Looking Back: Our 2017-2018 Homeschool Year

Our subjects for the past year included: biographies, art, Bible, composers, copywork, foreign language, free reading, geography, handicrafts, history, literature, math, music, natural history, nature study, picture study, poetry, reading, recitation and timeline. We used Ambleside Online as our curriculum, and you can head on over there to read all about Year 1!

Here’s how things went with all those subjects this past year . . .

American/Canadian History Biography: we read a number of delightful biographies this past year. We read D’Aulaire’s Buffalo Bill and Columbus as free reads, and then I scheduled in Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence for our third term. I’ve only just recently figured out what I’m doing, big picture-wise, with Canadian history, and I added this book in before I sorted that out – and it was a flop. Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence is a lengthy picture book with lovely language, quotations from Cartier’s own journals, and compelling illustrations – but half of it sailed over James’s head. I’d recommend it for Year 3 or Year 4 students instead.

Art: We tried some art instruction this past year, but it was crushing to my little perfectionist student, so we left it alone. He enjoys free-hand work (treasure maps, drawing pictures for his aunts’/uncles’/cousins’ birthday cards) but has a really difficult time drawing things he sees or finds in nature.

Bible: we read a Bible story 4-5 times a week. We used the Dore Bible Illustrations book as a guide, and covered many, many OT stories. We also regularly read the Bible after supper as part of our family devotions. This year, we read through Revelation, Maccabees and the gospel of Mark.

Composer: our favourite composer study this year was Handel’s Messiah. We listened to it over Advent using Genie Shaw’s Awaiting the Messiah e-book – I heartily recommend this resource! We listened to our daily selection, and then the kids would ask for their favourite pieces. June loved “For He is Like a Refiner’s Fire” (so passionate!), and James loved “All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray” and “Glory to God.” A few months late, I still caught them singing little snippets. We also listened to some selections by Dvorak in Terms 2 and 3. Maybe I’ll have to get back into listening to classical music at dinner time, because without a set time I find it’s something that easily gets skipped.

Copywork: For copywork, I chose poems or selections of beautiful and/or interesting passages from James’s school readings, and he copied one line a day. While this was never his favourite part of the day, I did see progress in neatness and accuracy over the school year. Hurrah!

Foreign language: we studied French this year. To be honest, I don’t like the sound of the French language and was not very enthusiastic about learning it, and looking back I’m afraid that showed. We started out using the French with Miss Mason book, and did not get far. The audio tracks did not work well for us, and my pronunciation is too poor to repeat the series without guidance. We also tried The ULAT (online video series), but the verb conjugations totally confused James. So we settled for listening to and learning some French songs. We’ll be switching to Dutch next year and I’m very, very excited! My parents are Dutch and I grew up hearing them speak the language to one another, so at least I know how it’s supposed to sound. There aren’t a lot of resources out there, but James will at least be able to practice by chatting with his grandparents via FaceTime!

Free Reading: reading together remains one of our favourite things to do! I really appreciate the AO selection of free reads; we loved each and every one of the books from their list! Over the course of the school year we read:

Peter Pan by JM Barrie
King of the Golden River by John Ruskin
The Red Fairy Book by Arthur Lang
The Grey Fairy Book by Arthur Lang
St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pocahontas by the D’Aulaires
Redwall, Mossflower, and Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques
My Book House #6
Buffalo Bill, Columbus, and Pocahontas by the D’Aulaires
And lately we’ve begun reading Greek Myths by the D’Aulaires which is very entertaining. And of course we’ve read many, many picture books as well.

Geography: we read Paddle to the Sea and mapped Paddle’s journey through the Great Lakes. I found James’s narrations of the events in Paddle mediocre, but he seemed to really enjoy thinking about Paddle’s journey as a whole, and the Great Lakes are like familiar faces on maps now. đŸ™‚

Handicrafts: James knit two toques in the first term, and he made a potholder on our potholder loom during our second term. And since Leo was born, we’ve focused more on household chores, like unpacking the dishwasher, emptying the recycling bin, and vacuuming.

History (early history from 55BC – 1066AD): one of my favourite parts of homeschooling this past year was reading the wonderfully descriptive and moving stories of saints in Britain from Our Island Saints. What a beautiful book, and what beautiful, holy men and women! We also read about world history from Our Island Story (chapters 1-21), Fifty Famous Stories Retold (nearly all the stories) and Viking Tales (first half). James narrated these stories well.

Literature: we read many Aesop’s Fables, four plays from Shakespeare (Lamb’s children’s version), several stories from the Blue Fairy Book, and most of Kipling’s Just So Stories. James LOVED Just So Stories! He howled while I read them and gave very dramatic retellings afterwards, and often asked if I could read the stories again. We also read two stories from Parables of Nature, which he also really enjoyed. Excellent narrations.

Math: we got half way through Right Start Level B before switching to Math-U-See. Switching was a good choice for us! Math-U-See really emphasizes place value and it’s been great to see James understand that concept better. On the recommendation of someone on the AO forum, I also purchased an Extreme Dot to Dot book; these books have puzzles with 600-1200 dots. James loves these and will chant the numbers aloud as he connects the dots: “One hundred ninety-eight, one hundred ninety-nine, TWO HUNDRED! Mom, I’m at two hundred already!” These puzzles have helped him develop a stronger number sense, improve his understanding of place value, and have helped him recognize some of the number reversals he was making.

Music Appreciation: we learned a new folksong every month. I really didn’t like how using YouTube videos for our folksongs became a crutch; we didn’t really sing the songs unless we were singing along to the music. We’ll have to figure out a better way to sing the songs independently next year. We also learned several new psalms and hymns. I started a routine where we sing one psalm and one hymn before we eat breakfast, and that worked really well; we rarely missed a day!

Natural History: we read James Herriot’s Treasury, as well as many stories from the Burgess Bird Book. James will sometimes perch on the couch and watch birds from the living room window and narrate their activities to me. He was very ticked off to find robins eating cherries from our cherry tree; “Robins. That’s why they have their name! They’re ROBBing us of our cherries!”

Nature Study: our structured nature study was quite often pushed to the side this past year because I didn’t have a vehicle, and because of all the snow, and because of the newest member of our family being born; but, on the upside, the kids loved seeing what was going on in our new backyard this past spring. They’d dash inside saying, “Mom, the rose bush is blooming! Come see!” or “The first little cherry is on the tree!” James drew some pictures of birds this year that corresponded with our Burgess Bird Book readings. He also drew a few things he found/saw in nature. Mostly he got really, really frustrated with his drawings not matching his expectations.

Picture Study: we studied the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens, Winslow Homer and the gorgeous paintings and sculptures of Michelangelo. We also read Michelangelo by Diane Stanley. I loved picture study this past year! One of my favourite school activities!

Poetry: we read a poem daily. We read RL Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, Now We Are Six by AA Milne; and many poems from Favourite Poems Old and New edited by Helen Ferris.

Reading Practice: For the first half of the year we used the McGuffey Eclectic Readers (lovely books from the late 1800s that begin with simple stories and increase in complexity) for James’s reading practice. They’re a bit preachy at times, but they’re also wholesome and fairly interesting. This past term James started reading various books from our shelves aloud to me, like The Boxcar Children, Billy and Blaze, and The Adventures of Tim. And just recently he’s become interested in reading for pleasure and I’ll sometimes find him on his bed, perusing a book from his bookshelf. (As an avid reader, I’ve been waiting for this moment!) Books he’s enjoyed so far include easy readers like Owl at Home and Sam the Minuteman, and some more complex books like The Book of Indians by Holling and Trolls by the D’Aulaires.

Recitation: James learned a good number of poems off by heart this year – mostly ones I wasn’t trying to teach him. He especially loves the poetry in Farjeon’s Kings and Queens and Heroes and Heroines, and can be heard waltzing around saying, “Henry was a wild lad, fond of fun and fooling / When he was the Prince of Wales he made a hash of schooling” and then adding little asides about how he is also wild and fond of fun and fooling. Ha! I’m looking forward to reading those poems next year as we dive into British history after the Norman invasion. James also learned several parables by heart and was able to recite them clearly.

Timeline: we made every-other-weekly entries in James’s timeline binder. He did not enjoy the extra copywork, and I did not enjoy the timeline being tucked away in his binder; I’d prefer it to be out in the open where we can see it regularly. Still trying to decide where to put it . . .

Overall, it was a pretty great year! I’m really looking forward to what Year 2 has to offer!


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