Monday, March 28, 2011

Planning Your Own Curriculum

How I Plan My History Curriculum

I haven't found a history curriculum that really gives me everything I want in a curriculum.   I want a clear concise flow of history with a bit of depth, hands-on activities, engaging quality fiction, writing, and a clear way to show what we learned by the end.   Oh and I don't want all this to cost a ton of money.   Asking too much?   Most likely yes, since I haven't found what I'm looking for yet!

So, in years past I would buy a curriculum and tweak it to death!  Recently I decided to skip paying someone else to develop something I would simply redevelop.   I have been designing my own history curriculum since then and have come up with some simple steps that anyone could follow to design a course of study themselves.  

1)  Prioritize.    What is most important to you?    Do you want to emphasize culture, memorization, religion, a hands-on aspect, developing reading skills, geography, writing, vocabulary, reading comprehension, following a four year cycle,  American history, world history, or ___________?    The list could go on forever--every family has different needs and focuses.

           My priorities this year for history are: 
1)  Cover an overview of history through the Middle Ages and Renaissance
2)  Work on reading comprehension for my two youngest
 3) Improve my son's research skills
4) Understand the geography of the regions studied
5)  Supply activities for my crafty artsy daughters that could also be left out for my let's-get-it-done-now son
6)  Incorporate writing skills into our history studies
7) Use historical fiction to increase understanding of everyday life and to introduce discussion

 2)   Research the available resources

                  This is the fun part for me. I read my Rainbow Resource  ,   TimberdoodleWinterpromise, Beautiful Feet, Veritas Press, and Sonlight catalogs, as well as what ever other catalogs I can get my hands on.    I look at Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.   I look for books and products that will meet the priorities I've set for our study.   I read the product descriptions looking for age suggestions, number of pages, worldview, skills taught, and reviews of others who have used the products.   I look for products that will help me meet the goals I set when I prioritized in step 1.

Then I move on to The Well Trained Mind Forums.  These fabulous boards have thousands of homeschooling moms and dads willing to share their opinions on every topic under the sun!   While it is a good place to get info, it can also be a rather overwhelming place to visit.   That is why I only enter after I have already narrowed my choices to a few specific products.   It is easy to search for discussions on the products you are interested in.  Most likely, someone has used it and shared why it did or didn't worked for them.   If a discussion hasn't already happened, feel free to start a new one with your specific questions.

Spend time at the library perusing their history section.   Look for books that could work as a core and for books you might want to add to the core. 

At this point I usually have more products and ideas than I can possibly use.    Think about how often you will be working on history and how much time you and your children can reasonably spend on assignments.    I plan to work on history 3 hours per week.   On top of that time spent working together I expect my 8th-grade son to spend 3-4 more hours reading, researching, and writing, and my 6th-graders to spend about 2 hours working on projects in their history portfolios.  Pare down to what you can do in your time allotted to history.   

3)   Don't Be Tempted.

Okay, very important!  Don't go ahead and order the curriculum package you read about in one of the above wonderful catalogs unless it meets all your priorities!   I've been homeschooling for over 11 years, and each year I am tempted by all the fabulous curriculum that arrives in my mailbox via those catalogs.   I want to buy the Veritas Press history cards--even though I know they don't quite work for my family.   The Sonlight guarantee always tempts me!   But people!  this is why we are creating our own thing!   If after researching things you find something that looks great and reassures you your child will be a genius after using it, but it doesn't fit your goals, it will not work for you in the long run!  Spending money on it will be a waste of resources.   Okay, deep breathe!  Now that we got that out of our systems lets move on. 

4) Pick your Core Materials

It usually works best to choose one main book to be your core.   Your core is the book that will work as the backbone of your program.   You will follow its layout adding other components to it.   A core for history could be a history encyclopedia, a textbook, or a series of books.   I chose for our history core The Story of the Middle Ages , The Story of the Renaissance, and  these History Portfolios.  These are the texts that set the pace and path of our study.

5) Add to your core.

 Look at the table of contents of your core book.   Read through the book.   Decide where to add the other components of your program.

I try to pick six books for me to read aloud and six books for my kids to read themselves.   Looking at the table of contents,  I plug these books into the chapters they will add to the most .

I want to add reading comprehension to our history  for my daughters who need extra work in this area so I added  these workbooks.   And over the years I've figured out that trying to make every source match up with every other source will only drive you crazy!   So, I don't try to match the topics in the workbooks up with exactly what we are studying in our core book.   I've found that having topics slightly off schedule can be an advantage as it builds review into the curriculum.

My goal for my son to work on research and writing skills is met through the library.   I plan for him to pick a topic to research and then in our weekly visit to the library I help him look up and find books on the topic.   I've learned through experience not to plan these topics out.    Every scholar on the earth may think the art of a certain period is important, but my child may feel the bathroom habits are more interesting!    I go with the flow, since my real goal is improving his research and writing skills.

I also take topics from our cores to practice outlining and summary skills.   The cores I've chosen also have discussion questions and activity suggestions at the end of the chapters.    I skim over these to pick any activities my girls might like to complete and add to their portfolios.   Planning these ahead of time allows me to have the supplies needed at hand.

The history portfolios have a teacher's guide which I find invaluable for helping with writing topics and interesting activities as well as providing the mapping activities that fulfill priority number four.  

I've found that it is always nice to throw in something different through-out the year to keep things interesting.   I picked these history magazines and a few Jackdaws to change things up a bit.   They filled the gap of the Byzantine Empire, Feudal Japan, and the Vikings I found in my cores.   An unit study, in-depth art project, or a field-trip can all work to add interest to your studies.

6)  Type it up

I like to type my plans up making a schedule to fit our school year.    For some reason having this official looking plan makes all the difference for me!

7) Be willing to change things up!   

Some weeks things won't go as planned.    Some activities will be duds.   A new enticing book might show up at the library.  One of your lovely children may HATE one of those wonderful resources you carefully picked out.  

I've found I'm better able to deal with these things and change things up when I start with a plan and goals.   With your plan in place, you can take one read-aloud book out and plug in another.   You can skip the activity that doesn't work for your busy week while working ahead in another area, so you can fit that activity in another week.

There you have it.   A curriculum made to order.   

Memory Monday March 28, 2011

Memory Monday

I really enjoyed reading about every one's memory work last Monday.   Lots of inspiration.    Can't wait to read everyone else's post again today.   We are still working on a lot of the same things we did last week.   We didn't get to our memory work every day and therefore didn't memorize everything--imagine that.   I've found through the years that the key to memory work is consistency.    Something I'm still working on eleven years into this project called homeschooling. So, we will be moving on in some areas and working some more on other areas.

Poetry:   I think everyone has just about memorized Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserabley.     We will review it again today to make sure it is memorized.   After I make sure it is cemented, it is E's turn to pick the next poem, and I will post next week what he picked for us.

Life Science:  The Heart is the Strongest Muscle in the Body.    The Heart is a Pump Made up of four chambers--two auricles and two ventricles.   The Pericardium is the heart sac, and pericardial fluid fills the space between the pericardium and the heart.   The largest veins in the body are the venae cavae.   The largest artery is the aorta.

History:   This will be a repeat of the dates of the Byzantine Empire we worked on last week.

Science:   This will also be a repeat of last week.   Bernoulli's Principle. 

English:   Appositive Adjectives directly follow the noun they modify, usually come in pairs, and are set off by commas.  

General Knowledge:   Capitals of the States.

Please feel free to leave a link in your comments about what's going on with memory work in your home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Weekly Update: March 21-24, 2011

We made it through a wet and dreary week of spring by hanging out on the couches under our blankets in PJs.   The majority of the week was spent in a writer's workshop--that's a fancy term for mom working one on one with each child.   That took up a ton of time, therefore  history and science took a backseat.  Also, I had everyone work a bit more independently on other things than usual.

Writing:  After reading several threads on the Well-Trained Mind Forums about how writing and  basic skills are so important to cement before moving on to high school,  I decided to revisit our writing from last week.   E-R and I-E  started over with taking notes from an article about the Hagia Sophia.   I sat down with each one individually and read the article paragraph by paragraph.  After each paragraph we discussed what information in that paragraph answered the questions they were looking for, and they wrote those down in note form.    After we worked our way through the article taking notes, we organized our notes into outline form.   I introduced another level to the outline so now we are working with a four point outline.   Then I sat down and worked on making interesting, varied sentences with those outlines.   Student wrote a sentence on the white board.   I wrote a sentence on the board covering the same point.    Student wrote a different sentence on the board covering that same point.   We then looked at the sentences, discussed what made them interesting or not so interesting, how we could change them, or even combine parts from different sentences to come up with a good sentence.   Both I-E and E-I tend toward subject verb direct object sentences--with a subject verb direct object comma conjunction subject verb direct object thrown in for good measure.   This was a good way to help them change their sentence form up.   We didnt' do this with every sentence, but about six sentences.    Then student wrote the paper, and we revised and edited  it.   Then it was typed up--final draft done.   This process was spread out over the whole week.   

Ethan's paper compared the Magna Carta to a strike, arbitration, and general election.  I didn't need to help E with the note taking.   He had researched for his paper well.   We had to dig down deep to get his thinking going though.   He had a hard time coming up with ideas of his own.   E loved learning about the four sentence paragraph back in third grade.   He's loved the four sentence paragraph so much, he's fought me ever since about writing anything but a four sentence paragraph!    It's gotten to a point where I have to tell him exactly how many sentences must be in a paragraph, or I get a four sentence paragraph from him.    So he approaches his outlines as if he is writing a four sentence paragraph--Roman numeral I and A, B, C--,  and he writes his outlines in full sentences so he can just transfer the sentences into paragraph form.    So we  worked on writing the outline in note form--and moving beyond (you guessed it) the four sentence paragraph.    I made sure each of his paragraphs were outlined to at least three points.    It was quite difficult for him to think beyond reguriating back facts and come up with his own thoughts about the subject--which was the point of the assignment.   I must admit that towards the end I let some things slide without pushing so much.   After his outline was complete, we worked on writing sentences just like with the girls.  He is still working on writing his final draft.

English:   E's worked his way through punctuation in Rod and Staff and took his test today.   E-R and I-E are working their way through a chapter on adverbs and adjectives.    This week they covered degrees of adjectives and using good, well, and negative words.   After completing the lesson on good, well, and negative words I realized I had accidentally skipped four lessons!   Oops!   So, I suppose next week we will be going backwards in the book!

Literature:  E worked pretty quickly through the chapter on figurative language.   It was mostly review.   E-R and  
I-E started reading The Shakespeare Stealer and working in their lit guides.   

Math:  E worked on applications of real numbers and linear equations, solving problems using linear equations, functions and systems of equations, and graphing a linear inequalities.    I-E and E-R worked on averages in their Singapore books.  

History: We continued learning about the Byzantine Empire. We read about the Iconoclastic Controversy and discussed icons in our culture. We skimmed the other articles in :

so that next week we can move on our study of Native Americans.

And we added important dates from the Byzantine Empire to our timeline books.

That was our week.  It doesn't look like a lot, but I'm determined to slow down and really get the important skills down pat.    

Be sure to check out what others are doing at:


Thursday, March 24, 2011

For Your Enjoyment a cautionary tale

Who Slammed Doors For Fun And Perished Miserably

A trick that everyone abhors
In little girls is slamming doors.
A wealthy banker's little daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort),
Was given to this furious sport.

She would deliberately go
And slam the door like billy-o!
To make her uncle Jacob start.
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild;
She was an aggravating child...

It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.

Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too,
And showed the deadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun.

The children who were brought to hear
The awful tale from far and near
Were much impressed, and inly swore
They never more would slam the door,

-- As often they had done before.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why I Homeschool

I homeschool because when my children need discipline I should be the first one on the scene to offer loving correction. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What I Learned Today!

Today, I learned that cinnamon-flavored toothpaste should not be on the roll of toilet paper hanging in the bathroom. 

Today, I did not learn how the cinnamon-flavored toothpaste ended up on the roll of toilet paper.



What surprises have your lovlies left behind for you?

check out what other homeschoolers are up to at
Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Monday, March 21, 2011

Memory Monday

What memory work are we working on this week? 

Poetry--Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably

Science--When the speed of a moving fluid increases pressure in the fluid decreases, and vice versa--David Bernoulli

Life Science---The Circulatory System carries food, oxygen, and cell waste throughout your entire body.
The Circulatory System consist of the heart, blood vessels, and blood. 
The Circulatory System is two systems in one--the pulmonary and systemic systems.

General Knowledge--Capitals of the Mid-Atlantic States

History--324 Constantine I become emperor
330 Constantinople becomes capital of Roman Empire
395  Empire splits in half
476--Western Roman Empire Ends
527--Justian I becomes emperor of Byzantine Empire

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekly Update: March 7-18, 2011

I haven't posted in almost a week!  Last weekend was my kids' performances of MacBeth.   All the stress, late nights, long hours of memorizing, extra classes, and time spent were TOTALLY WORTH IT!   The show was a great success.   

Opening fight scene

Three Weird Sisters

MacBeth after becoming King

MacBeth and Banquo discuss their meeting with the three weird sisters

Lady MacBeth telling MacBeth how things are going to go down

Banquo Dies!

I knew this experience had cemented a love for Shakespeare when I overheard my kids using lines from MacBeth to insult each other!  
What Say You---Whey Face!   
You were of women born
Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men.
Geese, villian!
 (said with as much scorn as one can muster)

For the most part these past two weeks, we stuck to our normal routine--though day light savings threw a ratchet in the time we started school this week.  

Grammar---We finally finished pronouns in Rod and Staff.   E-R and I-E bombed their tests.    They just never picked up on the concepts of the different cases of pronouns.    After spending way too long on trying to teach the concepts, I've decided to move on.   Next year R&S 6 will reteach most of the concepts, and perhaps their brains will remember a little something from this year.   They have moved on to the next chapter on Adjectives and Adverbs and studied descriptive and limiting adjectives.   E did well on his pronoun test.    Usually all the levels of R&S  follow the same outline of topics.   For some reason level 6,  switches the adverb and adjective chapter with the punctuation chapter.   So, E is studying punctuation.   It's been all review for him, so far---end marks, quotations, split quotations,  and indirect quotations.   Everyone worked in their Building Thinking Skills books.   E worked in his test prep and word roots vocabulary books.   E-R and I-E worked on reading comprehension and free writes through-out the week.  

Lit---E's Window to the World has finally been found!    It was sitting on a shelf in his room.    He read and took notes on chapter 10 Setting.  I-E and E-R finished reading A Family Under the Bridge.    This book is an easy read, but is full of such great discussion fodder.    We discussed what makes a family, how one achieves self respect,  how fear affects our actions, how appearance affects your actions and others perceptions, and how we determine what is right and wrong.  For their final project,  both girls decided to make a budget for a small family living in our little town.   It was an eye-opener for them to see exactly how much things cost.    We were able to look at the budgets and discuss how homeless can happen.  

Math---E-R and I-E worked on a short geometry section in Singapore.   They learned how to determine the measurements of angles in triangles and quadrilaterals.  They also worked on a cumulative review and took some tests on line at Brainchild.   E worked on Aleks Math.and mastered square root simplification, factoring a perfect square, and proportion word problems.  

Science---This week in science we read chapter 23, It's a Gas Take its Temperature!   Covering four scientist, Joseph Black, Henry Cavendish, Karl Scheele, and Joseph Priestley, this chapter managed to cram a lot of info in a small amount of reading.   In order to help the kids process all that info, each kid picked one scientist to study indepth.   Then we had a panel discussion about their discoveries and important contributions to science.   Poor Karl Scheele had the bad habit of tasting all the chemicals he experimented with and it is believed that he died by poisoning himself with one of these tastes!  

History---Last week in history we covered the Magna Carta using a Jackdaw. 
We read the broadsheets about King John, Barons and Feudal Lords, Magna Carta: What it was, and what it was not, The signing of Magna Carta, King John and History, and England in 1215.   We then read the Magna Carta (well most of the Magna Carta---it was dry and not a bit entertaining!)  E-R and I-E created Venn Diagrams comparing and contrasting governments today and in King John's time.   E wrote an essay comparing the way the barons settled their dispute with the king, with general elections, strikes, and arbitrations.   We also enjoyed the copies of the original Magna Carta and the poster showing how the Royal Standard from King John's time through today has developed. 
This week we started our study of the Byzantine Empire.   I-E and E-R wrote reports on the history of the Hagia Sophie,  Justinian, created mosaics, and drew and labeled maps of the Byzantine Empire.  
PE--Everyone swam and have a meet today.   I-E started working with a water polo team.   She's one of the youngest, but seems to be holding her own. 

Fieldtrip--We did squeeze a fieldtrip in.   I posted about that here.

Be sure to check out everyone else's weeks at the

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why I Homeschool

I homeschool because I feel
 for the socialization of my children.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Field Trip of the Week: Santa Barbara Mission

While the older kids attended a conference in Santa Barbara,  E-R,  I-E, and I enjoyed a beautiful afternoon at the Santa Barbara Mission.  We took the self-guided tour that leads through the grounds and interior of parts of the mission. 

Right after entering and paying for our tour, we walked through a dark narrow hallway to head outside.        Worn in a way telling the history of the many people who have walked through the mission, the tiles in the dark hallway leading to the beginning of the tour was my favorite part of the tour.   I imagine those tiles were made by the local Chumash Indians with nothing much more than mud and fire.    Hopefully, the legacy I leave behind will last as long and guide as many people. 

Those tiles lead us outside to a beautiful courtyard.   The first room along the corridor of the courtyard had a movie showing a brief history of the mission.   What I found most interesting about his mission is its continued use throughout the last 225 years.    It is to this day being used as an active church and community gathering place.  

After watching the movie, we walked through the chapel to the cemetery.   Many notable Santa Barbarians have been buried there.   The most interesting "resident" of the cemetery is

This is the woman depicted in one of our favorite books : Island of the Blue Dolphin by Scott ODell.  Seeing her plaque (her actually spot of burial has been lost to history) helped us realize this story was based on a real person.   Later on in the tour we were able to see some of the belongings she left the island with---a basket and some shells.   This awesome fig tree was in the center of the cemetery. 

This tree is believed to be about 180 years old.   What I wouldn't give to have this "climbing" tree in my backyard!

The interior part of the mission had a lot of neat displays.   Including music from the early history of the mission.

Much of it written in Latin.   It was fun to pick out the words we knew.   The musical notation was very different than what we use today.   I'm wondering when the musical form we use today came about.   Uuummmm, sounds like something we need to research!  

Of course the tour ended in the gift shop!    Lots of neat mission related stuff as well as not so mission related stuff!   

All in all, we really enjoyed the tour.  Most of all  I enjoyed spending time with just my littles
(who aren't so little anymore)!  
We've decided next we need to visit the local mission right in the town we live in.  

What field trips have you taken recently?

Be sure to see lots of neat field trip at the Field Trip Hop!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I Homeschool

I homeschool because I want to be the one to be there
 my angels come to me excited about that first word
 read by themselves.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Assignment of the Week

Write a recipe for a dictator. 

Dictator Dirt Pie

1 large bag of Charismatic Cookies

1 cup of Narcissism

½ stick of Brilliance

1 package of Antisociality

2 boxes of Paranoia

3 ½ cups of Ambition

1 container of Inconsistency

Chop Charismatic cookies in food processor until cookies look like dirt.

Mix brilliance, antisociality, and narcissism together until smooth.

Blend paranoia, ambition and inconsistency together.

Combine paranoia and antisociality mixture together until lumps are smooth.

In 9 X 13 pan, layer cookie mixture then paranoia mixture, leaving enough cookie mixture for the top. (Optional: Decorate with small mustaches.) Chill in Landsberg Prison for 8 months. Consume within 20 years after finished chilling.

This was an assignment that I felt A-M did an excellent job on. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Homeschool Mother's Journal March 6, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week...
I had another child with a birthday.   E turned 13 this week.   I now have three teenagers in my life.   I never thought I would live through the teenage years.   And some times with teens are hard, but for the most part I like being a mom to teens.   Teens are able to physically take care of themselves (no more wiping bottoms and buckling seatbelts), and they start to reason and think for themselves.    My teens share their lives and friends with me, and my life is all the better for it.    Of course, next year I'll have five teenagers----I may feel a bit differently then!  ;)
In our homeschool this week...
We mostly worked on MacBeth.    E is playing MacBeth and we have spent a ton of time on his part.   Who knew how much time actors spent developing their characters?  

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
To the Rubicon Theatre!

We are also excited about Grammy and Aunt Thea who will be joining us for the performance on Saturday.

My favorite thing this week was...

My husband coming home.    I missed him a lot.   It is so hard to run a household with one partner gone.   As soon as he got back, he shared with us all of the yummy food he had eaten while in Germany.   It brought back so many memories of all the foods I grew up eating.   It also inspired me to make pork and cabbage for super last night. 

What's working/not working for us...
I-E just joined a water polo team this week.  I am hoping it works out for her.   The novice team she's been competing on always has problems getting enough people to form a team in her age group, so she competes with the older kids.   This team is all girls her age.  

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...

We really need to get more accomplished  each week, so we can finish the school year in a timely manner!

A photo, video, link, or quote to share...
Happy Birthday!  Yummy chocolate cake with raspberry filling and whipped cream frosting and chocolate sides.    What's your favorite kind of cake? 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up February 28-March 4, 2011

Testing, MacBeth, Swimming 

This week we didn't follow our normal routine.  Instead it was full of :  

STAR writing test for E-R and I-E

Online post testing for everyone

Finishing up costumes for MacBeth

Learning cues and working on director's notes for MacBeth

Celebrating a 13th birthday


Room Cleaning

Memory Work

Shakespeare is taking a lot of our time that we would usually use for school time.   One week until our performance.   I'll be sure to include pics next week.   

E-R and I-E both started their own blogs this past week. 

I-E's is all about animals--feel free to check it out.

E-R decided her blog's theme will be food--here it is.

These are two girls that normally hate to write.   Now every morning they wake up early to have time to write on their blogs.   So far, I've let them do what ever, but eventually I will be sneaking in some writing instruction.  

 N started his pre-engineering internship at the Navy Base.   This week he got his security badge, meet all of the people that he will be involved with through the program, and learned the scientific theory of engineering.   He enjoyed  meeting everyone, but I really think I am more excited about this then he is!  

Be sure to check out what other homeschooler's are up to this week.  



Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why I Homeschool

I homeschool because I love waking up
 taking mornings slow with my lovely children.