still have our “local mission trip” called “Mission to the City” for a half-week.  we also have  our church’s vacation Bible camp (which I am in charge of) and a two-week vacation.  Then it’s nearly Labor Day, and it’s really time to start school.


So this is a summer to really have a vacation from formal school work…and a long vacation at that.  I don’t know that I want to do that every year, but I am okay with this year maybe needing just a bit more math review in the fall.  🙂


2013-2014 Curriculum “Preview”:

It’s time for the annual Curriculum Edition link-up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.  Unlike most years at this time, I don’t have things finalized for all subjects yet.  Hey, I still have six weeks until our school year starts…OH MY I only have six weeks until our school year starts and we’ll be on vacation two of those weeks.  😉

Here’s what I am thinking right now.  I’ll be updating the “Our Curriculum” page as I get things more finalized.

Miss M (4th grade):

  • Right Start Math E + Life of Fred elementary books for enrichment (we’re currently in the middle of  “Cats” in that series)
  • Logic of English Essentials with Advanced Lists (our second year through Essentials) for spelling and grammar, along with Scholastic E-books for additional grammar and editing practice.
  • U.S. History “Year 2” (1865 to the Present), using my own literature-based plans, plus most likely Homeschool in the Woods Time Travelers/Lap-Paks for lapbooking and activities
  • Additional read-alouds and assigned independent reading (much of her lit this year will be history related, but not all)
  • An Earth and Space science-focused year using various resources (I just decided on this topic, so I’m still decided on resources. I’m leaning toward Christian Kids Explore Earth/Space as a main curricula) + Nature Study (at Miss M’s request that we include more of this.)
  • Write On! for writing, plus additional practice from scholastic E-books and other resources.
  • Possibly some cursive copywork
  • Undecided on Bible/Character study beyond just daily Bible reading
  • Possibly some introductory study of German
  • Co-op classes (art, gym, science), guitar lessons, and possibly homeschool gymnastics class or another physical fitness activity

Mr. E (1st grade):

  • Right Start Math C + Life of Fred elementary books for enrichment (we’re currently in the middle of  “Cats” in that series)
  • Logic of English Foundations for spelling and phonics (reviewing parts of B and C, starting D when it is available).  Possibly starting Essentials if we finish Foundations D or his reading and spelling ability move solidly beyond the point of level D.
  • Tagging along for US History and Earth/Space science as interested with Miss M (I’ll have library book selections especially for the boys).  We’ll also pursue other interest-led science and history topics if desired.
  • Read-aloud lit selections from a list I will create, plus independent reading at his level
  • Mr. E needs some major handwriting practice.  I’m not sure I want to use the instruction methods used in LoE foundations.  We might use A Reason for Handwriting Level A or other copywork material.
  • Undecided on Bible/Character study beyond daily Bible reading
  • Possibly some introductory study of German
  • Co-op classes (art, gym, science), and possibly homeschool gymnastics class or another physical fitness activity

Mr. K, age 4/Preschool:

  • Right Start Math A at a gentle pace + math games
  • Logic of English Foundations A, at very gentle pace (plus possibly other letter-of-the-week sorts of activities from resources I already have or are freely available).
  • Classic pictures books (plus, I hope to add in some fun and related activities)
  • Interest led explorations/listening in to science and history topics with his older siblings
  • Possibly some introductory study of German
  • Free printable preschool packs/worksheets for my seatwork-loving kid as desired

I’ll be fleshing that out and making more plans this summer for another great school year…but I am also super excited to enjoy our last few weeks of summer.



I’m linking up with Collage Friday and The Weekly Wrap-Up.

Homegrown Learners

L is for Learning a Language June 4, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:26 pm
Tags: ,

Homeschoolers get asked a lot of questions (Do you kids get enough socialization? Do your kids have to take standardized tests? Where does your curriculum come from? Do you have to teach what the schools teach?).  And a question that I’ve been asked several times is, “Will your kids learn a foreign language?”

My answer has been, “yes, someday.”  Honestly, just getting a solid start in English has been our priority so far.  We dabbled just a bit in learning Spanish with a co-op we participated in when Miss M was in Pre-K and Kindergarten.  I day dream about teaching Latin (but I can’t see my kids getting excited about).   I have generally been of the opinion that while learning a language in elementary school is nice, if you don’t have an immersion opportunity, you might be able to quickly get up to speed in middle school or high school when English skills are stronger.

But the kids have been bugging me a lot lately…about learning German.   Now, this isn’t as out of the blue as it seems.  We have close friends across the street who often speak German at home and their kids go to a German immersion school.  Other than smatterings of Spanish and Somali my kids hear spoken at the park or around the neighborhood (those being the two primary immigrant groups in our area), German is by far the non-English language they hear most often.

So, I think we may at least dabble in a bit of German and see if the kids’ interest persists.  At least they will have the opportunity to practice with German speakers!  Luckily, I actually did take German in grades 7-10.   While I don’t remember a lot, I have a bit of a clue of how things should be pronounced and I am guessing more will come back to me.


MindSnacks German App

Unfortunately, unlike Spanish and Latin, two languages often studied at school (or at home by homeschoolers), I haven’t found that there are quite as many options for beginning German for early elementary-age students.

I’ve requested a few books and videos from the library, we’re trying out a couple of apps and our German speaking friends have some books and videos we can borrow.   I’m still hoping a curriculum or at least something we can use in a more organized fashion will turn up.  But until then, we’ll dabble (and maybe start saving up for Rosetta Stone software for the future!).

Let me know if you have any suggestions for learning German…especially if you have any suggestions appropriate for younger kids who aren’t yet strong readers in English.

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


Logic of English Essentials: A One-Year-Later Review May 12, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum,Spelling — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:45 pm

I mention our use of Logic of English Essentials pretty regularly in my week-in-review posts, but it has been many months since I’ve written a comprehensive post with our thoughts about the program.  It’s now been a little over a year since we started the program and Miss M (age almost 9, third grade) has completed 36 of the 40 lessons of the program.  We took a break for a part of the summer, spent two weeks on a few lessons, and of course had a few other vacation weeks during the year — which explains why in about 55 weeks we have not finished a 40-lesson program.  🙂


As a bit of background, here are a few other posts I’ve written about Logic of English:

A review of the book “Uncovering the Logic of English”

My initial review of Logic of English Essentials (also includes background of our previous spelling curricula attempts).

My last long “update” post from late last summer

A post about how I organized my LoE flashcards and game cards


I’ll just cut to the chase and talk about results first, then go back to some nitty gritty details of how we’ve used the program and our plans for the future.

Just to give you an idea of where Miss M was coming from shortly before starting LoE, here’s a few sentences she wrote last winter (Jan – March of 2012, 2nd grade):

On a worksheet about the five senses asking, “What did you smell,” Miss M wrote: “I donde no waet I smeld.”

A few more example sentences (they seem random, because they are from a writing curriculum we tried last winter and are in response to various prompts or pictures):

“I licke free time becus I can do waet evr I want.”

“The chilin are sackbordin.”

“I had cholitk melk. It was fomy.”

“My famly went on are vry frst bike ride this yaer.”

So, you can see why I was very eager to find a spelling curriculum that would work for us.  Not only was Miss M making a lot of errors (though possibly not more than some other 2nd graders), her errors didn’t necessarily make sense…they weren’t always even phonetically regular errors!  There were times when she would write something out, and later herself couldn’t even read what she wrote because of the types of spelling errors she was making. She told me she hated writing because it was so hard to figure out how to spell everything.


So what does Miss M’s writing look like now?


I don’t have a ton of examples handy of Miss M’s recent writing.  I made conscious decision to focus on spelling this year, and not ask very much in terms of a formal writing program.  Miss M has, however, recently taken up writing notes back and forth with a neighbor friend. She typically has me check these notes for spelling errors.  Here’s a recent note with spelling errors intact:

“Dear L______

I got your letter.   It was wet and hard to read.  Why was it outsid in the rain?  What kind of feald trip did you go on today?”

So, two errors.  Miss M found the “outside” error quickly when I asked her to look at that word again.  I then praised her choice of a phonogram for the /long e/ sound of “field,”  in that it was a choice that made sense — then I let her know what phonogram she should have used instead.

Miss M is only eight (she turns 9 in a few days!).  I don’t expect perfect spelling from her. But I am super pleased that when she does make mistakes it is often a letter carelessly left out or written out of order (that she can find quickly upon review), a wrong-but-logical phonogram choice, or a word she really can’t figure out (but almost always knows she has spelled the word wrong, and marks it that way before she hands it over to me for editing).

As she is writing notes on an almost daily basis these days (and doesn’t have to think so hard about how to spell each and every word), she’s applying her knowledge of spelling to the words she uses frequently, and is more consistently remembering which phonograms to use and how to apply the rules she has learned this year.

One of my favorite comments from her recently came when I was reviewing a note in which she had spelled the word “flower” correctly, and I had praised her for this spelling.  Her comment  was, “Mom, I used a lot of logic to figure that one out.”   🙂  I think she may have had “flower” on a spelling list at some point, but hadn’t used that word much since then.  Now she has the tools and “logic” to figure out a word like that even if she didn’t have the spelling automatically memorized.

Now on to a few “nitty gritty details”, for those readers looking for that sort of thing!


How we used Logic of English Essentials:


First, I want to say that I am terrible at using curricula as written.  I don’t think I use a single product exactly the way it is supposed to be used.  I am always tweaking, modifying, changing and experimenting. So these adaptations we have made are no knock on the curriculum.  I end up “changing” even the things I really like.  🙂

Each and every week we used the “lesson” on new phonograms, spelling rules, exploring sounds, and so on.  We often played phonogram games and occasionally played spelling games.   I dictated a spelling list to Miss M on each non-review week.  We did some spelling journal assignments.

For us, I found the grammar was too much for our priorities this year.  I started out doing aLoE Spelling Journal few of the basic grammar lessons at the beginning of the program.  But things started getting a bit more complex, and I didn’t find Miss M was retaining the information without spending a lot of time on it.  Given that Miss M was only 8 for most of the the school year (we started using the program when she was seven), I know she has plenty of time to learn more grammar.   We used an alternative, fun program to learn the parts of speech (Sentence Family — read my review here), and shelved the grammar portion of Logic of English Essentials.

We also were somewhat sporadic about the writing exercises and sentence or phrase dictation.  For much of the year Miss M found sentence dictation to be really stressful.  I think she might be ready for more of that next year.  As the program went on I noticed a lot of the written exercises were tied in to the grammar lessons, so I decided to find other ways for Miss M to practice writing her spelling words.


What did our week look like? Here is what our typical LoE spelling week looked like for most of the year:


Logic of English AppMonday: Together, I would introduce the lesson — new phonograms, spelling rules, and so on (basically, all the parts of the lesson before the spelling list.  After the Logic of English Phonogram App was released, Miss M would also be assigned independent phonogram practice with the app

Tuesday: Spelling list dictation.   Because Miss M didn’t like the thin paper in the workbook if she happened to need to erase, I started having her do her lists in her own spelling notebook (just a little blank notebook from Target).  After we developed that habit, Logic of English released an e-book version of the workbook.  For students that don’t like the thin paper of the printed workbook, printing just the pages you need from the ebook is a good option as well.

Wednesday: Independent spelling practice with Spelling City.  I copied each and every list into spelling city, so Miss M could practice with the games on the computer.  If we had time, sometimes we also did a game for phonograms and/or spelling words.   On weeks where a Spelling Journal assignment made sense, she would sometimes do those as well.

Thursday: Independent practice of spelling words out loud (Miss M finds it helpful to read the word and then spell it out loud a few times), and also either Spelling City practice or a phonogram or spelling game together.

Friday: End of week test/assessment using the Spelling City app on the iPad.  I am terrible about not giving hints with my facial expressions when giving spelling tests, so Miss M takes her test from an “unbiased tester”.  🙂


Plans for Next Year:


We’re almost done with our school year, and due to standardized testing and other plans during the next two weeks, we’re now on “summer break” from formal spelling instruction.  Of course, I’m sure Miss M will still be writing notes to her friends, giving her ample real-life practice with spelling.  🙂

Including the final review week, Miss M still has four lessons left to complete her initial run through the Essentials program.  At this point I plan to complete those lessons with her in the late summer.  Then when we start the 2013-2014 school year next September, we will go through the Alternate/Advanced lists available on the Logic of English blog for LoE Essentials.

I have not yet decided if we will use the grammar portion next year.  I have another grammar program in mind I had previously planned to use with my kids starting in 4th or 5th grade, but I don’t yet own that program so I need to do further research as to what I think will be best for Miss M.

If you read my earlier posts about Essentials, you may have noticed I originally planned to use the program with Mr. E, my Kindergartener, as well this past year.   I did try and use portions of Essentials with him all fall — but I had a hard time getting the pacing and activities right for him.  I ended up buying the Logic of English Foundations Beta in January to use with both Mr. E and Mr. K.   In retrospect I really wish I would have bought it when it was first available in August!  But it has been a wonderful nearly five months of using it (mainly with Mr. E so far).  I am nearly all the way through Foundations, and that will deserve a review post all its own.

But, since Mr. E has completed what is currently written of the Foundations program (levels A-D, though really mostly C and D since he came into that program with prior knowledge), I need to continue his reading and spelling instruction next year as well!

Unless something wonderful and new comes along between then and now, I plan to try again on Essentials with Mr. E in the fall when he is a first grader.  A lot will be review — but I think that’s okay, because he seems to be retaining his reading knowledge from Foundations better than he is retaining/applying his spelling knowledge at this point.

I have this idea of keeping Miss M and Mr. E on the same “week” of the program with different lists, so they could review the same phonograms, spelling rules, etc together and maybe, just maybe even do some grammar work together.  I have no idea if this will actually work out for us! (I guess you can follow my blog and check back next year to see how it goes.)  🙂


H is for Health May 6, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:20 pm

When I look back on my elementary school days, two of my least favorite classes or subjects were Health and Physical Education.   Health was just boring…and in Phy Ed, I was that kid who was the slowest runner or the one who wasn’t paying attention and got hit in the head with the basket ball.  Sports were definitely not my “thing.”

Among the requirements for homeschoolers in Minnesota is that we teach “Health and Physical Education.”   Oh fun!  We’ve really got  Phy Ed pretty well covered.  Our twice-a-month co-op has a Phy Ed class where the kids get to try out classic gym sports like kickball, dodge ball and floor hockey.  For the past couple years we’ve done a homeschool gymnastics class for at least part of the year, as well as going to “open gym” at the gymnastics club.   The kids do tennis and swimming in the summer.   We’ve tried out other sports at various times as well.   Not to mention family bike rides, runs around the block, jumping on the trampoline for a mid-day break, and tons of playing outside.

Last year (when Miss M was in 2nd grade), was our first year “officially” having to follow the homeschool law, since it was the first year that Miss M was 7 when school began.  So, I thought I might just buy a textbook to cover the subject of health.   As I read through the topics covered in the textbook, I realized  that so many of the topics in the book could be covered in the course of day-to-day life and/or incorporated into other subjects!

Here are the main topics this health textbook covered (aimed at 2nd-3rd grade), and how we incorporate these into informal discussions or into other subjects:

  • Basic anatomy/body structure — we cover this in science class
  • Personal body care and grooming — discussed in daily life
  • Caring for your teeth — discussed at twice a year dentist appointments
  • Basic nutrition — discussed often during meals and at snack time.  We talk about nutritious food choices, what food labels mean, and so forth
  • The importance of physical fitness — discussed in the course of life
  • Safety topics (fire safety, water safety, and so on) — some discussions during daily life.  We also covered fire safety in a special presentation from the Fire Department at our co-op.   Other safety topics come up as we participate in various activities.  When we are about to ride in a boat, we discuss boat safety and life jackets!
  • Illnesses/Germs — Discussed in daily life as we deal with regular illnesses or hear about others getting sick.
  • Medicines and drugs — Discussed in the course of life.  We talk about rules like alcoholic beverages being only for adults.  Only take a medicine a grown-up says is okay to take.  If we see someone smoking a cigarette, we may talk about how this is bad for their health.
  • Feelings — Comes up in daily life.   We talk about how to handle negative emotions regularly, and since we are at home…we can talk about how to take those feelings to God and turn to the Bible for wisdom.
  • Family issues — Comes up in daily life.  Homeschooling is full of opportunities to interact with and love family members!

Needless to say, we never read the textbook!  Anybody want to buy a cheap health textbook? 😉

Even though most “health class” topics are covered naturally in the course of daily life, I know I will have to be purposeful about some topics.  Sometime soon Miss M will be ready to learn more about the changes coming with puberty.  I’ll try and make sure we cover fire safety at home every year even if we don’t have an opportunity to hear a presentation somewhere from the fire department.  At some point we may want to do a first aid class or a more in-depth study on nutrition.    But overall, I’ve decided that the “health” requirement in the law is nothing to stress out over!  🙂  Homeschooling and the time we have together gives many opportunities to learn about this topic naturally.

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

Blogging Through the Alphabet


Character Curricula: Idea vs. Reality April 15, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:46 pm

I attend a monthly “homeschool moms support group”  with ladies from my church.  We have small prayer groups, have discussions or guest speakers on various topics, and usually someone shares a short devotion with the group.  This year, the 5-10 minute devotional for each month was supposed to be on a character trait we were learning about or working on with our children.

Here, (with a few edits) are some thoughts I shared with the group tonight:

Last fall, I signed up for this month’s devotional slot with the idea that we would, by now, have learned so much as a family about various character areas.  After all, I was armed for the year with resources to really make “character study” a priority. Although many moms selected a character quality to speak about when they signed up, I didn’t choose one ahead of time since I assumed I might like to pick the best from what we studied this year.

Now it’s time for a reality check.  I bought a Bible study on Proverbs months before our current school year started.  But after a couple weeks of use Miss M, my third grader, thought the “fun” word puzzles were stressful, and just couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of reading the same verse or short passage several days in a row.  She said, “That’s crazy, mom!”   So, the Proverbs Bible study was put on the shelf to save for another year. It’s a great product — just not the right thing for her right now.

I thought the “We Choose Virtues” cards were so cute when I saw them on various homeschooling blogs I read.  Each character quality or virtue has a “kid” that represents it, along with a verse and a catchy phrase.  But, always looking for the frugal option, I bought a small version of the cards (the flash cards) not realizing that this size of card didn’t have any instructions or ideas for teaching about the virtue like this bigger version did.  I just couldn’t really make very good use of the cards, so most of these small cards got lost in the mess of our school room.  Again, a great product (especially if I would have had the larger cards with teaching ideas), but the reality was different than the dream.

At a conference last year I bought a few resources from Doorpost books.  Just like the “We Choose Virtues” program and the proverbs Bible study, I think these are great resources too.  I bought a couple things we decided just weren’t quite the right fit for us, but I was really excited about this Bible study in particular about various qualities we can “put on” from Colossians 3.  But, when I actually tried to present this material to the kids, it was a bit of a flop.  I don’t think this is the book’s fault – probably more my lack of skill in the style of teaching it required, or the place I tried to fit it into the schedule.  But, whatever the case, despite how much I liked the material, it just didn’t get done.

So, when I realized a few weeks ago that this devotional talk was looming over my head, all I could think of were the negative character qualities I have seen my kids exhibiting.  I’m sure this never happens in your homes, but I just thought about all the ways my kids think of themselves instead of their siblings or of others.  All the times my kids yelled or hit or threw a toy at one another in anger instead of using words to work out their conflicts.  All the times my kids whined and complained or even screamed and threw a fit about schoolwork or chores.  And then there is my lack of character growth to consider.   I thought about all the times I got angry with my kids or lost patience with them as they did all of the above and more.  I thought about all the times I chose laziness or fear or complaining instead of hard work, trust and joy.  And I seriously considered backing out on sharing tonight.  I know that God does not view me or my kids through a lens of failure.  His grace abounds.  But what wisdom do I have to share?

Even though we failed to complete the character curricula that I purchased, I have been trying to make sure the kids read or listen to the Bible each day.  Miss M reads the Bible on her own, and most days the boys like to listen to the audio Bible app on the iPad.  But one day recently the internet was down so the app would play audio.  Instead we snuggled together on the couch and picked up where we left off in 1 John with chapter 4 (I’m going to read starting with verse 7, NLT):

7Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

9God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

13And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

18Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19We love each otherb because he loved us first.

And I realized, that when I look back at what overall “character quality”, if you want to call it that, that I’ve been dwelling on most with my kids is love.  Doesn’t it all come down to that anyway?  – “The greatest of these is love”  and “Love God and Love your neighbor”

As my kids fight with each other or refuse to do their chores or act selfishly, I’ve been trying to bring it back around to love.  Do your actions show love toward your brother? What would be the most loving thing to do in this situation?  How can you go out of your way to show love to someone else right now? Can you ask God to give you Spirit-filled help to love this person right now?

In considering questions like these, I’m hoping my kids and I can grow in love for one another that honors God and, as verse 12 said from 1 John 4, “brings His love to full expression in us.”

I know I can tend toward being a “box checker” spiritually, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of my kids had personalities that tend in that direction too.  There are a lot of good things about character curriculum products, but I could see how they could also lead us to feel like we had “checked off a box” of patience or honesty or diligence because we memorized a verse and catch phrase and completed an activity.

I’m not sure what we will do in future years to help our kids grow in character in terms of using a curriculum or Bible study, but at least for the moment, I’m feeling like we can’t go wrong with asking ourselves and our kids, “How can we show love in this situation?”, and praying for the kind of love that we can only have with God’s help.