January 23, 2016


My sister, Lindsay, has decided to homeschool her kindergartener this next school year.  I am impressed by her decision because she has absolutely zero interest in homeschooling.  However, like moms have done since the beginning of time she is choosing to do what she thinks is best for her daughter instead of what she thinks is best for herself.

I have absolutely no delusions that Lindsay will actually homeschool the way I do as we all adapt homeschooling to our own personalities and the personalities of our children, but I had so much fun daydreaming about just having a kindergartener again (of school age--she has two younger kids as well) that I decided to post how I would homeschool in that situation.  It is essentially how I did homeschool Miriam, with a few tweaks that I would make as I have more experience now. 

Subjects I would teach: penmanship, math, reading prep/reading, history!!!, science. 

Things I would buy:
Letters and Numbers for Me by Handwriting Without Tears.
 I See Sam Phonics Set One black and white edition.  Color would be fine, but my kids didn't mind the black and white, it is cheaper, and if your kids want to color the pages you can photocopy them easily. 
The Letter Factory.  It is only $6.00 on amazon and I used it to teach all my kids their letters and sounds. 

Other than that, I would use the library and internet for everything.  If you felt that you absolutely had to have a math book I would definitely go with The Critical Thinking Co Mathematical Reasoning Level A.  I think most people would be better off not using a math book but it doesn't do any damage and some kids (like all my weirdos) love worksheet type stuff.  Plus, it does provide peace of mind to those who are new at homeschooling that they are adequately covering the basics.  We use Critical Thinking Co for all our math books. We have used the kindergarten book before and it was just as good as the others. 

I teach (or I did, before the last two babies) by units and I really think that is the way to go for the younger crowd.  I would pull out my calendar and plan out what units I wanted to teach in four week on, one week off, increments. I know I usually do a six week on plan, but if you only have a kindergartener than a shorter unit is probably wise.  Then I would teach whatever I thought my child would love best.  Definitely an animal unit or two thrown in (what kids don't love learning about animals??), a history unit about something really fun like ancient Egyptians or slavery in America or exploring the world.  I'd probably throw in a geography unit--use the one I created for the Babies documentary or create something that interested my child.  Maybe a science unit on weather or magnets.  That is always fun.

So let's say I decided to start with a unit on mammals.  I would go to my library website and reserve a bunch of kids' books about mammals.  Then I would reserve a bunch of books about numbers and counting.  Then I would create a basic lesson outline for each of the weeks after reading through all the books and taking back the ones that are less good.  It would look something like this:

Unit One: Mammals and Counting

Week One: Horses and Identifying the Numbers 1-5

Monday: Morning Devotional (read an article in the Friend, memorize something, morning prayers), read ______________ (a book about counting) then put up numbers around the walls, call out a number and have the kids smack that number with a fly swatter or their hands.  Read ____________ (a book about horses) and read  ____________ (another book about horses).  Color and cut out several pictures of horses.  Count how many legs one has and then how many more you have when you add another horse and then if you add another horse.  How many heads?  How many tails?  What else can you count?  Do any of the horses have spots?  Etc.  Complete one page in your penmanship book. 

During naptime, snuggle with kindergartner on the couch with a white board and marker and have her write "at" and make the word "cat" by adding a "c" and then make the words bat, sat, hat, fat, rat.  Put the first six letters of the alphabet in order (get some alphabet cards).  Only read phonics books when the child already understands how to sound out and that every letter makes a sound. 

And that's it for day one.  Day two would be similar with different books and a different horse craft or maybe an education horse movie on youtube.  Or maybe look at pictures of different kinds of horses in a horse encyclopedia, or look at all the pictures of Grandpa's horses, maybe pick names for the horses you colored.  There are lots of counting activities you can look up online. 

One day could be the care of horses, anatomy of horses, match the baby mammals with their mom, what makes a horse a mammal . . . that kind of thing.  What can we count around the house?  How many toes do we have individually and how many do we have altogether?  Let's group the straws by color.  Which groups have five straws?  Which groups have three?  Then just make sure you're reading a bunch of books. 

The next unit might be a geography unit. 

Unit Two: Denmark, Germany (we have ancestry from both countries) and Addition

Do the whole thing again.  Get the books from the library, put together some fun craft and lesson ideas.  Everyone loves coloring maps, so print off maps.  There are lots of educational videos about every country under the sun on youtube or available from the library.  You can make food from those countries, which is great for math.  Teaching kindergarten should be fun, fun, fun, and cheap. 

Definitely include a graphing/data gathering math unit.  Miriam was so cute calling her relatives to ask what their favorite dessert was and tallying how many red cars there were in the parking lot vs. blue cars.

One last note.  I would also have my kids listening to books on tape whenever we're in the car.  I've done that for years and I think it really helped with comprehension--especially for my son who struggles with reading.  He can't decode quite at level (he's made such huge improvements this year though!!) but his comprehension is way above level.  Books on tape are AWESOME.  My sisters have pointed out that I need to organize my book posts better and have a separate category for books on tape.  I probably won't ever get around to that, but I have a ton of audio book recommendations on the blog. 

And that's how I would do it. 

July 24, 2015

A rough sketch of how we try to eat--plus RECIPE LINKS

I've had several people ask me for linkys to some of my favorite healthy recipes.  I've had other people ask me to just post all my weekly menus from the past, present, and until the end of time.  Ha.  I won't be doing that.  I will post a prototype of our weekly menus, though, with some linkys to the recipes I've tried lately that I love.

B: cold oatmeal (we have 9:00 am church so always have cold oatmeal)
L/D: whatever I can scrape together--I'm terrible at planning Sunday food items
Snack: popcorn

B: hot nine grain cereal (I get mine from Kitchen Kneads in 25 lb bags) and banana smoothies
L: roasted cabbage (usually without bacon, but sometimes with--yum)
D: tacos with lentil-walnut meat substitute (don't be scared by the meat substitute--my children, husband, and I all LOVED it and we are not vegetarians.  I use it because it adds more lentils into our diets)
Snack: peanuts and apple slices

B: whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana slices
L: green salad (we eat a lot of lettuce salad for lunch--we add kidney beans for fiber)
D: apricot mint salad with brown rice
Snack: cut up veggies and ranch dressing

B: oat pancakes with yogurt and maple syrup dressing
L: roasted cabbage (we love that stuff) with a slice of bread
D: plain old white pancakes because we have them whenever I don't manage to get supper on the table and that happens at least once a week
Snack: banana smoothie

B: hot cereal and watermelon (I love watermelon for breakfast)
L: green salad
D: steak edamame salad with homemade baked potato fries
Snack: strawberries

B: hot cereal (we eat it the most of anything for breakfast) with scrambled eggs (I always add onions and green peppers to our scrambled eggs because I love it.  We also add mushrooms, spinach, asparagus--a favorite--or any other veggies I have on hand that sound yummy)
L: whole wheat toast with peanut butter and bananas
D: baked potato, fried green beans, cucumber and tomato slices (this is one of my favorite meals)
Snack: celery sticks with peanut butter

B: oat pancakes with yogurt maple syrup
L: leftovers (when I make rice I make double what I need so I can have one quick meal ready to go--a bowl of rice.  I usually broil some zuchinni to toss in and some scrambled eggs.  My children love this and call it a "rice bowl" though I think they use the term loosely.  Bulgar wheat also works well for this).
S: Sandwich with some sort of fruit.  I dislike cooking after a long, physical work day.
Snack: nothing.  My kids grab carrots if they are hungry.

There you go--a one week menu.  I usually have four nice meals per week, and the other three nights we munge along with lesser meals.  I used to shop for one week, but now I can't fit all the milk and fresh produce in the fridge so I switched to shopping for three days.  I find I waste WAY less now because if something happens and meals get switched around, there is more wiggle room.  Someday, though, I'd like a second fridge.

*Important note for LINDSAY: I make my homemade frozen burritos by taking one tortilla, adding a bit of the lentil-walnut meat substitute, sauteed green peppers and onions, and one scrambled egg.  Then I roll that up, wrap it in saran wrap and stick three into one ziploc bag.  When we eat one, we microwave for two minutes and douse with green salsa.  Yum!

Here are some linkys:

Banana peanut butter smoothies: http://www.cranialhiccups.com/2014/10/chocolate-peanut-butter-banana-smoothies.html

Roasted cabbage: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-roasted-cabbage-with-bacon-recipes-from-the-kitchn-105338

Lentil-walnut meat substitute: http://ohsheglows.com/2014/06/17/ultimate-green-taco-wraps-with-lentil-walnut-taco-meat-vegan-gluten-free/

SO YUMMY Apricot/Mint Salad: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/romaine_salad_with_chicken_apricots_mint.html

Oat pancakes with yogurt maple dressing: http://www.health.com/health/recipe/0,,10000001991442,00.html

Edamame salad (this will be a staple for my kids' lunches this year--it is very hearty and is eaten coldish--though I'll omit the steak most of the time): http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/edamame-salad-with-crisp-steak

ONE BONUS RECIPE; this is the recipe Timothy wants me to make and have on hand all the time for his snacking pleasure.  It is a granola bar, but there is no sugar, so you should think of it as something else entirely or you won't like it.  I like it because it is pretty healthy and filling, and I like all the crunch and chewiness.  So--a healthy alternative to a granola bar.  It is also gluten free, which matters to some of you and I like because I'm always trying to diversify my grains: http://ohsheglows.com/2014/05/20/feel-good-hearty-granola-bars/

Hope this helps someone!!!

March 22, 2015

Miriam's 7th/8th Grade Book List--Weigh In!

I've been trying to compile a required reading list for my oldest.  She will be going into grade 7 and she is shifting in her reading from lazy, easy reading (how many Hardy Boy books are there???????) to pushing herself a little.  I'm glad because I was starting to wonder how I would push her upward and onward.  I read above my level because I wanted to read what my older siblings were reading.  I'm already noticing that Emeline (age 8) does this as well.  Since Miriam is the oldest she hasn't really had much impetus to push into the YA genre.

With that in mind, I decided to put together a required reading list for her 7th and 8th grade years.  The idea is that she will read one book off the list a week.  Most of the books can be read whenever, but a few--with similar themes or same historical time period--have to be read at the same time.  That way we'll be working on history and/or science along with LA, some of the time anyway.

A few fun things have happened as I've been working on this list.  One is that Miriam got wind of the list (I had to ask her if she'd read a few titles), she read through the list, and now she's been reading books from the list.  Back to the drawing board again to add more!  Not that I mind, funny girl.

The other fun thing is my perusal of every site I can find that suggesst good nonfiction titles.  I didn't fall in love with nonfiction until college so I didn't read much YA nonfiction.  In putting together the list I had to include some books on other people's recommendation (always scary) and debate internally about books I love.  Some made the cut (Frederick Douglass's autobiography) and some didn't (The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary).  Some were too old, some too young, some about topics that I don't find interesting but Miriam does (forensic science), or vice-versa.

It is such a joy to read about, think about, make lists about, and plan for books!!!

Bibliophile: a person who loves books, or, alternately, me!

Here's my mostly finished list, including the books Miriam has recently read that need to be replaced.  If you have any thoughts, suggestions, comments on quality or age level of the books (or anything else!)--please, I'm seeking after those things.

Yes, I realize I have more books than weeks of school, but I thought that would give her some ownership in her choices.

Thanks for your help!!!!!!

Absolutely Normal Chaos, Sharon Creech

The Egypt Game

The Giver

Maniac Magee

Number the Stars

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Summer of My German Soldier

The Watsons Go to Birmingham


The Dark is Rising series

Among the Hidden

The View from Saturday

The Moorchild

My Louisiana Sky


Homecoming and Dicey's Song

Esperanza Rising

The Fledgling

Little Women

Incident at Hawk's Hill

The Call of the Wild

Jacob Have I Loved

No Promises in the Wind

The Jungle Book

The Hero and the Crown

Freak the Mighty


Far North

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman

The Outsiders

Across Five Aprils

Adam of the Road

Black Beauty

Cheaper by the Dozen


Girl of the Limberlost

The Hiding Place

Invincible Louisa

Johnny Tremain

Princess and the Goblin

Rifles for Watie

Snow Treasure

A Wrinkle in Time

A Christmas Carol

A Long Walk to Water

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Treasure Island

The Call of the Wild

The Moves Make the Man

The Red Pony

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Andromeda Strain



Up a Road Slowly

The Prisoner of Zenda

Smith by Leon Garfield


Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson


Breaker Boys: How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor by Michael Burgan

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns

Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on Board by Sheryl Berk

Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Temple Grandin

Kids Who Rule: The Remarkable Lives of of Five Child Monarchs by Charis Cotter

Beyond the Dance: A Ballerina’s Life by Chan Hon Goh

 The Bone Detectives: How Forensic Anthropologists Solve Crimes and Uncover Mysteries of the Dead by Donna M. Jackson

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1917 by Michael Capuzzo

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong

Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers

Outbreak! Plagues that Changed History by Bryn Barnard

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

Years of Dust by Albert Marrin

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport

Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 by SusanCampbell Bartoletti

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert by Marc Aronson

Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business—and Won! By Emily Arnold McCully

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler

Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: American’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone

Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by  Karen Blumenthal

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery by Steve Sheinkin

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal

Music was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein by Susan Goldman Rubin

Can I See Your I.D.?: True Stories of False Identities by Paul Hoppe

Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front During World War I by Ann Bausum

Truce by Jim Murphy (WWI)

The War to End all Wars by Russell Freedman

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World by Penny Colman

Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication by Ann Downer

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming

Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives by Marthe Jocelyn

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross (maybe use with the other kids for a whole unit on navigation?)

I.M. Pei: Architect of Time, Place and Purpose by Jill Rubalcaba

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keefe by Susan Goldman Rubin

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Shanzer

Ghosts in the Fog: The Untold Story of Alaska’s WWII Invasion by Samantha Seiple

Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature by George Sullivan (go along with the biography of Barnum)

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson

Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke

They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartolletti

The Dark Game: True Spy Stories from Invisible Ink to CIA Moles by Paul B. Janeczko

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas by Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglas by David A. Adler

We Are Not Beasts of Burden: Cesar Chavez and the Delano Grape Strike, California 1965-1970 by Stuart A. Kallen

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally M. Walker

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton by Connie Nordhielm Woolridge

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines

Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner (read with The Watson’s Go To Birmingham)

Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin

The Word Snoop by Ursula Dubosarsky (history of the English language)

The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson

The Hive Detectives: Chronicles of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns

The Battle of Britain by Kate Moore

Mr. Lincoln’s High-tech War by Thomas B. Allen (use it with the novel about three days of the war)

Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of the Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers by Brandon Marie Miller

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef (would work well with the other books about TB)

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman

Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age by Coco Irvine (use with Thoroughly Modern Millie)

St. Paul’s Historic Summit Avenue by Ernest R. Sandeen

March 3, 2015


My nine year old niece recommended Laura Amy Schlitz's Splendors and Glooms and I am so glad she did!!  First Miriam read it and loved it and then I read it and loved it.  It is a Dickensian novel for upper elementary/middle school (but delightful for all ages).  It has some dark magic in it but nothing too creepy.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and put it in my basket at amazon to make sure I add it to my collection.  You might be familiar with this author.  She wrote Good Masters! Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village, which won the Newbery.  She also wrote The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer who Dug for Troy--one of my children's very favorite biographies.  In short, we're going to make sure all of Ms. Schlitz's books wind up on our bookshelf.  She's fabulous.

We listened to Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke on audio book awhile ago and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much so that I bought a copy for Emeline (age 8) for Christmas.  Since then she's read it twice (that I know about--sometimes I sleep and miss things) and has declared it her "favorite book ever."  If you have a child in elementary school who likes humorous adventure stories, I recommend this one.

We had Freight Train by Donald Crews when Cowen was a baby/toddler, but it was destroyed as only truly beloved books can be destroyed.  I figured Oskar would like it as much as my other kids had and so I gave it to him for Christmas.  It hasn't replaced Babies by Gyo Fujikawa as his favorite book, but it is a very close second.  My children were overjoyed when Oskar unwrapped the book because they all remember it and love it.  The best Christmas book reaction, though, was when Oskar unwrapped Jamberry, another book that was destroyed out of sheer love, and Miriam grabbed it right out of Oskar's hands and squealed, "Jamberry!" in pure delight.  Awesome.  

My dad loaned me Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and I loved it.  I rarely read adult books, truth be told, as YA was always my happy place, but I'll be purchasing this book for my library.  I loved everything about it.  

I am always so, so, so, so excited when one of my children read one of my favorite books and love it as much as I do.  Miriam just finished Sabriel, my favorite Garth Nix book.  She then promptly read the sequel the next day.  She loved it, I love it, anyone who likes fantasy will love it.  Read it.  Gold Star Book.

February 2, 2015

This Blogging Break Was Brought to You By

Clover Mildred

born December 15, 2015

She is perfect and delightful and already sleeping 6 to 7 hours a night.
We started schooling today for the first time since her arrival.
It went well, but we didn't finish until 6:00 pm.  Oops.
Hopefully we'll get into the swing of things and I'll be able to blog again soon.

October 2, 2014

Presents the kids can make each other

I'm pretty sure that at least some of the kids should make this for each other for Christmas.


October 1, 2014

Kids' Curriculum and Why I Like It (or not)

I recently received an email asking me to review some of the curriculum we use around these here parts.  I've been meaning to post about many things, but the email was a good kick in the heiny to actually do it, so I will.

Miriam, grade 6

Math and Critical Thinking: We have been using Mathematical Reasoning books from the Critical Thinking Co for years now and I love them just as much today as when we started using them.  Miriam is in Level F (grade five) because I keep my kids a year behind in math on purpose.  I do that, for those of you wondering, because abstract thinking skills don't completely develop until a child reaches high school.  If you hit pre-algebra before the abstract thinking skills are in place necessary to understand it, you can experience a great deal of frustration.  Since it is hard to predict how developed each child's abstract thinking skills will be by grade seven, I play it safe and take things slower.  I have not yet encountered a reason to regret this choice.  None of my children have experienced any math angst up to this point (except the first few years when we were using Abeka math) and several claim that math is their favorite subject.

I supplement the Mathematical Reasoning books with some other "fun" math products from the same company.  My favorites are the Building Thinking Skills books.  Miriam finished Level One two years ago and was thrilled when I presented her with Level Two this year.  Note that when each books is listed as a "full curriculum" it means in critical thinking NOT math.  Don't be confused by that.

A list of topics on the front cover includes things like logical thinking, similarities and differences, sequences, classifications, analogies, spatial awareness (Miriam excels at these problems and I stink--it usually takes me triple the amount of time to correct her work, which is always right, than it takes her to do it), vocabulary development, map reading, etc.  

When Miriam was doing Building Thinking Skills Level One, I assigned her six pages daily from her Mathematical Reasoning book and then six pages out of her Building Thinking Skills book.  She would inevitably do 12 + pages out of her Building Thinking Skills book because she thought it was so much fun.

Another favorite from the Critical Thinking Co is Math Detective A1. I must point out that Miriam does not like this book.  She thinks it is way harder than her regular math book.  However, I see a great deal of value in making her stretch herself.  Basically, this book has a bunch of extended story problems that have to be answered with complete sentences.  It is challenging because Miriam can figure out the answers but she has to really stretch herself to come up with the "why" of the answer.  I think that is a healthy exercise for her brain.  However, to avoid contention, I only assign one "problem"--usually a two-page spread with about six questions--a week.  That keeps her muttering to a minimum.

I wouldn't get the Math Detective beginner book unless you have a really advanced reader/writer.  Otherwise, you're just creating a lot of work for yourself.

Language Arts: Ah.  This is a hard one.  I've flitted about more with this subject than math.

First, we are currently using Phonetic Zoo: Lesson Cards for spelling.  I did not buy the whole $99 program.  I only purchased the cards for $15.00.  It is a fine program.  Not spectacular, but not bad.  It might be stellar if you buy the whole kit and caboodle, but I've never found a spelling program I loved and I wasn't willing to invest in another failed effort.

There are three "levels" on the cards.  On Monday I give Miriam a spelling pre-test and have her write each of the fifteen words on one card.  I don't pay much attention to the levels with her.  Then she writes each word she misses three times a day for the rest of the week.  It works.

We use Handwriting Without Tears for handwriting.

For grammar we use Rod and Staff and I LOVE their program. Currently Miriam is working out of Building With Diligence: English 4.  It is aimed for fourth graders and it is way too easy for her and she is flying through it at breakneck speed, but it is a good review while I try to get my hands on the writing program I want her to be using right now but can't afford.

Back to Rod and Staff for a moment.  I think they do everything right with grammar.  They include sentence diagramming from the very beginning.  They build concepts in a logical and appropriate way--without jumping around too much.  They have manageable assignments that I hardly ever tweak to cut back on the amount of work.  I wholeheartedly endorse their grammar series as long as you realize that they excel at teaching grammar and not writing.

The writing program I want to be using right now is The Write Foundation: Sentence to Paragraph.  I haven't used this program but I have read several reviews that are very convincing.  Especially this one.    I really think this might be a winner.  I have tried other writing programs, including the Institute of Excellence in Writing and I just wasn't that impressed.  I'm hard to impress.  I'm a professional English teacher.  :)  That said, I have a hard time teaching writing because I feel like my children should just magically know how to write--much like I did.  Instead, I have kids whose favorite subjects are math and science and for whom writing doesn't come easily.  I don't have time to create my own curriculum right now and so I will eventually (too bad I can't sell plasma when I'm pregnant) buy this one and see how it works out for Miriam.

This year I bought Digging Into Diagramming .  I wanted a way to make sure my children were diagramming a few sentences every day--especially Miriam.  I think diagramming is the best way to teach grammar, other than learning a foreign language.  There isn't much on the market by way of straight diagramming.  This book is great in concept and how it builds from simple to complex sentences.  I can't give it rave reviews, however, because it doesn't have as many practice sentences as I would like.  When I say the book doesn't have enough sentences, I mean it.  Each lesson only has one or two example sentences with four practice sentences.  There are 41 lessons, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the kids will only have diagrammed roughly 164 sentences over the course of the year using this book.  It just isn't enough practice.  It does, however, supplement Rod and Staff nicely since those books already have diagramming included.  I still think Digging Into Diagramming is worth the purchase--just be aware of what you are getting.

Cowen, grade 4: Cowen is not an independent reader yet, so that makes everything I do with him a little trickier.  He's getting there, but at his own speed.  Also, I bumped his younger sister up a grade because her birthday was right around the cut-off.  And she's a girl.  And he's a boy.  SUCH A BOY.  Meaning that his development is crazy different than his sisters', or even his younger brother who is a little less of a stereotypical boy.  Cowen and Emeline (grade 3) do the same grammar.  It works.

Math: He's currently using Building Thinking Skills Level One and Mathematical Reasoning Level D.   The skills in his Building Thinking Skills book do not come as easily to Cowen as they came to Miriam, so I am focusing a lot of our math attention on that book currently.  I also started Cowen on learning his multiplication tables on xtramath.com and created a fake student so he could practice addition under a different name.  I did the same thing with Miriam.  We are hitting computation really hard with the oldest two this year.  Once we've finished the Building Thinking Skills book, I'll shuffle Cowen back into his regular math book.  By then he'll know enough of his multiplication tables that the multiplying and dividing work in the math book will be easy and math will remain angst-free.

Small sidenote: I just starting giving weekly first and second place awards to the kids who make the most improvement on their xtramath work.  The improvement in their effort has been downright astonishing.  Amazing what a $1.00 box of candy can do for a child's motivation.

Language Arts: Cowen is working out of the Rod and Staff Beginning Wisely Level 3 grammar book.  I already told you how much I love Rod and Staff.  I take two years to go through the first book--making sure they don't get overloaded.  We do one lesson a day, four days a week.  I don't worry about teaching writing at this stage.  I wait until grade five and with Cowen, I might wait until grade six.

Basically, I'm not really converted to teaching spelling to young children.  Miriam was a terrible speller for years and I kept wondering why she didn't pick it up from reading like I had.  Then, one day, she could spell.  It was awesome.  My son, though, has a harder time with all things verbal so I bought the Phonetic Zoo just to help him practice a little.  I don't insist on memorization of the words. I tried that briefly and it led to much, much heartache.  Instead, I show the kids (Cowen and Emeline) the spelling rule outlined on the card, pick six words, and have them write those six words three times daily for one week.  Then we move on.  My purpose?  To help my kids start to recognize when something looks right and when something looks wrong.  If they haven't miraculously learned to spell by the sixth grade, I'll get more serious about it.

They also diagram one sentence a day from Digging Into Diagramming.  Miriam diagrams four sentences a day, but I don't want the younger kids to get in over their heads too quickly.  They have barely started learning about nouns so I don't want them trying to diagram adjectives yet, for example.

Emeline, grade 3 

Math: Emeline has a September birthday so she's technically in grade two, but I bumped her up to grade three one year to suit other purposes, and now she's still there.  It doesn't really matter except she's flying through her math book (the younger grades have much shorter books).  She doing Mathematical Reasoning Level C which is one year higher than I meant for her to be in (it's the second grade level).  After she completes it I will have her switch to the Building Thinking Skills Level One book just to slow her down a little before putting her into the third grade level.  She'll still be farther ahead than any of my other children were at her age.  We might have to take some time off math books to work on Mind Benders or something if I feel she's getting grumpy about math.

Language Arts: See Cowen.

Eli, kindergarten

I don't really do much with my kindergarten kids.  I want him in the Mathematical Reasoning Level A book right now, but money is tight with the baby coming and I haven't been able to get it for him yet.  He works on xtramath.com and loves that.

As for language arts, he does the I See Sam program that I've reviewed before to learn to read.  Love that program!  Then he writes funny sentences that I make up like "Dad sat on the fat cat."

This was probably longer than you wanted and less helpful than I hoped.  If you have any specific questions, shoot them at me and I'll do my best to answer.