Friday, August 28, 2015

State of the Homeschool Address: Part Two

There were three homeschool-related items I had hoped to complete this summer:

You can read all about how we happened to have these things left over at the end of the year here:

State of the Homeschool Address:  Part One

Basically it took me way too long to realize that we need to do Spanish and history daily if we want to cover the amount of material I have planned for their education as a whole.

Sadly, I found it nearly impossible for the unschooler in me to teach Spanish and history every day this summer.  We tried it for a few days but discovered that violin, Spanish, history and vocabulary all together was taking up most of the morning.  Not only were there a billion other things we'd all rather be doing in the few months of nice weather we have up here in the glacial plains, but I felt like I was personally being punished.  I needed a break from teaching every day.  So, we kept up with the violin and Kal-El finished his Vocabu-Lit book yesterday.  I'm not thrilled to have all of those unfinished Spanish and history chapters staring me in the face at the beginning of this year.

I've gotten the school room thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom.  I've removed many materials we don't need anymore.  Almost all of our materials ordered have arrived and been added to the shelves.  I've photocopied and bound anything that had blackline masters so that the boys would have less to punch and put into their work binders.  I've already written all the headers into my lesson plan books.

Today I am going to work on writing out their first work plans of the year.  I have a file on the computer that I would normally just tweak but it looks like I'll be writing them out by hand. Our printer, a Lexmark S605 that we've always strongly disliked, completely died.  It "says" it needs a new $66 printhead but it really doesn't.  It's a firmware problem. I can't update the firmware.  I've tried 20 times.  It takes an hour and it always get's hung up in the same spot in the update.  Shopping for a new printer has been frustrating because nobody likes their printer.  Even the review sites that list the "top five printers for Macs" admit that every printer has a fatal flaw of some kind.  Buying a printer is a matter of deciding which fatal flaw you can live with.  Is it okay if the ink dries up if you go a week without printing a page?  Is it okay if 33%  of the printers are lemons but you can tell on start up so you can keep returning the printer until you get one that works?  Is it okay if it can't accept cardstock or photo paper?

We are going to try one of the new Epson EcoTank printers, the Epson Expression ET-2550.  These are a new thing, so new we had to wait for the release and now are waiting for it to ship.  It has big ink tanks on the side that supposedly hold the equivalent of 20 cartridges of ink.  They estimate it is about two years worth of ink.  You refill it yourself when needed and to buy a pack tanks to refill all four colors is currently $50.  The downside is that the printer is expensive.  They have to make up for all the money you are going to save on ink so they charge you a premium at the outset.  It currently costs me $88 to fill all four colors on my Lexmark with XL cartridges and I refill those twice a year.  For that reason we are hoping this printer works out.  I'll keep you posted.

So, as I'm getting the work plans ready for next week I'm reviewing where we left off on everything last spring.  Last year Me Too would have been considered "a first-grader" or would likely have been in his first year of Montessori elementary.  Kal-El would have been considered "a third-grader" or in his third year of Montessori elementary.  You can read more about all that here.


Spelling, Vocabulary, Writing, Literature, Handwriting and Word Study

I think we all know at this point that I lean very classical in these areas and have filled in with some curriculum rather than left myself responsible for tracking these things throughout their work as a whole.

Me Too completely finished The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and All About Spelling Level 1.  This year he will work on All About Spelling Level 2  and Vocabu-Lit B.

Kal-El finished AAS Level 2 and will work through All About Spelling Level 3  this year.  He finished Vocabu-Lit, Book C yesterday and this year will work on Vocabu-Lit, Book D.

Both boys completed The Complete Writer: Level 1 .  I am keeping both boys together on this work, so they will both work on Level 2 this year.  Both boys have had all of the lessons in the Word Study section of the KotU albums but need to review this year.  I bought them the Lower Elementary word study cards from ETC Montessori  and put them in hardware drawers.  Afterward I will likely get them the upper elementary set.

Vocabulary development continues to be very important.  As is typical of strong readers their age, they can read anything they want but don't always know what the words mean.  You may remember I collected a slew of vocabulary resources and am going to attempt to integrate this into our learning more organically.

We always seem to have literature covered.  I think I spend about an hour every week planning, obtaining, and organizing library books for them.  The boys read voraciously.  We always have a book going as a read-aloud (I love the The Read-Aloud Handbook).  We often have an audio book (or two) in progress as well.  We enjoyed several amazing audio books when we traveled this summer.

Kal-El basically taught himself cursive using the New American Cursive, Volume I last fall.  He went from zero to writing in all cursive in a matter of about two weeks.  I had give him a few presentations on connecting letters but otherwise he did all the work.  This year  he will do volume two.  There is a Scripture version and a "famous Americans" version.  That was a tough decision for me.  Usually ordering the scripture version is a no brainer but it is hard to turn down famous Americans.  I went with famous Americans but keep checking the sky for lightening bolts.

Me Too has some kind of handwriting disability.  He is not dyslexic but something is up.  The diagnosis could be as simple as "Kid, your mom should have taught cursive first like Maria Montessori said," but I don't think that is it.  Despite completing the whole Montessori arsenal of handwriting activities, doing each level of Handwriting Without Tears TWICE, and doing Zaner-Bloser's Kindergarten and 1st grade books last year he still has some issues.  He has improved greatly and I think that it is resolving itself with time, patience and maturity.  He is excited to start cursive this fall.  The change of pace is something I considered doing much sooner.  Hopefully it will be just what he needs.


Both boys have been given the "function of words" lessons (key presentations and follow-ups for all of the parts of speech) several times and I will continue to do so.  They both completed all of the grammar command cards this year.  Kal-El completed all of the grammar boxes.  Me Too has  completed them through to "the verb."  These will likely be on his daily work plan at the start of the year to get them wrapped up.

Kal-El practiced a lot of easy logical analysis/sentence analysis work and completed the lower elementary sentence analysis set from ETC.  He will move directly into the more advanced sentence analysis work, i.e. more complex sentences. Cards for this are available in the ETC upper elementary grammar curriculum.  Me Too has had lessons on the same set of logical analysis work but hasn't completed much practice.  He will do some more work on the lower elementary set and move to the upper elementary set when he is ready.

As you can likely already tell, I don't have a lot of free time and I try to buy as many materials as I can rather than make them.  It is more important to me to get the materials here and in use quickly than for them to match my KotU albums precisely.  For this reason many of my language materials match MRD more closely than KotU.  I like the KotU materials better, I think they are more advanced.  But, I figure if the MRD coordinated materials are good enough for a large percentage of the Montessori world they are good enough for us.  They also always seem to build in plenty of practice which is something that I appreciate.  The good news is, all of the files you need to match the KotU albums are available through the course.  If you have time to do some printing and laminating you can have great materials that match your albums precisely.

We haven't touched any of the verb tenses work.  Again, very nice files are available through KotU.  We are going to try using the ETC verb conjugation work.



Kal-El thoroughly finished all work with the division test tubes last year.  He also really maxed out the multiplication checkerboard and the bank game.  He can do both long division and multiplication abstractly on paper with very large numbers.    He has already done the flat bead frame, but I will probably pull that out at the start of the year for some long multiplication review before we tackle category multiplication.  The stamp game will have a brief reappearance when he learns more about group division.

Me Too knows the large bead frame and the back game backwards and forwards at this point.  He'll switch over to the checkerboard.  He already made very good progress on the division test tubes last spring.  We'll focus on finishing that up right away while he is still young and loves moving beads.

They both know all of their math facts for all four operations.


I have found it easiest to keep both boys together on a lot of this.  They have both worked through that album section up through "multiples, Table C."  We will pick up this year with "least common multiples" and continue on through factors and divisibility.  Me Too was still in primary when he did the numeration work with the commutative and distributive properties and parenthesis so I feel like he should have a review of those topics this year as well.

The few pages in the AMI Montessori albums on measurement are hidden at the back of this section.  I would like to do the ETC measurement command cards, but will think about that in December.

Squares and Cubes of Numbers

Both boys have a good start in this section of the albums. They finished through to the end of the decanomial square stages with the beads and then stopped.  They will continue on  to the paper decanomial and beyond.

Fractions and Decimal Fractions

Kal-El finished all of my fraction drawers (and thus the entire MRD first fraction album) early in the school year last year and then was busy in other threads for the rest of the year.  Me Too nearly finished them in the spring.  They will be moving on to the work in MRD Volume Two, Kal-El right away and Me Too when he's finished with the drawers.   They basically have done all the nomenclature, equivalence, and simple operations work and will be moving on to multiplying or dividing a fraction by a fraction and operations with unlike denominators.

Kal-El will be starting the decimal fraction works.  These could have been introduced sooner, but frankly there is a limit on how many threads we can have going at once.  I have to refresh my memory on the presentations.  I might let Me Too come along for the ride on the presentations or I might let him wait until he's out of some of the operations work.  Again, too many threads, so little time.

Speaking of threads at a time, I haven't even brought up geometry yet and you can see this is a lot of threads.  We can't have them all going at the same time.  One of the things I'm working on right now is deciding which couple to do first.  We'll work in a thread for a while until it reaches a good stopping point and then pick up a different one for a while.

Word Problems

Me Too will be working on Daily Word Problems, Grade 2 and Kal-El will be working on Daily Word Problems, Grade 4. They do these about once a week and do a whole weeks worth at a time.


Both boys have done the work with polygons, angles and lines.  We somehow haven't tackled the circle yet so that is on deck.  I finally bit the bullet and ordered the remaining equivalency, volume, and area materials that we didn't have and I predict that geometry will be one of our main areas of study this year.


We will be doing both of these subjects every day, for different reasons.  We are using SOTW for history and there is just a lot to get through.  It is hard to make progress on a foreign language if you aren't doing it every day.  It doesn't take very long so we will switch that to daily as well.


Kal-El and Me Too have long since finished the presentations in the Montessori music album.   Both boys take violin lessons once a week and practice for 30 minutes each nearly every day.  Both have been learning a little bit of piano from me whenever they ask for a lesson.  Kal-El plays some trumpet/cornet but mostly on his own.  I am going to try putting a piano lesson with Mom officially "on the books" each week and will see how that goes.  I can continue their music theory at that time.  We will continue using Classic Tunes and Tales for music literature.


I wrote about how we use the Waseca Biomes curriculum as one possible linear path through the Geography, Zoology, History, and Botany albums as a united whole back in this post and in this post.   We will continue to do so this year.  As is the nature of Montessori, you cover things or go through album sections multiple times.  However if you are curious about what we've covered at least once, here it goes...

Geography:  Creation of the Earth, Nature of the Elements, The Sun and Earth, The Work of Air.  Notably missing is The Work of Water so we will be be sure to get to that soon.  The boys want to revisit The Composition of the Earth and The Formation of Mountains after having visited Yellowstone.

 Zoology and Botany:  We have covered all plant and animal topics at a superficial level and need to revisit and go deeper.  For example, we've done the story materials, key experiences,  and all of the nomenclature charts, books and cards.  I have, however, avoided many of the botany experiments and we've only done basic classification.  We haven't touched any human anatomy work.

Another important supplement we use in our homeschool is Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  I assessed our progress in the first volume at the end of last school year and discovered that we had done nearly all of the lessons, either specifically to supplement the boys' interests or coincidentally as we worked through the albums.  I did notice that the only things we hadn't really chosen were in the "Life Sciences" chapter and match up with the things we haven't done in the biology album, for example:  adaptations, food chains and survival;  the skeleton and muscle system; the nervous system, etc.,  Volume One of this series is divided into several threads that continue in Volume Two.  We have done quite a bit of work in Volume Two already. The way I use our resources we can get onto a thread and continue straight through several volumes without touching a particular thread in even the first volume.


We will continue using How Great Thou Art for our drawing and painting lessons.  I wrote briefly about that resource in this post.  I think we finished 25 lessons in that book last year.  We hadn't touched our Child Size Masterpieces in a long time.  So, in the spring I acquired and prepared the rest of the materials through to the end.  They are ready and waiting in folders in the school room.  I plan to put them on the weekly or cyclical portion of the boys work plans.


I will end this post with a warning.  If you are homeschooling and/or homeschooling in a Montessori-inspired way I probably mentioned a lot of things here that you don't already use or own.  Please don't feel like you "need" these things.  I wrote about the dark side of adding things to Montessori in the State of the Homeschool Address:  Part One.  I also read a short post today over at The Common Room that I really enjoyed titled "Schedule-Stuffing."  My favorite couple of sentences were these:

There is a certain point at which adding more stuff to your curriculum does not result in more power, more ideas, better curriculum, more  learning – it results in less: less time to think, less time to process, less time to imagine adventures, invent episodes, less making of connections because by adding too much, you have created a confused, overwhelming tangle of ideas.


  1. I love that you are able to keep up with all these areas! We have been a muddle this past several months - tight quarters, no space - looking forward so much to having a homeschool room/area again! :) Nevertheless, the beginning of the year is always exciting as it brings so much opportunity for new exciting things! :)

  2. Wow, what a long, long post! I was wondering after loving your "adventure west" posts what had taken you away again. Good to have you back, and so interesting to see all the details you've been planning.

    It is so interesting how two different people can do this homeschoolng thing so differently!! T is right in the middle of your two and S is I think the same year as Me Too. Between yours and mine all four are in completely different places. I can't wait to see how the year unfolds for you guys.

    And thanks for the warning at the end of the post. Very Wise!

  3. We finally finished SOTW today! All 42 chapters! With so many rabbit trails, it seemed never ending. But we are glad to have read so many great books along the way.

    It is great to read about where you have left off and what you have planned for the next year. I don't know what it is with electronics, they always seem to breakdown at the hour of need. My mac's charger doesn't work anymore! So there goes all my planned posts for re-entry into blogging!

  4. If I can manage to accomplish even half of what you guys do, I will be over the moon!