Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vote For Me! For the Top 25 Homeschool Blogs Please!

Circle of Moms is holding an awsome blog contest for homeschool bloggers. If you get an opportunity please get over there and cast a vote for The Well Trained Homeschool. Thanks to all my subscribers and there support.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Think About it Thursday: Screen Free Week!

So this week we have been participating in screen week with our local homeschool support group. It basically having your children not watch TV for a week. Now we didn't watch much TV anyway but its been a good experience so far turning off the tube.

During an average week my children would get an hour of TV during the weekdays and on the weekend they could get up to 2hrs on Saturday and Sunday. So compared to our nations average of children watching 4+ hours a day I say we were doing pretty darn good. But you know just 4 days into our screen free week I can see we could have been doing better. In that hour I was letting my children have it was usually while I was trying to fix dinner. So now instead this week the children and I have been more creative with that time. I have invited my kids into the kitchen more and they have come up with some things to do themselves.

If you decided to go Screen Free for a week here is a list of ideas to keep your family entertained:

  1. Go for afternoon walk around the neighborhood or local park
  2. Start and garden
  3. Listen to Audio books of the Classics
  4. Do an arts and craft project
  5. Start silent reading hour
  6. Create a production of your children's favorite story
  7. Draw while listening to Classical music
  8. Play in the yard
  9. Pull out the board games
  10. Train children in doing a new chore

Here are some pics I took of this weeks Screen Free Week.

Starting Seeds

Reading in front of turned off TV!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Well Trained Wednesday: Grammar Stage- Language Arts Pt.3

We have now made it to our 3rd installment on our series about Grammar Stage language arts. So today we are going to discuss what writing looks like in the Classical Education model.
At the Grammar Stage writing starts at its earliest as developing penmanship skills later on transferring to writing well written sentences and toward the end of the grammar stage introducing the composition. A major way most Classical homeschoolers build good penmanship skills in there young learners is through Copywork I already gave an explanation of copywork in Language Arts pt. 2. So you can refer back to that if need be. I must point out the fact that Classical if not anything is a holistic approach to learning. You will constantly see the overlapping of certain skills and methods through the curriculum helping to bridge the gap between subjects till it one day comes together as a whole. Copywork is a handwriting exercise as well as an exercise in grammar and spelling.

Now there are many arguments that I have heard for whether or not start with print or cursive and both arguments are valid. I personally begin with print(manuscript) and go along with TWTM recommendation to start cursive at the beginning of 2nd grade. My 2nd grader began this year with cursive this fall with some copywork of just basic lettering and then we started halfway through the year with an excellent program called Handwriting Without Tears. We are doing the 3rd grade cursive book cause in traditional education programs they begin cursive in 3rd grade. TWTM recommends the Zaner- Bloser Grade 2C student book to start out in with cursive.

Susan Wise Bauer had this to say in regards to beginning copywork:

"Look at his work, praise what he's done right, and then correct his mistakes with a red pencil so that he can clearly see the correction. Ask him to compare his work with the original. Do this two or three times per week. Put the child's paper in the notebook under copying. Does this stifle creativity? No- it builds the skills the child needs in order to be truly creative. When a first grader copies a sentence from Charlotte's Web he's learning spelling, mechanics(punctuation and so forth), basic grammar( subject- verb agreement, adjective use), and vocabulary from a master of English prose. He'll need all this information in order to write down the sentences he forms in his own head."

The next step in building and developing writing skills in the Classical method will be to introduce dictation. You want to start with short sentences dictating slowly as they write. Check for punctuation, capitalization errors and have them make corrects.  But keep in mind that at first it will take some time to do dictation. Try not to frustrate the child give them a little to go in if they need some help figuring out proper spelling till they get used to it. TWTM says:

"The child who's spent the first grade copying will already have a visual memory of common words. But during the transition from copying to dictation, you'll need to help him develop the skills of sounding out and writing down words without looking at a model."

Dictation will help the child develop the rules of good style and expression necessary for writing compositions later on.

Another suggestion is to have the child do letter writing( thank- you notes, letters to grandma, etc..) as soon as possible to being using the writing skills. TWTM does warn against requiring the child to be creative in the grammar stage cause they are still absorbing and taking things in. This is not to say to stop a child who is naturally creative but not make it a mandate. It will come eventually when the child has acquired more skills.

So I guess you are wondering when should we start a formal writing program. Well if you are like myself you would feel as though your 2nd grader was just not quite ready for formal writing so you held off another year and continued to grow with your grammar and spelling program in the meantime. But in a traditional classical model you would start formal writing in 2nd grade. I think this is adjustable though. Look at your child for clues of readiness. There is no need to rush them into something they are not prepared for cause you can cause them to grow to hate it. Once a child hates writing its a hard thing to get to point of loving it. TWTM recommends that you being a formal writing program in supplement of your grammar program. The Wises suggested Writing Strands as a good start for formal writing. I am considering it for next year for my oldest. But its a debate between Writing Strands and IEIW( Institute for Excellence in Writing). I think that IEIW combines a lot of the language arts into one program which is what makes it so appealing. The creator of the program Andrew Pudewa has a nice selection of free audio seminars that explains the IEIW approach very well.

So that is it in a nutshell. I will return next week for my last installment in the Grammar Stage language art series with Reading and the Classical Model.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Think About it Thursday:Summer Service Projects For Kids!

With so much that has occurred in our World this year in the realm of disaster from the Earthquakes in Haiti to the Tsunami and Earthquakes of Japan I have seriously been considering having my children get actively involved. Both tragedies effect family and friends we know. At first I was not sure how to get such young children involved in service but I then I just had to think about what they can do instead of what they can't do. I feel like we should rotate a new project every two weeks to give them a broad prospective on service so maybe when they get a little older they can choose one summer service project for themselves.

So here are some of the things we were going to try and work on this Summer:

Volunteer at a Church Food Pantry

Volunteer at Soup Kitchen(maybe just my oldest cause my other two wont be able to work with the food)

Make Hygiene Kits for Homeless and Disaster Victims using coupons(been watching that Extreme Couponing show in TLC. Its got me a little excited. LOL!)

Join a Community Garden or CSA that helps turn empty lots into something beautiful

Book Drive for Children's Home

Have any of you guys done service projects with your children. I would love to hear what kind of things you guys have done. Please comment!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Well Trained Wednesday: Grammar Stage- Language Arts Pt.2

Before beginning formal grammar lessons your child should at least be able to write simple words with ease. For your young elementary student you should expect to cover parts of speech, proper relationships of those parts of speech, and the mechanics of the English language. Basically at this phase you are in the process of creating memory pegs in your child's mind in which they can later hang further exploration of English grammar and writing. Its not so much mastery of grammatical usage that you are looking to achieve at this phase as it is memorization of the processes that will help them to expand upon things later.

One of the many ways Classical Education overlaps other homeschooling methods like for instance Charlotte Mason is through the use of copywork, narration, and dictation as primary tools to teach grammar. But one of the big differences between Classical and Charlotte Mason Education is when to introduce formal grammar lessons. Classical Education begins the use of copywork and narration early on in the grammar stage of learning slowly transitioning to the use of dictation by the 3rd grade or so. Charlotte Mason however uses copywork throughout elementary to teach spelling and grammar not really moving into dictation till the middle grade years.

So lets explore what exactly copywork, narration and dictation are. We will start with copywork. I found this wonderful explanation at a website called

From Wonder...to Wisdom

What is copywork? Quite simply, it is writing out by hand, or copying, words from a written model. In the very early stages, children may trace or copy the letters of the alphabet, but once they have had some practice with this, they progress to words and phrases. Later on, sources for copywork include a great variety of written materials: poetry, Bible passages, other writings of great men, to name just a few. Some people equate copywork with handwriting, and this is certainly part of it – but there is far more to copywork than just handwriting.

Copywork carries with it a number of benefits.
  1. With regard to young children, the most obvious one is that it is a good means of introducing and practising the mechanics of written English: spelling, punctuation, grammar, and handwriting. If children are taught from the outset that only their best work is acceptable, and that they must pay attention to detail, these mechanics will quickly become second nature. But do not be tempted to abandon copywork as soon as the child can write neatly, and has achieved a basic proficiency in spelling, for the benefits go far beyond the simple mechanics of writing.
  2. Copywork is a valuable addition to any memory work programme, as it involves more than one of the senses. Children learn so much more quickly when their hands and eyes are involved in the learning, as well as their ears and tongues.
  3. Excellent copywork models lead to increased familiarity with different forms of written expression and with a variety of styles. Results may show up before long in the children’s speech or writing: in allusions they make, or in modelling their own work on that of others. This is one area in which the benefit is an on-going one, as older children choose to model their writing on some of the great writers of English poetry or prose.
  4. Charlotte Mason, in the Original Homeschooling Series, had a lot to say about ideas being the proper diet for our children’s minds. Copywork, carefully chosen, can be a source of such ideas. It can also be a window into the minds and thinking of others. This is another benefit that can continue throughout life, and it is partly for this reason that even older children should continue to do copywork – though for them it need not be such a frequent activity as for their younger brothers and sisters.
Now according to "The Well Trained Mind" narration is explained as follows:

"Narration is a way to develop the child's understanding and story- telling skills. The process is simple: the child tells you what he's just heard or read. You start this process in preschool, when you ask your child questions about the stories you were reading together. In the first grade, you begin to ask the child to summarize the plots of short simple stories... Read the child the story, close the book and ask, "What was the story about." Write down the child's narration, and then read it back to him. Ask him how it differs from the original story. Narration lets you know how much the child retains and understands. It also develops vocabulary and powers of expression, and lays the foundation for good writing later on."

I look at narration as a way of training your child orally to do essay style questions and writing that they will utilize later on in there academic careers. But this way makes it approachable and fun. Who doesn't love a to tell stories especially small children.  When I start narration with my younger ones I let them sometimes draw me a picture of the passage and narrate there drawing. My older child writes down there own narrations when we do notebook pages in other subjects.

Here is a video from Susan Schaffer of Simply Charlotte Mason that explains the way Charlotte Mason homeschoolers approach narration.

And now lets explore dictation.

Dictation is the process where the parent speaks while the child transcribes exactly what the parent is saying.
Dictation is primarily used to reinforce grammar and spelling skills.

Now that we have gone over what grammar looks like in the Classical model lets go through some of the best programs out there to get you a solid foundation in Grammar Stage grammar.
Now in TWTM they recommended in older editions that you start with English for the Thoughtful Child
This was before Susan Wise Bauer established Peace Hill Press and started producing her own language lesson volumes. We use her First Language Lessons. First Language lessons goes all the way to level 4 as of now. I have so far used levels 1 and 2. We are starting on 3 this coming school year. I have found the lessons to be quick and easy but very sequential and challenging. I really feel like it has given my oldest a good grasp on grammar so far. The First Language Lesson series includes the a little copywork, narration, and dictation exercises as well as poetry memorization and recitation. They even throw in some picture study as well. She also named in later editions moving on from "English for the Thoughtful Child" which has two levels to a good program like Abeka's God's Gift of Language A: Writing and Grammar or for a secular alternative just as strong G.U.M levels 3- 5 by Zaner- Bloser.

Once again I threw so much info out there I am going to continue on with Language Arts Pt. 3 next week when we wrap up Reading and Writing in the Grammar Stage.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Think About it Thursday: Home Libraries!

With the technological explosion that just recently hit the publishing industry with Kindles and IPads us bookworms need to start considering building our own home libraries. I think as a society we can sometimes take for granted Public Library. We assume it will always be there. And we also take for granted that the Great Books will always be on the shelves as well. If you go into some branches of my local library system you will find that close to 30- 40% of the Children's section are media items. And lets not get on the new invasion of Cartoon- like series that are taking over the chapter book section with all the poor grammar and lacking vocabulary. I believe Charlotte Mason called these sorts of books "Twaddle". Just think back to when you were a child and think about the books that stuck out to you even to this day. They were usually the great well written stories like The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe, The People Who Could Fly, and The Velveteen Rabbit.

Last month I read an article online  that was about the top 11 things our children won't know about. Well along with the VCR and wired telephones the most frightening thing on the list was " Printed Books". I was like What! Yes, Books! This author was convinced that with technology changing the way we view literature in the future their will be no need for printed materials. Now I know what you are thinking. This sounds a little to extreme but you know maybe not. But this is why I think we should as homeschoolers especially begin to build up our own home libraries.

It doesn't have to be a costly endeavor. You can gather little bits at a time. I have found great luck with finding titles at thrift stores, yard sales, library sales, etc... I love the Dover Thrift Edition cause you can get a lot of the Classic books for less than $3.00 most of the time.
Maybe you are not a bookworm type person and have know idea what is considered Great works of literature to invest in. Well I have made a list that I compiled over the years from many annotative book list. I have even borrowed some titles from literature based curricula like Sonlight, Veritas Press, and My Father's World. I am sort of a catalog junkie.
So below I have my List of Great Books for Children and if you go to my resource section I also have a List of Great African- American Children's Books. But I have included those titles in the list below as well. I just know how hard it is to find list of Good books about or for African- American children so I separated it out for people looking for just that.

List of Great Books for Children

Also there are some great resources for homeschoolers on starting and organizing your home libraries.

Books Bloom

Christian Children Book Reviews
Lifetime Books and Gifts
As well there was a great video I recently watched on homeschool home libraries. Take a look.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Well Trained Wednesday: Grammar Stage- Language Arts Pt.1

Language Arts is a fairly modern term used to describe the study and usage of English grammar and writing. The foundation of a great Classical Education is the mastery of the language arts. A child who can't read can't spell. A child who can't spell can't express themselves in writing. Writing skills are the keys to being able to convey ones argument in a logical manner. One thing that should never be secondary in your homeschool schedule is the language arts.

In "The Well Trained Mind"(WTM) Susan Wise Bauer points out that "Before you can put a word on paper, you have to know what letters to use." This is why a solid foundation in phonics us necessary before proceeding with formal spelling or grammar programs. I personally have found great success with my hand me down Hooked on Phonic program. I do want to state that I use the program without the audio Cd's and the CD ROM. I just use the workbooks, flash cards, and readers. I went through the entire program with my oldest and I am halfway through it with my son(4yrs). There are other less expensive even free phonic programs on the market and online. The WTM recommends "Phonic Pathways" in which I own a copy of that as well. I got it for like $10 at a used curriculum sale. Sometimes you luck out like that. Now if you do go with "Phonic Pathways" you have to purchase a set of phonic readers to go with it cause they don't come with a set. I highly recommend the "Bob Books" set.

A word of caution when selecting a phonic program in general beware of the ones that come with too many bells and whistles. These can be major distractions from your child developing fluency. Words do not jump around on paper. It's just something children have to get use to. The entertainment will come later on when they are delving into a great book full of mystery, suspense, or drama.

Phonic is one of the those non- consumable curriculum's so you can use it for as many children as you need to. Its a rewarding investment but like I said before in previous post homeschooling doesn't have to break the bank. Here are some links to a few free online phonic programs you can use:

McGuffey Eclectic Primer

ABC Fast Phonic

Progressive Phonics

Word of caution: Stay away from phonic programs that include writing at the same time as reading. Writing is a separate skill that uses a different part of the brain. Focusing on both can just delay progress in mastering reading and becoming fluent. Your child may be like my son where he is totally flying through reading but has not yet developed the fine motor skill coordination necessary to write the words that he can read. I wouldn't dare want to hold him back till his hand catches up with the rest of him.

Now the WTM recommend starting spelling once you are halfway through your phonic primer. I have found this to be great advice. Usually by then the child should have moved on from single short vowel words to blends. Starting formal spelling before then wouldn't be that beneficial and might even cause frustration. If the child struggles when you first start spelling hold off until they get further along in their phonic. They just may need more time to hit that particular milestone. So basically spelling should begin around 1st grade year but starting in 2nd is fine as well.

For spelling I have found that the most logical approach is to use a pattern based program. That can help strengthen the phonics skills. The program we love is Sequential Spelling. It was designed by using patterns in the English language. I have found it to be the most well suited for my family. The WTM recommends Spelling Workout in earlier editions. I have read mixed reviews on it though. But you have to pick what fits you and your child's learning style not anyone else.

The other skills that make up the language arts are Grammar, Reading, and Writing. I will continue exploring these subjects and how they are framed in the grammar stage of classical education next week.
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