Review of Mainly Montessori (Album) Timeline

Mainly Montessori Timeline

One of my most popular posts is my album review post. In that post (found here: https://mchomeschoolblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/elementary-album-review/), I review the elementary albums available from Keys of the Universe, NAMC, Montessori R&D (those that I own), and Cultivating Dharma. So I jumped at the opportunity to review another new album option from Mainly Montessori.

In full disclosure, I was provided an affiliate version for 1 week so I could review it. Since I already own all of the above albums, I was not planning on purchasing but I asked the creator of the timeline for a copy to review it. I was not required to provide a positive review (or ANY review), what you see below is a review based on the same criteria I used for the other albums. I hope this is helpful to you. I will also add this review to my other album review post. Sorry it’s so long…it’s what I do. 🙂

Mainly Montessori Albums

  • Link to purchase (aff link): https://www.mainlymontessori.com/products/109161-The-Montessori-Sequence-Timeline?ref=20699-Elisabeth
  • Price: $349 for clickable timeline with “albums” ages 6-12 (can also do $89/month over 4 months)
  • Printables Included: No, there are some links to free printables but most topics do not include printables. There is an option to join the Montessori Hub which has some printables (a monthly membership site for $35/month – $9 the first month)
  • Organization: This is the only album organized in timeline format (as a google doc). Thus, you know exactly what comes next and the lesson is hyperlinked for you to find it. This format is really a huge benefit to this “album” because I can tell you that flip-flip-flipping through my albums to decide what to present next is very, very time consuming. This design replaces a significant portion of annual planning as well as makes weekly planning easier.
  • Scripted: Very little scripted though sometimes key phrases are listed to remind the child of prior work. The Great Lessons are written out in detail though they wouldn’t fit for our family’s beliefs so that’ll vary by family (version is totally secular).
  • Scope/Sequence available: Yes! In the form of a Google Excel doc with clickable links
  • Support available: Only if you join Montessori Hub
  • Physical album available: No, not unless you printed yourself
  • Other options: You can buy a printable copy of the timeline which comes in PDF form (therefore no lesson links) which could be a useful reference for some if you already have albums but just need it laid out in a logical sequence. That option is here: https://www.mainlymontessori.com/products/113254-Printable-Timeline?ref=20699-Elisabeth

The clickable nature of the timeline format is a really nice layout and is totally unique to this offering. It would save quite a bit of planning time each August and each Sunday for me to have the clickable version. There is currently no way to print the album, each lesson is linked individually (why I call it an “album” above) so you cannot create a bound album which I know some people like to do with Keys. This is not a problem for me as I’ve always accessed lessons via the computer.

One notable thing about this “album” is that the timeline starts at age 5-6+ so it does start with some primary lessons that are not generally included in other albums. As an example, the math sequence starts with linear counting/teens/early Golden bead lessons which may have been covered for many kids in primary if they’re truly starting at age 6. For me, I started my kids in a “transitional” year between primary and elementary because I started homeschooling them in Kindergarten so this would have been helpful.

On the other end, the Upper Elementary math section is not particularly fleshed out but I did hear from the creator and she is working on that to add pictures, materials lists, etc. This version is currently in “beta” mode while she finishes those lessons. In terms of a math sequence, this timeline has many of the lessons more backloaded (more for older children) than other sequences I’ve seen on Montessori compass but I don’t think this is a huge problem, you’d just progress at the child’s pace.

One thing I really like about the timeline is that Pilar (the creator) shows multiple math/strands moving simultaneously. This is always really confusing to people how to plan this and work on multiple math strands but it works out beautifully in practice. We always have multiple math strands going (for example: fractions and divisibility) and multiple language strands (word study, writing, sentence analysis).

Example of the multiple math strands going simultaneously

In terms of how the lessons are written up/photographed, I find this album quite similar to other offerings. I reviewed several of the lessons side-by-side with Keys and Cultivating Dharma and they’re virtually the same with some slight variations. This makes sense because, of course, all of the albums available are just versions of Montessori training albums (written while the owners are in Montessori training schools) but I wanted to note this because while the timeline makes this version easier to use in some ways, if you are confused by/really struggle with giving Montessori lessons, this version is very similar to the others (and has to be).

Keys of the Universe – Subtracting Fractions
Mainly Montessori Timeline – Subtracting Fractions lesson

In all my albums (some exception in Montessori R&D) I find there are few examples of “follow-up” work. This is something I feel is really lacking. There are lessons given, for example, on word problems with speed/time/rate but no follow-up problems or lessons. Or geography, we give a lesson on People in Different Climate Zones or the Great Lessons but there are no ideas given for follow-up. In a classroom setting, the teacher has developed these follow-ups over years and has multiple avenues to recommend the children explore further. In my experience in a homeschool, the children often need more ideas, guidance, and scaffolding to actually follow through. Giving math lessons isn’t enough, the children also have to have practice for each lesson, etc. and none of the albums really give us ideas/materials to do that. (Not a criticism of any album in particular but just a note that these albums are the same as others in that little follow-up material/ideas are available beyond “the lesson”).

Some of the lessons do require you to purchase other material (notably the grammar/word study lessons) that is available in other albums. For example, the Montessori R&D language albums come with enough word study material to create this entirely on your own without any extra cost; the Keys albums comes with the grammar filler box material. It would be nice if, for the current price, this version came with additional examples/samples. I also wish that the writing section didn’t require supplementation with Brave Writer at an additional cost. I know many homeschoolers use that (or other writing programs) but I was hoping for the album lessons on those sections included in the price, not additional links.

The price of these albums is in alignment with some of the other homeschool albums (notably more affordable than NAMC), however, adding the Montessori Hub does make it more pricey ($35/month is a LOT). From what I’ve seen, it isn’t 100% necessary that you also join the Hub but it is nice to get the support/printables included there if you’re just starting out. The Hub offers weekly planning and “how to” lesson videos so it would be helpful to have if you need examples to present the lessons. I have found free videos on YouTube to be very helpful so there is definitely a benefit to watching videos to help you learn how to present. It’s also worth noting that for this and any album, you should plan to supplement with additional resources whether that’s printables or monthly memberships (I still spend a lot on TPT in any given month/year).

So what is my “final” verdict? I love the clickable timeline and if I were just starting out, I would find that format incredibly helpful. If I was investing in albums for the first time, I would likely chose this one simply because of the ease of use and the reduction in my required planning time! I prefer how Montessori R&D comes with some material/examples printed in the book (for the basic price of the album) but those albums don’t come with a timeline or any sequencing information to help you plan. If I were only doing “hybrid” Montessori (i.e. only for some subjects), I’d likely stick with the free Cultivating Dharma albums but if you’re planning on a comprehensive Montessori education, the Mainly Montessori timeline/albums is a nice approach. The ongoing price of the “Hub” (about $400 a year; $35/month after the $9 introductory price) would likely be too much for me but I appreciate that the option is available for those that need ongoing support (no other albums provide growing content libraries/videos). I really wish that were included or more heavily discounted for Timeline owners (especially those related to lesson planning)! Overall, I see this as a really nice option for those just starting out or overwhelmed by the planning aspect of Montessori!

What do you think? Have you seen/used this resource? Let me know your opinion.

2020-2021 Curriculum Choices

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Here is the annual blog of what we’re using in our homeschool this year with all my links and reasons why I chose each thing.  As a reminder, C is 8 years old (3rd grade in the US system) and D is 6 years old (1st grade).  This will be my 4th year of homeschooling which feels quite short but also enough time that I am feeling pretty confident about our schedule.  The curve ball will, of course, be COVID-19 and what happens to “Badger” (my son, R, who is 4).  We have planned for him to attend his last year of play-based preschool but it’s still unclear whether that’ll happen.  For now, I’m not planning for him being home but that could change at any time.

 

If you want to read about our choices from previous years, they can all be found organized here: Curriculum Planning

 

As with last year, we homeschool approximately 3 hours/day M-Th with Friday reserved for their engineering/geography class (in person most years, virtual this fall). For most of these choices, I have a flip through in Instagram stories.  If you don’t have Instagram, you can use this link to access it from a regular computer browser: McHomeschool Instagram

 

In our homeschool, we focus on the following subjects:

  • Bible/Faith formation/Character Study
  • History
  • Math
  • Science/Cosmic
  • Language Arts
  • Geography
  • Geometry
    • More below on why we’re (mostly) dropping geometry this year
  • Art
  • Spanish

 

Bible/Faith Formation/Character Study

We begin with these topics every day.  In homeschool jargon, it would be called my “morning basket” but it’s not in a basket and it’s not super structured so I just called it “Bible time”.

 

We will continue with the book Long Story Short for our main Bible study this year, this should be our last year using this book (it’s written to cover 72 weeks which is 2-3 school years).  This book goes virtually line by line in the Bible and it’s main theme is the overarching story present from start to finish in the Bible.

 

This year’s character study curriculum

This year we are adding some character study using a book called Our 24 Family Ways and I’m very excited about it.  This is a Christian book but touches on important topics like relationship to authority, attitude toward our possessions, choosing to be honest/diligent/patient, etc.  I would not recommend this book for a non-Christian family simply because it’s so heavy on Bible quotations, etc. but I do highly recommend character study to encourage social/emotional learning discussions and I know there are some secular options out there.

 

 

History

2020 History Choices

We will be delaying the start of history studies by 4-5 weeks while we cover Great Lesson 1 but more on that below.  When we begin our actual history studies, we will pick up with the 3rd year in the  History Odyssey  series by Pandia Press, this time using the “Early Modern” level.  We have enjoyed this curriculum for the last few years, especially how it weaves World History with US history instead of treating them separately.  In the US History sections (approximately 4-5 of 20 topics), I will be supplementing with A Young Peoples’ History of the United States, Volume 1 (Columbus to the Spanish-American War) . I was delighted that I found very strong overlap between the topics and that I’ll be able to add more female/global majority voices to our study of American History.  As always, I highly, highly recommend modifying any curriculum to better fit your needs and reflect your values.

 

I have two flip throughs on Instagram about history, one called “Curriculum” where I flip through History Odyssey and one called “History” that is about my philosophy about teaching history (specifically US history) in general.

 

Math

Hands On Equations from Feb 2020

The girls work independently in math because they’re working at different levels/topics.  For C (3rd grade), we are covering the following math threads from Montessori:

  • Negative (signed) numbers
  • Powers of 2
  • Non-decimal bases
  • Exponential Notation
  • Expanded Power Notation
  • (Algebra — we use Hands On Equations for Algebra, not Montessori)

 

Cubing from March 2020

She will also continue to supplement with Beast Academy and of course, we will continue with Number Talks!  For an extensive blog post on number talks, please see here: Homeschool Number Talks . Honestly, it’s not enough math material for the year so we will likely have to do something else midway through.  She’s quite mathy but I also don’t want to leap through topics too quickly.  I have my eye on AOPS Pre-Algebra but not quite sure.  It’s ok to not have it all figured out…we have enough to start with for a few months and I am going to do my research before making any final decisions (also helps to spread costs out).

 

Multiples with the Pegboard from March 2020

For D (1st grade), I think we will cover the following threads this year though I remain very flexible on this because I’m not 100% certain what her pacing will be through certain topics:

  • Place value review (I like to review this in 1st grade because it is such a critical skill)
  • Review of multiples
  • Finishing up fractions
    • Helpful to do multiples prior to do fraction operations with unlike denominators
  • Divisibility
  • Checkerboard (Long multiplication)
  • Graphing introduction (non-Montessori topic but I add it because it’s important)
  • Rounding and Estimation
    • Although this is covered in Montessori throughout, I like to teach an explicit unit on it prior to beginning long division because I like to have the children estimate the answer when doing long division
  • Racks and Tubes (Long division)

D will also continue weekly number talks.

 

Science/Cosmic

Botany Lesson from April 2020

This year, we will begin the year with Great Lesson #1 (Creation of the Universe) as a jumping off point to our main topic of the year: Earth Science.  I believe this will take us about 1/2 a year (I’m skipping topics we’ve already covered) and then we will do Great Lesson #2 mid-year before we begin our second science topic: Kingdoms/Classification.

 

Two years ago, I taught all 5 Great Lessons in a 10 week time period (all documented here: Great Lessons) and it nearly crushed me.  I was trying to follow trained guides who said that they taught them early in the year to inspire all of the science/history work that their classes did each year.  Of course I had forgotten two key differences between myself and trained guides: 1) I hadn’t spent years of training honing my stories/materials for the Great Lessons and 2) they were trying to inspire 25+ children who’d had the lessons before and all needed different topics to inspire them.  We spent 10 weeks racing through the topics and while it was very magical, I think I squandered a lot of the inspiration that my ONE child would have received from each lesson because we moved on to the next one.  So, we will now be taking our time.

 

I did not teach the Great Lessons last year so D has never had them.  With that in mind, I knew I should start with Great Lesson #1 and use that as a jumping off point for science and Earth Science made the most sense.  I also wanted a full earth science curriculum to discuss things like Atmosphere and Hydrosphere because I know C will love those topics and we’ve not yet covered them (they are in the “functional geography” section of most Montessori albums, we’d call the “physical geography” today).  I also knew however that I didn’t want to spend a whole year on Earth Science because some of it is review for C.  So that’s why I believe we’ll be starting Kingdoms/Classification in the second half of the year.

 

For Earth Science, we’ll be using Real Science Odyssey: Earth and Environment and for Kingdoms/Classification we’ll be using a unit study from The Good and the Beautiful. The Earth Science curriculum is great with multiple hands on experiments and demonstrations each week which I know the girls will love.  We will skip some of the topics that we’ve already covered so I believe we should be able to finish it within the first semester.  But I’m open to it taking longer if the girls are truly inspired.  I’m very excited to have a more dynamic/hands on curriculum than in previous years.

 

Language

D’s Grammar lesson from Nov 2019

Montessori language has five main language threads that I can discern:

  • Grammar
  • Word study
  • Sentence Analysis
  • Literature
  • Writing – can be woven throughout and would include both content and structure (paragraphs, punctuation, etc.)

 

The first three threads have dedicated materials and key lessons and are generally easier to recognize as Montessori.  The last two threads are equally important but have many fewer Montessori-specific lessons and instead seem to just require more standard methods employed in elementary education.  For our family, we spend the first 1-2 elementary years focused on the first three threads before moving into the literature/writing portion in middle elementary grades.  So we are approaching them as follows:

  • Grammar
    • C has covered all parts of speech and is reviewing them with some curricula listed below
    • D will cover the remaining parts of speech that she didn’t cover last year: adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, and interjection

 

  • Word study
    • C has covered “word root” word study (compound words, suffixes, prefixes, etc.) and will be using this Word Study book from Critical Thinking Co
    • D will start on a few word study topics like contractions and plurals (using ETC Montessori’s word study cards)

 

Sentence Analysis from January 2020

  • Sentence analysis
    • C did traditional Montessori sentence analysis last year with the materials and will be doing further practice with this book: Beginning Sentence Diagramming

 

  • Literature
    • I have really struggled to find literature guides that are not heavily writing based.  Many approaches seem to pair writing with literature discussion and that doesn’t work for us because both girls read well above their writing level.  So this year, I’m selecting 3 novels with which to do novel study.  I’m going to find and review a couple different versions from TPT so I’ll be sure to report back but anything we do will be discussion based and not a significant amount of writing/vocabulary work.  The general plan will be to read 1-2 chapters and then do “book club” type discussions. If I get my act together, we might even have tea and be fancy (this is unlikely but whatever, I can aim high). Both girls will participate in the same literature studies
    • Given that we’re studying early modern history, two of the three books I’ve chosen are tied in thematically:
      • Little House in the Big Woods – from the famous “Little House on the Prairie” series.  I loved this novel as a child but it requires specific attention, in my opinion, to understand the settlers vs. the indigenous themes.  I look forward to both enjoying this novel and having discussions about the opinions expressed therein. C and I read this 3 years ago but I feel like we will have an even better time with it this time.
      • The Birchbark House – If you haven’t read this book and you have children studying US history, you’re seriously missing out.  C has read it with me before but it the EXCELLENT series by Louise Erdrich that features an Ojibaway girl and her family post-settler contact in the same region as Little House in the Big Woods (near the Great Lakes region of the US).  It is a GEM of a book in its own right and paired with Little House in the Big Woods, it draws some great parallels and leads to great insights.
      • The Mouse and the Motorcycle – Such a great chapter book and I have a mouse lover so seems like a good choice.

 

Essentials in Writing

  • Writing
    • After a great experience last year, we will be using Essentials in Writing (Level 3) for C.  We really loved its gentle approach last year and it is nice to have one subject almost completely “outsourced”.  The lessons are 5-10 minutes on a DVD plus some accompanying workbook pages.  The direct instruction is very specific and manageable because it is broken down into small chunks like “mini-lessons” for each topic (how to use a period, when to use a comma in a list, etc.) I love that as they learn different elements, they are taught the “proof-reading process” to review their work for errors like capitalization, punctuation, etc. and asked to give a self-review on their attention to these details.  I will likely do an Instagram flip-through in the next few days so keep an eye out.
    • D started at the very end of last year with Writing with Ease (Level 1) and we really liked it (C used it in Kindy too).  We will continue that this year to just increase the writing fluency process.  It has two elements: copywork and narration.  Copywork is simply copying (with good handwriting) a sentence provided for you.  Narration is reciting back elements of a story you’ve heard from memory.  D struggles a little bit with distractions so this is building her “concentration” muscle.  It’s also available as a PDF and I recommend that vs. a single-use workbook if you’ve got multiple children.

 

Geography

D using the land forms in May 2020

We will continue to use our Pin It Maps for our study of geography.  D started on the Land & Water Forms maps last year (more of that here: Pin It Maps blog) and she absolutely loved it.  She will complete Land & Water Forms and then we’ll move on to the World Map.  C has completed World, Africa, and Asia so far.  The company has had some challenges because of COVID so the current map selection is limited but the owner is such a sweet person and I encourage you to support her if her selection fits your needs (World, USA, and Land forms will be available in August).  This is the absolute most affordable way to get accurate pin maps (especially of regions like Oceania) and I really hope she stays in business!

Geometry

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Geometry from 2019

So as I’ve said before, the Montessori geometry lessons feel to me like a lesson in nomenclature but without connection to the broader world AND since elementary aged children don’t have access to more advanced math, it feels very limited (in the US, Geometry is taught after two years of Algebra). I recognize this lack of connectivity to the broader world as my own failing but given that they’ll learn it all again, I’m trying not to worry about too much.

 

While I feel that some of this vocabulary is useful, some of the more advanced material just isn’t that interesting.  C didn’t find it compelling to “prove/find” the area formula for every polygon. So this year, C will learn about the circle as a unit study (nomenclature, circumference, and area) but we will not do a deep dive into geometry.

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D using the constructive triangles in January 2020

For D, I’m considering whether we really need to do anything beyond nomenclature of triangles/polygons/measuring angles this year and I suspect we will not.  I will likely use the time to learn more standardized measurement (length, weight, temp, etc.).

 

Economics

We will do economics as a 1st semester topic (instead of a full year of art).  I think the girls will really be drawn to the topic and I’m looking forward to diving in.  I purchased the ETC Montessori Economics work during last year’s Black Friday (November) sale and I think it’s a very complete overview.  I am pretty disappointed in the lack of diversity in the set but I didn’t know that when I purchased it, of the 30 inventors highlighted, there are 4 women and 1 person of color (that’s also a woman).  So 26 white dudes.  I will obviously be supplementing when we get to that section but many of the principles (supply, demand, etc.) are unimpacted so I can use them.  If I had to do it again, I would not purchase this curriculum.

 

Art

Color wheel work in Dec 2019

Last year, I am proud to say we actually did some art!  We used Evan Moor’s curriculum called “Teaching Art to Children” and got through a good number of the elements of art: line, shape, color, and value.  This year we will continue in 2nd semester to cover texture, form, and space.  We also often weave in art/crafts during our history studies so the children often do a lot of art throughout our homeschool time but I’m not the best about teaching specific elements of art.

 

Spanish

We will continue with our Spanish tutor from last year (which is virtual right now).  Our sweet tutor is so kind and the girls are definitely learning a lot. I really hope to resume in-person lessons ASAP.

 

In March of this year, we began supplementing with Spanish lessons from my BIL (my husband’s sister lives in Mexico and is married to a Mexican man) and the kids have LOVED it.  He teaches using a web interface called Verbling and it’s been a great addition to our homeschool; Nolo, my BIL, has a masters in education and has taught every level from Kindergarten to adult.  He also weaves in Mexican/Mayan culture which is really splendid.  While I wouldn’t recommend a stranger to teach children online, I feel extremely comfortable recommending Nolo to do 1:1 lessons with children and getting the personalized attention has really increased my children’s enjoyment.  It’s also substantially more affordable ($13/hour) than an in-person Spanish tutor.  Here is his info if you’re interested in learning more: Verbling Spanish Tutoring: Nolo

 

A final note

I really hope this post has been helpful to you to see what other homeschooling parents have chosen.  As noted above, I am currently posting lots of flip throughs on Instagram stories so head over there for lots of pictures and further explanation.  As you may have picked up on, I’m a big Type A planner and this is enjoyable for me.  You are the absolute best teacher for your child, this post is intended to give you more info and not to make you feel behind.  There’s nothing wrong with not planning your entire year in advance and/or wanting to observe how your child is doing before investing in a lot of expensive curriculum.  Please know that I’ll be praying that your year is joyful and productive in terms of academics and relationship building in your family, I would appreciate your prayers/good vibes in return!

 

Affiliate link disclosure: A small handful of links in this post are affiliate links at no cost to you.  I have purchased (at full price) every product listed here and used it in my homeschool; I would never recommend anything we’re not using.  So, it is greatly appreciated if you are able to use affiliate links to offset the costs of hosting this blog but if you don’t, that’s ok too.

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What people think homeschooling is really like…. 🙂

FAQs

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May 2020: What people think homeschooling is like….

I decided to put together some FAQs so that I’ve collated answers in one place and don’t forget anything!  Although I love (and will continue) to respond to direct/private messages, it’s also nice to know that by capturing it all in one place that I won’t forget anything.  So, without further ado, here are some FAQs that I get all the time:

 

Introduction: Who are you? Why do you homeschool? Will you homeschool forever?

I’m Elisabeth but everyone calls me E.  I have 3 children: two girls (8 and 6) and a boy (4).  We focus on elementary-aged homeschooling and lean heavily (though not exclusively) to a Montessori approach.

 

My husband was homeschooled so it was always an educational option for us.  I was apprehensive at first but when our family experienced a one year move to Texas during what would have been my oldest child’s Kindergarten year, it felt like the perfect “experiment” year.  When she declared homeschooling “the best thing about our move to Texas” (and I strongly agreed), I knew we could homeschool longer term.  Now that I’m committed, I see a significant number of benefits for our family.  To rattle off my top 5 reasons: 1) my children learn at their own pace, 2) they can pursue their interests, 3) we are able to meet the needs of our neurodiverse child, 4) sibling relationships are incredibly strong, and 5) my children participate in 2-3 extracurriculars but still get plenty of sleep!

 

I will say, we are taking it a few years at a time.  Right now, I feel committed to elementary homeschooling for all the children but I have no particularly strong feelings about homeschooling beyond that.  It will be a well considered decision between my husband, each child, and myself how long we continue to homeschool.

 

I  can be found on Instagram here: @mchomeschool I also have a Facebook page for those not on Instagram (though I do recommend Insta because I can’t post stories on Facebook).

 

Were you a teacher before? What is your background?

No, I was not a teacher.  I was a molecular biology major/science nerd in college and had no aspirations of teaching anyone.  I absolutely love learning though and I feel like teaching my own children is definitely something I feel called to do.  I still work PT in the biotech industry and I have no plans to discontinue that work.

 

Why do you focus on elementary homeschooling? Why don’t you also homeschool your preschooler?

One thing that makes us a little unusual is that I don’t homeschool preschool and our children have all attended play-based preschool (when it’s not a global pandemic).  In addition to homeschooling, I also work part-time and I just don’t have the hours in the day to devote to both preschool and elementary homeschooling.  Also, if I’m being completely honest, I’d say preschool isn’t my favorite age to homeschool but I adore elementary school!

 

I’ll never forget the time that I saw a mom at preschool drop off (my oldest was 3) and she was dropping off her youngest and then walking home to do school with her older children.  How liberating!  Don’t get me wrong, I love my preschooler but I feel like it’s very difficult to focus on both ages for me personally.

 

Why Montessori?

I attended Montessori schools as a child.  In some ways, it was a very easy choice because I’m simply replicating my elementary school experience.  In other ways, it’s been a real learning process for our family because my husband was homeschooled but with a somewhat different approach.  So I guess Montessori homeschool is how we put it all together!  Once we got started, I grew particularly enamored of Montessori math.  I have at least one “mathy” child and the Montessori method has allowed me to present concepts to her that are very complicated but made approachable by the materials.

Where (physically) do you homeschool?

I have a small dedicated homeschooling space. It’s a small landing off our second floor.  I’ve always had one and it’s really important for me psychologically to even just have a few dedicated shelves that I can keep organized (in our 1st home, it was literally one shelf).  For us, it’s helpful to have that boundary between school and other aspects of our lives.  I also found that practically speaking, it was impossible to have play dates without a dedicated space because so many of the materials look like toys.  They are so appealing but of course I don’t want them misplaced or damaged.

 

How do I get started?

Ok, this is the most popular question and also the absolute hardest to answer.  I’m going to focus on my answer on children ages 5 and up since that’s my focus as a homeschooler. Although it’s hard to recommend something super specific, I recommend a few steps:

  1. Assess your child’s current knowledge – examples below
    1. Do they know their letters? Are they reading CVC words? Are they reading blends?
    2. Do they know place value? Can they do operations?
  2. Once you assess, the child’s current knowledge, you will at least know where to start!  So now you have to pick curriculum.  I highly, highly recommend beginning with a hybrid of Montessori and Montessori-friendly curriculum.  In my humble opinion, it is nearly impossible to jump into a full Montessori elementary curriculum with no experience.  Trained Montessori guides spend years making their materials and preparing lessons!  And Montessori curriculum is not “open and go” where it tells you exactly what order to teach every lesson, etc.
    1. For us, we focus on Montessori math/language/geography and use Montessori-friendly curriculum for other subjects.  For more about our curriculum choices, you can read here: 2019-2020 Curriculum Choices
  3. Once you know which Montessori subjects you’ll be focusing on, get some albums and a scope and sequence.  Albums are the curriculum manuals for Montessori learning.  For whatever subjects you’re using Montessori, you’ll need albums.
    1. For a full review of albums and recommendations, please see this post: Elementary Album Review

 

What is an important piece of advice you’d wish you’d known before you started?

I would tell myself not to buy anything until I had a clear conceptualization of what lessons it enabled and how that lesson fit into the scope and sequence.  I wasted a lot of time/money buying things that 1) turned out not to be core Montessori materials and 2) materials that didn’t appeal to my children.  It’s so easy to see hundreds of materials in a classroom and forget that those are meant to appeal to 20+ children.  You simply don’t need all the same things; you only actually need what will be compelling to your children.

 

 

How do you build confidence in your homeschooling? How do you battle self-doubt?

Well, I still battle self-doubt so I’m not going to claim any expertise here.  But I will say that once I got started, I realized that the children were learning so that gave me a little confidence.  Also, what I’m about to say is extremely controversial but I live in a state that requires nationally standardized testing (it’s not turned into anyone, you just have to keep it on file) and I love it!  It’s very comforting to see that my children are learning year over year and to have an accurate perception of their current knowledge.  The biggest struggle for me is feeling secure that they really know something that I think they know. I always wonder, did I give them a hint? Did I signal something to them that helped them solve that?  With the tests, I can see the progress in front of me.

 

I treat the tests like an annual “performance review” for myself.  I can see where we need to do additional work and where we’ve done really well for the year.  It’s been very comforting to know that they actually know what I think they know!

 

The test we used is called the “Woodcock Johnson” and it’s administered by a local homeschool mom.  It’s an excellent adaptive test so it can move up/down to meet the child’s abilities.  Thus you can see where you child is in each learning domain without limiting them to just a test for “Second Grade” for example.  I know that “testing” is a horrifying word to some homeschoolers but I think it’s very helpful.

 

 

How do you build community? What do you do so that you and the kids get outside interaction?

When we started homeschooling, I was not confident enough to “go it alone” so I signed up for a national homeschool organization that met once a week.  We participated for two years (we moved so we tried two communities) but I quickly realized it wasn’t for us.  We would do the one day with our community and then go home and do our Montessori thing for the rest of the week.  It was more memory-work/Charlotte Mason focused and didn’t allow my children time to explore their interests; we learned hundreds of years of history in a single 12 week period but they learned nothing in depth about it!  Anyway, I think we’re getting off track…but I needed to find something else.

 

First, I joined homeschooling groups on social media.  I joined Montessori groups (both general and focused on elementary) and I joined local homeschooling groups Facebook and social media pages as well.  Then, I started searching and posting.  After a little bit of searching, I have found a great local engineering class and we also sometimes see other homeschoolers at the city library’s theater shows. But none of these local people do Montessori so that’s where the Montessori-specific groups online come in.  Between Facebook and Instagram, I have followed and gotten to know many wonderful Montessori homeschoolers.

 

Second, my kids participate in a lot of extracurriculars (soccer, dance, swimming, and gymnastics).  Because we spend the morning doing school, they have down time from 12-3:30 and then they participate in activities in the late afternoon.  We would never participate in this many activities if they attended public school but because homeschool provides so much free time, they’ve loved making friends and joining groups.

 

Where do you find your used materials? Where do you find your new materials?

Literally anywhere I can!  There are Montessori resale groups on Facebook and I search craigslist in my city, my mom’s city, my in-laws city, etc. I will snap it up wherever I can get it.  I’ve been collecting things for five years!

 

Honestly, I’ve bought very few things brand new but what I have has come from Ifit or Alison’s Montessori and has been high quality.  I’ve also gotten some things from Montessori Outlet; the quality is lower but if it’s a one-off item and not meant to be used with other materials, I think it’s fine.

 

What do your weekly work journals look like?

So I have an entire Instastory on this (you can access it even if you don’t have Instagram) and it’s called “Journal Q&A”.  If you go here and scroll through the stories (in the circles under the bio), you can see it: Mchomeschool Instagram.

 

I also show a version of them in this blog post: Daily and Weekly Rhythms Blog Post

 

How do you plan a year? A week? What is your normal schedule?

 

What do you use for ________ [fill in the blank] subject? What about the Great Lessons?

Here in the curriculum planning posts, you can see what we over the last two years if you scroll down to the “What Curriculum We are Using” section: Curriculum Planning  It literally goes subject by subject and tells you exactly what curriculum we’re using.

 

Great Lessons are all covered in a TON of detail here on the Great Lessons tab including resources, books, etc. : Great Lessons

 

What about math? I hear you’re obsessed with math? What do you use for math?

I am obsessed with math but that’s because I have a mathy kid and I find it’s the hardest subject for many parents to teach.  We use Montessori math as our spine and then our oldest uses Beast Academy as her enrichment.

 

If you look at this blog category, you’ll see all the math posts I’ve ever written: Math Posts Also, number talks…I wrote an entire blog post and did four separate Instastories on doing math enrichment called “number talks” in the homeschool setting.  As far as I know, I’m one of the few homeschoolers actively doing this so I want to specifically call your attention to these resources: Homeschool Number Talks

 

Do you do reviews? Are you open to collaborations?

Yes, I frequently do reviews on Instagram of products I’ve used and loved.  I always note whether I purchased something with my own money or was provided it in exchange for something (my review, photos to be used on Etsy, etc).  I am open to collaborations and would love to hear from you!  Feel free to leave a comment below or message me on Instagram or Facebook.

Favorite Resources

Hundred Board – One of the easiest DIY materials that can be used to teach SO much early math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, divisibility)

 

I’ve teamed up with Bree over at Kindling Kids Montessori to collate some of our favorite resources (both Montessori and Montessori-friendly).  Knowing that many of you are homeschooling temporarily or with limited budgets, we’ve tried to pull together as many options as we can!

 

If you’re looking for full albums/curricula, I’ve written an entire review post that can be found here: Elementary Album Review .  And everything that we’re using this year can be found here: 2019-2020 Curriculum Choices

 

Excel based scope & sequence, my absolute favorite format because you can move things around, color-code, etc.: Keys of the Universe Scope and Sequence (Excel)

 

We are doing an Instagram live on March 28th, 2020 and I’ll be sure to update this afterward with more resources if we discuss additional things.

 

Elementary Math

 

Printable Detective Adjective materials

Digital versions of the stamp game and pegboard: Digital Montessori Math Materials

Montessori materials printables for math: Making Montessori Ours (math) I love that these are printable versions of Montessori materials so it’s possible to use Montessori lessons/albums but DIY very affordably (most materials are under $6) – checkerboards, constructive triangles, geometry equivalency materials, stamp game, etc.

 

Montessori inspired math command cards (1-3rd grade): Marigold Montessori Command Cards

 

Hundred board materials: If I could recommend one thing for early math, it is using a hundred board (wooden ones retail on Amazon for $20) or you can find easy DIY printable ones all over the place. Task cards for hundreds board are all over the place but my favorite ones are by Montessori Kiwi Hundred Board Task Cards

 

Non-Montessori but helpful math resources:

  • Math “worksheets” from Conceptual Learning these are so well done and really offer a wide variety of problems for all ages.  This is a great option if you need more problems for number talks or even to use while you’re doing math with materials
  • Error analysis type problems – This is an often overlooked way to practice skills in mathematics but it’s one of the most effective.  Our favorites come from Teaching with a Mountain View – Error Analysis Bundle
  • Graphing Task Cards – Also from Teaching with a Mountain View.  I taught an entire unit on graphing with these materials
  •  Place value/decimal detectives – an incredibly engaging way to practice place value for whole numbers and decimals
  • Task Card Bundles – I love task card bundles.  Although we do make up our own problems, I don’t always have time to make up problems for each and every math scenario (especially word problems).  Task card bundles are a phenomenal value and help to cover some topics that are less frequently covered in Montessori albums (order of operations, finding factors, etc.).
  • Math Geek Mama – Incredible website FULL of resources.  Get on her email list!
  • Math Projects – These brilliant resources allow kids to use their math skills to complete fun projects (planning a camping trip, running an animal shelter, etc.)
  • Beast Academy – Wonderful supplementary math curriculum for kids that need a little more math “challenge”.  Really dovetails nicely with Montessori math curricula because it addresses things like squares/square root/binary system in elementary.

 

And of course, if you’re looking for number talks resources (I hope you are!!), those can all be found here: Homeschool Number Talks

 

Elementary Language

So much early language work can be done directly on a whiteboard

  • Spelling: Words Their Way
    • You can rent the book on Amazon or you can find many blog posts detailing how to use it
    • Here is one awesome resource that contains all the needed word sorts plus additional fun games to practice each week’s spelling words: Words Their Way Bundle (be sure to buy the correct level for your child’s spelling ability)
  • Writing:
    • Essentials in Writing – This is our instructional writing curriculum.  Cannot recommend highly enough for those for whom teaching the mechanics of writing is not natural
    • Writing classes from Outschool – C is currently taking a Harry Potter themed
  • Literary Analysis: Center for Lit – This resource uses books of all levels to teach literary analysis through their program “Teaching the Classics”
  •  Grammar:
  • Sentence Analysis:
    • Sentence Diagramming Workbooks – An alternative to printable sentence analysis works (you could borrow sentences from here to use with the materials at first), we will be moving on to these when we are done with sentence analysis with the materials
  • Word study:
    • I’d honestly recommend you buy the Montessori R&D album for word study.  Not only does this album contain the key presentations but it also contains all the lists needed for word study that you can DIY.  Well worth the $$ if you can swing it.  MRD Language Arts Volume 3 – Word Study
    • Other options include the Montessori Print Shop offerings which include the key experience as well as some word lists (but I believe there are many fewer word lists available in this resource): Montessori Print Shop – Language Key Experiences

 

Elementary – Other things we love

  • Art: We are loving these sweet drawing activities from The Good and the Beautiful
  • Geography: We could not love our Pin It Maps any more and I’m about to introduce our land forms maps to D
    • These are a great alternative to the expensive puzzle maps
  • Digital Impressionistic Charts: AMI Digital Resources (site currently under construction should be back soon)
  • Ed Vid’s Online Videos
    • The link above to their You Tube channel, this is their link for the full elementary video subscription service: Ed Vid

 

Primary

Although we don’t usually focus on primary, R (age 3) is now home with us for the foreseeable future.  Here are a few of our favorite printable resources:

  • Language/Early Reading: Helpful Garden Blog
  • Language/Culture/Math: Trillium MontessoriYears ago, I bought her entire “store” and I can tell you that I’m so glad I did.  Having a variety of language/math/culture materials has been critical to my ability to get started with R quickly

 

There’s so much else that I love but tried to keep it somewhat succinct here.  Tell me if you need a specific recommendation and I’m happy to help out!

Homeschool Number Talks

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This post is a companion to a series of Instagram stories I am doing on Homeschool Number talks.  If you’d like to view those stories, you can find it here: McHomeschool Instagram or on the Instagram App.  If you click on the circle that says “Number Talks”, you can watch the videos (or at least sometimes you can, it seems finicky sometimes when you access it via browser).

 

What is a “Number Talk”?

A “number talk” is a short, oral discussion of a math problem designed to help increase a student’s number sense.  The math is done mentally (no paper/pencils) and then students discuss their mental math strategies.

 

What is number sense?

Number sense means a fluidity and flexibility with numbers including an understanding of what numbers mean and an ability to manipulate numbers to perform mental math.  I have already written an entire post on this here: Number sense & Montessori but it’s an increasingly important part of math education.  The idea is that children actually understand the numbers and not just the algorithm/procedure for finding the answer.

 

But what’s wrong with “the procedure”, you might say?  That’s how most of us learned math!  The problem with the procedure is that sometimes you encounter problems where you cannot easily use the procedure.  Or the procedure is substantially slower than using a more creative approach.

 

Where can I read more about Number Talks and even watch a video?

Ah, I’m so glad you asked because I am so far down this rabbit hole and I would LOVE some company.  One of the most prominent experts on number talks is Jo Baeler out of Stanford, her Ted talk is amazing and can be found here (12 mins): Ted Talk by Jo Baeler

 

Another expert is Sherry Parrish and this longer talk (75 minutes) is honestly the thing that MOST inspired me to do number talks: Sherry Parrish Number Talks . The video includes several classroom videos of children doing number talks and it is incredibly helpful and inspiring.

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Summer reading 2019

And here are some books:

 

Like I said….deep, DEEP rabbit hole.  And it has been so formative.

How do you do a number talk?

The problem is written horizontally on a board (e.g. 6 + 7 is written as it’s shown, not stacked with the 6 over the 7) and then the children quietly consider the problem.  Number talks problems are often done in sets in increasing difficulty through the set so that kids see how to apply their learnings from a simpler problem to a more challenging one. For example, you might start with 6+6, moving up to 6+7, 16+7, 16+17, etc.

 

After the children see the problem, they silently put a thumbs up against their chest if they have a solution.  They may raise another finger if they have another solution.  The reason for the silence/fingers is that it’s discreet; you wait for almost everyone to have a solution before asking for answers.  There have been a few number talks that I’ve done with both of my girls (some problems allow for a wide range of ability) and I know from experience that my oldest will finish faster (because she’s 2 years older!) and then my younger will be discouraged.  The finger signals are helpful and I insist they do them even if they are alone because it forces them to think of multiple solutions instead of blurting one out.

 

A good number talk problem is often described as “low floor, high ceiling” which means that it’s accessible for a younger/weaker student but has no limit for a more experienced student.  Here’s an example of such a problem: I asked the girls to tell me what they knew about the number 8:

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June 2019 Number Talk

It’s a little hard to see so I’ll tell you what they said about the number 8 (and this took a bit of time because they kept saying they didn’t know any more and I kept waiting):

  • D (age 5):
    • It has 2 curved lines and 2 circles
    • It’s larger than 0 and 5
    • It’s smaller than 10
    • It’s a doubles answer (4+4=8)
    • (She drew a 10 frame to show 8 dots) – this was awesome! Such a good visual representation
  • C (age 7) – I made her wait until her sister had said several things so she didn’t take the obvious ones
    • It’s divisible by 2 and 4
    • It’s an even number
    • 2^3 = 8
    • It’s 4/5 of 10
    • I am turning 8 on my next birthday

 

A good number talk problem is one that can be solved multiple ways and where the answer is not immediately obvious.  Children are always asked to explain their answer – THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART.  Hearing/seeing multiple ways to solve a problem teaches them flexibility and new ways to problem solve.  Also, getting it right is not the point, children often realize their answer is incorrect when they start to explain what they did; so this helps them understand how to reason through their problems.

 

So how do you “number talk” with only a single child?

Great question!  I spoke about this more during the video but basically you start by teaching them strategies for each operation that they could possibly use (and encourage them to come up with some on their own.

 

For example, if the problem is 6 + 7, you could use several strategies:

  • Doubles: you know 6+6=12 so you know that you simply need to add one more
  • Making a friendly number: 6 + 4 = 10 and you know that 7 is 3 more than 4

 

There’s an entire PDF series on number talks that I found online and it is excellent, providing tons of problems in sets that could be used for YEARS. I especially love these because they provide the strategies suggested so you can teach the strategies first (you may need to google some or use the anchor charts below):

 

 

So we work operation by operation and learn the strategies using many example problems.  Then we do sample problems and compare each approach for the sample problem.  Once they’ve got a couple of strategies for the operation, we begin the real number talks.

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Addition Strategies

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Subtraction strategies

The goal is for the children to have at least 2 strategies to solve the problem (as shown above) and then I ask them a simple question: “Which strategy was most efficient for you for THIS problem?”  My goal with this is for them to understand a couple of points:

  1. There are multiple ways to solve a problem
  2. There is no right or wrong way as long as you’re accurate (side note: it’s no big deal if they actually get it wrong, they realize it in the course of “proving” their answer to me.  I simply mean that what works best for one person to get an accurate answer may not be best for another)
  3. Different strategies may work best for different types of problems and it’s good to be flexible in which strategy you choose.

 

For most problems, my children work them out alone and then I record their answers. Sometimes I suggest additional solutions or ask them “could you have used a friendly number”? This often prompts additional strategies that they use in subsequent problems.  Some problems, however, are open ended enough that we can both do the problem and compare answers at the end – these types are my daughter’s favorite.  Also, we’ve occasionally roped in another adult (Daddy or a visiting family member) and those are incredibly popular because she usually knows more strategies than the adult which is all very amusing.

 

Obviously it would be more ideal in this scenario to have 20 children with different ideas but I’ve seen a real increase in their ability to do mental math all from these activities and they really enjoy it!  Unlike in a classroom setting, we do longer number talks of 15-20 minutes twice a week (classroom is usually more like 5 minutes, 4-5x/week).

 

So where can I get more examples of number talks or similar resources?

I find number talks problems all over the place but I have also purchased bundles like these Year Long Bundle of Second Grade Number Talks that last for quite a long time. We have used both the second and fourth grade one and I plan to purchase the 5th grade one during the next TPT sale.

 

Also, there are several website that have problems that work well for number talks including:

  • https://www.youcubed.org
    • An AMAZING resource full of videos, problems, and lots and lots of ideas.  This was developed by Dr. Baeler.  There’s actually even a student video course on math growth mindset.
  • https://nrich.maths.org/
    • British website with lots of challenge problems for kids to work through, they even have monthly problems where children can send in solutions
    • Click on the “primary student” webpage for lots of games and activities!
  • Mindset Mathematics
    • These books are available for every grade from 3-8.  These problems are best solved in a group setting but would be perfect for a coop or a small class

 

I’m actually exploring teaching a Mindset Mathematics based course with some local homeschoolers.  Way outside my comfort zone but I know how much it would benefit homeschooled children to have the opportunity to do some challenging group math problems.

 

So that’s all about number talks for homeschoolers!

Please, please, please keep me updated if you decide to try it!  I would love additional ideas or thoughts you have on these topics.  I have become really, really passionate about teaching math in the homeschool setting and I’m so excited that there are so many resources out there to help!

 

2019-2020 Curriculum Choices

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My view starting in Sept 2019!

Here is the annual blog of what we’re using in our homeschool this year.  This blog will likely take me forever to write so let’s jump right in! As a reminder, C is 7 years old (2nd grade) and D is 5 years old (Kindergarten).  This will be my third year homeschooling C and my first year of homeschooling D (she was previously in a play-based preschool and sometimes did Montessori lessons in the afternoons). Our homeschool is a mix of Montessori and Montessori-friendly curricula.  We also use some Classical/Charlotte Mason style resources.  And I also make it up as I go along when I feel so inclined.

 

One final note that I’ll make as I get started (so much for jumping right in…).  When we started homeschooling C for Kindergarten, we did coop 1 day/week (4 hours) and then I had 5-6 other “school hours” with her each week.  So she was maybe doing school 10 hours a week.  For D, she will get about 13-14 hours/week simply because that’s how much time we will spend in our school area doing school with C.  So I have added more extras here in terms of history/handwriting/science that I think is necessary in Kindergarten.  Please know that I think it’s fine (perhaps better!) to do less, I just know she’s not going to leave the school room so I’ve planned more for her but believe me, if she wants to wander off and build LEGOs, I’ll be absolutely delighted!

 

If you want to read about last year’s choices, here are the two blogs:

 

In our homeschool, we focus on the following subjects:

  • Bible/Faith formation
  • History
  • Math
  • Science
  • Language Arts
  • Geography
  • Geometry
  • Art
  • Spanish – new this year!

 

We don’t do all of these every day/week but these are our main focus areas.  Given my children’s ages, everything except for math/language/Bible has the goal of “expose them to the concept” with the knowledge that they’ll see all of the information again at increasing depth as they get older.

 

Bible

We will continue with the book Long Story Short for our main Bible study this year.  This book goes virtually line by line in the Bible and it’s main theme is the overarching story present from start to finish in the Bible.

 

I have also recently felt called to do more “catechism” with the kids.  Although the word is usually associated with Catholicism, it actually just means teach a summary of the Christian faith in the form of questions/answers.  We will be using the free app from New City Catechism which has 52 questions/answers including a children’s version (Q1: What is our holy hope in life and death? A1: That we are not our own but belong to God).  I’m hoping to spend 1-2 weeks per question but we’ll see how it goes.

 

History

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Oct 2018 – C’s 1st Fundamental Needs Research Project

We will open the year with the Fundamental Needs lesson.  I think it’s very important to begin with this lesson as D starts to begin history; she will work through the introductory lessons as well as the notebook I designed on this topic.  C will again practice researching the fundamental needs of a specific civilization (likely the Romans).

 

I have opted against teaching the Great Lessons to start the year.  Although I absolutely loved teaching them, I don’t want to teach them every year in our homeschool and because my children are two years apart, I can teach them every two years and still adequately cover this material.  My plan is that everyone will receive these lessons in first, third, and fifth grades.  For my extensive coverage on how we approach it, please see this page: Great Lessons

 

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Writing what she remembers about her Indus Valley lesson from History Odyssey

After those first 1-2 weeks on fundamental needs, we will again be using History Odyssey by Pandia Press, this time using the “Middle Ages” level.  We really enjoyed this curriculum last year and I love that it’s Montessori friendly but still all planned out for me.  It uses Story of the World and the Usbourne Children’s Encyclopedia as “spines” and I’m able to provide follow-ups for both girls from the last of activities by modifying them slightly (e.g. expecting C to write what she remembers from the lesson while taking dictation from D).

 

Math

This is a topic where I have to split the girls because they’re working at different levels and there’s absolutely no way to combine lessons.

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C with her favorite math material from last year – Racks and Tubes! Also known as “Test Tube Division”

C (2nd grade):

Our major topics this year will be:

  • Finishing decimal fractions
  • Squaring/cubing
  • Number lines with decimals/fractions (number sense)

Math activities each week will include a number talk (mental math practice) and she is also working through the lessons on Khan Academy and Beast Academy on her own.  She LOVES math so she spends a lot of time here.

 

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D with her number bond work

D (Kindy):

She is transitioning from primary to elementary level math so our major topics will be:

  • Operations:
    • Review of the golden bead operations
    • Math facts
    • Stamp Game
    • Large bead frame
  • Place value
  • Money
  • Time
  • Fractions (which I covered extensively here: Learning Fractions)
  • Multiples/Factors – may not get to this
  • Commutative/Distributive property – may not get to this

 

D will also do number talks this year and Khan Academy if she chooses that in her free time.  For this age, I love to use task cards (C often just rolls dice to make her own problems) and we’ll be using these as she transitions from primary to elementary: Junior Math Bundle (Aff link)

 

Science

I had every intention of teaching science together this year.  I really, really wanted that to work.  But given that I want to continue our curriculum from last year for C (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding – BFSU), I couldn’t make it work.  C has already had a year of lessons and is ready for the second half of the book having completed all the prerequisites.  D hasn’t heard any of the prerequisite material yet.  And the worst part is that if I start D on BFSU next year, I’m in the same boat with my son the year after that.  Gotten myself in quite a pickle… I’ll let you know what I end up doing!

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My DIY Biomes Work (Waseca inspired)

So what I’ve decided to do is focus on biomes this year for D.  There will be some overlap in the Earth Science portion of C’s lessons and it’s the best I can do.  I really do love the biomes lessons that I taught C in her first year and I’m excited to do it for D so it’s really not that big of a deal.  Also the last month of BFSU is plants so I can include D in those lessons as well.  C will continue and finish BFSU this year.  We’ve really enjoyed this inquiry based curriculum and I would highly recommend it as Montessori-friendly.

 

Language Arts

Another place where we have to do separate lessons!  As with math, we mostly follow a Montessori sequence with language arts but I am adding on a couple pieces of additional writing work for C since that was identified on her annual testing as a place where she could use some additional skill building.

 

C (Grade 2):

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Grammar work from Feb 2019

  • Continue/finish grammar box work – This is the study of parts of speech, she has completed noun, verb, article, adjective, adverb, pronoun and preposition.  We will finish up with conjunction and interjection this year
  • Word study – This is the study of types of words.  Examples would be prefixes, suffixes, plurals, possessives.  This year we are focusing on writing adjacent word study like those listed; other examples would include synonyms, antonyms, etc. which I consider more advanced
  • Sentence analysis – (After we complete grammar box work) – This is the study of how sentence structure works in English and complements the grammar work with the goal of allowing children to write more clearly.
  • Essentials in writing (Level 2) – This will be a new one for us.  It’s a curriculum taught via DVD (4-5 minute lessons) and then the child completes writing assignments in a workbook.  This was recommended to me by another Montessori mama and I’m very excited about it.  While it would be possible for me to teach writing, given the other things I’m going to have to cover this year, I’m very happy to outsource this.  I love the gentle approach since each lesson is short, this will be no more than 1 hour/week but by the end of the year she will be writing a short letter or a narrative passage.

 

D (Kindergarten):

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C’s early alphabetization work, Spring 2018

  • Alphabetization/Dictionary Skills: This is one of the key skills I taught C when she first started Kindergarten and it proved to be essential to other aspects of her learning so I plan to do the same thing with D! It’s very empowering for them to be able to look things up in the dictionary or encyclopedia index because they understand alphabetization and how to use guide words
  • Early grammar boxes: We will focus this year on the noun, article, verb, and adjective. These lessons have lovely, memorable introductions (called “Key Experiences”) that really help the children understand the parts of speech.
  • Handwriting: We are using the Grade 2 handwriting curriculum from The Good and the Beautiful . Although this doesn’t feel entirely necessary (C didn’t use a handwriting curriculum), I like that it’ll give D some independent work that will encourage her to physically write.  With C, I didn’t really encourage her to write much in Kindergarten and although she’s developed good handwriting, I don’t see the harm in practice.  The copywork is lovely (lots of Proverbs/nice sayings) and I think she will enjoy it. We are using Grade 2 because when I looked at the sample, I could see that since she can already do basic letter formation, she was better suited to Grade 2 which is refining the letter formation vs. learning to form them (Grade 1)

 

Literature:

Both children will participate in discussions of read-alouds/other literature about once a month.  I’m using the “Teaching the Classics” method from the Center for Lit and I’m very excited about it.  The premise is that it teaches you about the tools of literary analysis (ex: setting, characters, etc) that you can use with any book.  I’m very excited about this gentle introduction to literature discussions and I think this will be a very useful tool for me as someone who loves to read but does not remember high school literature class fondly.  I just need to be diligent about scheduling these discussions once a month so that they actually happen!

 

Geography

D will get a little geography as part of History Odyssey but no formal political geography this year.  As part of science, she will finish the year on landforms which was one of C’s favorite things in her Kindergarten year.

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C and her landforms, spring 2018

For C, last year we focused on the geography of Africa (political, topographical, and biomes) using our beloved Pin It Maps (post here). It was incredible how much she learned and retained and she really enjoyed working through all the various aspects of learning the geography of the continent.  If you do use Pin It Maps (aff link), be sure to check out the FREE command cards for each continent available on the site.  We now own Africa, Europe, and Asia along with the land forms set.

 

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Pinning Land Forms of Africa, Spring 2019

We also paired these lessons with the wonderful book “Children Like Me” which features elementary aged children from around the world.  There are 4-5 children from each continent so we focused on all the children featured in Africa alongside our geography study.

 

Geometry

Geometry.  So true confessions: I’m sort of over teaching geometry at this level.  I feel like I’m just giving one-off lessons with weird vocabulary (tangent! secant! apothem!) and am not connecting it well to useful information/why it matters in real life.  Also, I’m finding myself a little less motivated to teach geometry because I know they’ll have to learn it all over again at the high school level.  I know, I know…I should get over it but there’s a part of me that feels our time might be better spent on things that they can learn now and build on vs. having to repeat (because I truly don’t think C remembers much except angles/triangles/quadrilaterals from this past year).

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C proving the Pythagorean theorem with Lego.  

For D, she was never exposed in Montessori primary to any geography and I feel that the nomenclature/concepts introduced in the geometric cabinet, the geometric solids, and the constructive triangles are very useful so we will start there.

 

For C, I think we’re going to focus this year on equivalency and area as those topics seem both useful and manageable to me.  I will let you know how it goes.  Sorry about the bad attitude…I guess I’m just geometry grumpy right now.

 

Art

For Art, I will use Evan Moor’s curriculum called “Teaching Art to Children”. I’m very excited about this Montessori-friendly art curriculum that I think will keep us on track this year.  I profiled this curriculum on my Instagram (@mchomeschool) under the “Curriculum” story (I also profiled History Odyssey).  If you don’t have Instagram, you can use this link to access it from a regular computer browser: McHomeschool Instagram

 

Spanish

The girls will also take Spanish this year.  Both have had some previous exposure but I don’t think retained much.  We are starting with an in-home tutor from a local language learning company.  Depending on how it goes, I may supplement with additional curriculum/3 part cards for vocabulary but mostly I want to get them speaking.  They will do the class together for 45 minutes/week but I’m hoping to increase that as they get older.  There are also online forums for language learning that would also be an option but right now I feel like they’re a little young to be interacting with an adult online even with my supervision.

 

A final note

In case you can’t tell, I’m very Type A and organized.  Pre-planning everything helps to limit my anxiety about what we’re doing on any given week/day because I am not a person who likes waking up without a plan.  If you are a person who prefers to be more spontaneous, a) that’s so awesome, I aspire to be that way and b) I hope you plan in a way that meets your needs and feel no pressure from my plan.  There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers.  I only put this out there to help make you aware of resources that may be of assistance to you and your family.  I wish you all a wonderful school year.  Know that I am praying for you as you set up your plans and I would love your prayers/kind intentions/positive vibes in return!

 

Affiliate link disclosure: A handful of links on this post are affiliate links (the majority are not).  I am only an affiliate for products that I actively use in our homeschool; most (all, I think but not 100% sure) were actually purchased by me before becoming an affiliate.  I make very little via affiliate activities and right now I’m saving for a blog upgrade because I’m about to run out of space on this blog sinceI upload so many pictures.  So, I really appreciate if you use my Aff links (at no additional cost to you) so that I can continue to blog and include an excessive number of pictures because that’s how I roll 😉

How to Plan for the Upcoming School Year

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Given that it’s almost August, many of us are beginning our curriculum planning for the upcoming school year.  I wanted to do a quick post on how I approach this since it was a great mystery to me until I got started.  It takes me about 8 hours to do this over several days but that’s allowing for plenty of rabbit holes and reviewing of presentations to ensure I’m at least vaguely familiar with what I’m planning.

 

This post really applies to subjects that you teach without add-on curriculum.  Clearly if you purchased a year-long curriculum, you would just start at the beginning!

 

Planning for a Previously Homeschooled Child

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End of Year work journal

It is easier to plan for C (Age 7) because I taught her last year!  So here are the steps:

  1. Consult prior year’s work journal
    1. Based on this, I can see that she was working on decimal fractions in math and suffixes in word study.
  2. Review your presentations and assume you’ll resume where you stopped!
    1. I do plan on review time on many concepts whether that’s the start of the year or just re-initiating a thread.  For example, we plan to jump back into squaring/cubing mid year and we will begin with a review of squares and cubes.
    2. This means that for math, we will start with decimal fractions!  And for word study, we will finish suffixes!
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      Week 1 of work journal for this year: Suffixes!
  3. Find your natural stopping points/the order you want to teach things
    1. Natural stopping points: Many topics will start and stop in their elementary years so you’ll need to decide how much you want to accomplish in a given year before moving on to something else.  An example of this is that checkerboard can be introduced to teach multiplication but a child may not get all the way to abstract long multiplication in a single year.  Thus, you need to decide at what point you’re ready to move away from a topic and revisit later.  It sounds more complicated than it is, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out the natural break points.
    2. Order to teach things: Some topics (ex: word study) don’t have a hard and fast order in which to teach them.  Various albums will approach this differently so you simply have to pick one.  I’ve chosen to focus this year’s word study on what I’ll call “spelling adjacent word study” (possessives, contractions, plurals) because we will be doing more writing this year.

 

Planning for a Child New to Homeschooling:

This is what I’m doing for D (age 5).

  1. Observe/assess
    1. Particularly for reading/math, it is pretty important you have a sense of what they know.  It may be important for you to do little assessments (low pressure!) to see what they know but the basic principal is for you to understand what they know about math/reading before you start.
    2. I cannot stress enough how important it is to observe the child multiple times (just like us, kids can have an off day!) and adjust your plan in this first year.
  2. Consider both primary/elementary scope and sequences in your planning
    1. Children at age 5.5 may be solidly in primary, mostly in elementary or anywhere in between.  I would highly suggest that you start with a primary scope and sequence as a baseline and jump to an elementary one only once you’re confident via assessment/observation that they’re ready for that work.
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      This year’s plan: starting off with primary work (golden beads, addition/subtraction charts, etc) before moving into more elementary work.
  3. Assume a significant amount of review if this is the first time your child will be homeschooling
    1. Build in lots of variation and practice.  Remember that the child is not only reviewing their skills, they’re also learning how to concentrate and operate in a homeschool environment for those first few weeks.  Thus, the work need not be overly taxing.
  4. Just like the older child, plan to start wherever in the scope they are and move on from there.
    1. Observe the child for the proper pacing.  Don’t be afraid to deviate from your  planned weekly lesson if the child needs more work/time with a concept.

 

If you want to read the rest of the series on curriculum planning, please click on the “Curriculum Planning” link at the top of the blog for multiple posts on various aspects of preparing for the upcoming school year.

2018-2019 School Year/Curriculum Recap

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2019 Teacher Appreciation Night (adorable effort between my husband and kids)

Now that we’re transitioning from full-time schooling toward our summer schedule (relaxed, fewer planned lessons), I consider our school year to be “finished” so I thought I’d provide an update on the curriculum we actually used and how it worked for us, any modifications we made, and whether we’ll use it again next year.  I’ll also list what some of my tentative thoughts are on for choices for next year (as a reminder, C is 7 and D is 5 – second grade and kindergarten for the upcoming school year).

 

Here is the original post I wrote on what we were choosing: 2018-2019 Curriculum Choices

And here’s an update to it mid-year: So how did that “yearly plan” work out?

I’d highly recommend reading at least the first post if you haven’t so you can see what the choices actually were.

 

Overall Curriculum Planning

Last year for the first time, I attempted to plan each subject by topic (and loosely by week) for some subjects (mostly math, language and science) where we didn’t have curriculum to guide as along.  It worked REALLY well.  It cut down so much on the weekly planning because I knew which lessons to review and wasn’t trying to select our next topic, particularly in math where there are lots of different strands.

 

History

Plan: Do Great Lessons in weeks 1-10 and then transition to History Odyssey 1 (Ancients) curriculum.

Actual: We finished the Great Lessons in weeks 1-9 (that series of posts is here: Great Lessons) and did move on to History Odyssey.

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Great Lesson 5

But I have to say that teaching all the Great Lessons from scratch (I had taught GL1 once before) nearly exhausted me.  It was SO much.  By GL4 and 5, I felt pretty burnt out.  So I would highly recommend spreading them out more or preparing more in advance.  Now that I’ve got most of my materials handy except for follow-ups and I feel confident that I could deliver them again but the first year was hard.  Please don’t feel discouraged though, it was very much worth it and hopefully some of the resources I compiled will help others!

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Writing up a History Odyssey Lesson

We also loved History Odyssey.  It’s 35 weeks but because we started 10 weeks later, we’re just now finishing up with the Romans in our “summer school”.  I also skipped 2-3 lessons on Native Americans that I plan to start with next year because I didn’t want to skim them but knew we wouldn’t have time.  I felt like the curriculum was the right level of depth for a 1st grader and that the projects were fun and informative.  We were also able to combine a lot of art work with the History Odyssey units which was wonderful because that’s not my strong suit AT ALL.

Next year: We will definitely be using History Odyssey again (Middle Ages).  I will modify slightly for my Kindergartner to be able to do it alongside us but I’m very happy with the curriculum.  I’m still on the fence about teaching the Great Lessons.  I’m thinking I may do it every 2 years (so skipping next year) just because it does take a lot of time and in a “class” with only a few children, I’m not sure it’s necessary every year.

 

Art

Plan: Align with history

Actual: We did align with history and I will continue to do that, where possible, next year.  This is not my strong suit by quite a bit so I know it’s something that I need to put some more thought into before next year.

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Greek Sculpture inspired art lesson

Next Year: My middle, D, will be joining us next year and she is all about the art and coming from a very art-centric preschool.  So I know I need to up my game here.  I’m considering maybe doing an easy off-the-shelf curriculum from Evan Moor about the elements of art or something.  Either way, I think I need to make sure we have some art every week whether it’s aligned with history, science, or just pure art.

 

Geography

Plan: Use our PinItMaps to cover World Geography (continents, oceans, etc), Africa, and Europe in alignment with our History studies.

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Pinning the African land and water forms

Actual: We only covered the World Map and Africa.  We chose a very challenging continent (the most countries) and took our time going over all the countries, flags, and land/water forms.  We finished in mid-May but mama just couldn’t muster the energy to start a whole new continent at that point.  We really enjoyed pulling up amazing photos of all the various land/water forms we could find in Africa from the Namib Dessert to the Limpopo River.

Next Year: C has asked to start up again with Asia in the fall so we will continue there although I may see if she wouldn’t mind starting in Europe since she already has a head start there from some of our ancient history studies.  D will likely follow along and I may have her start the Land and Water Forms set that provides such a nice intro into the maps (C knew all the possible land and water forms from last year and that made it easier to memorize them in Africa).

 

Science

Plan: To use ETC’s measurement task cards to study measurement for the first 10 weeks and then use the book Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) after that.

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Proving that a gas has volume

Actual: We matched the plan exactly.  This was fairly easy because I counted the cards in advance and planned them for the measurement curriculum.  In terms of BFSU, we went through it relatively casually but she definitely learned a lot.  It’s a discussion based curriculum with a few experiments thrown in; I liked that we could spend more or less time on something as we were able.  We definitely did not spend as long as some folks but it really worked for us.  It helps that my background is in science and I find it very easy to distill these concepts into simple lessons and frameworks for her. We have one more biology lesson to complete this year and I’m sure I’ll fit that in during the next few weeks.

Next Year: We will likely do the same plan for C and start with measurement and then do BFSU; the way we do it, she should be finished with the book next year and ready to move on having covered all the introductory topics.  C is also enrolled in a robotics/coding class in the fall so she will get some science that way.  For D, we will likely do a light biome-focused science which is similar to what I did with her sister.

 

Math

Plan: As previously described, my basic plan was “try not to drown in math threads”.  More specifically, my original curriculum plan had me covering these threads:

  • Numeration: Finishing divisibility
  • Fractions: Adding/subtracting with different denominators
  • Operations: Multiplication – Flat bead frame, checkerboard
  • Introduction to squares and cubes: Notation, passage from squares to cubes
  • Operations: Long Division – Racks and Tubes

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Racks and Tubes

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Checkerboard

Actual: I realized mid-way through that my plan had assumed that each presentation in my album should be done in one week.  This was a major error because there are some that take barely 5 minutes and cover the same topic so you can do 2-3 in a week (an example is that notation of squares and cubes is listed as separate lessons but can obviously be taught together); I don’t know why I assumed they were each a week, no one told me that.  So anyway, we deviated from plan quite a bit and did a lot of additional math this year. Keep in mind that my daughter loves math, she chooses math first almost every day so we spend a lot of time on math.

So we actually covered:

  • Numeration: Finishing divisibility
  • Fractions: Adding/subtracting with different denominators (twice, once as a review)
  • Operations: Multiplication – Flat bead frame, checkerboard, all the way to abstraction
  • Introduction to squares/cubes: Notation, passage from squares to cubes, full decanomial square, paper decanomial
  • Operations: Long Division – Racks and tubes, abstraction with the standard procedure
  • Decimal Fractions: Operations with decimal fractions

 

In addition to these topics, we also covered (because I noticed the timing was good for these lessons or I realized she needed these skills):

  • Advanced place value (place value riddles/detective work to practice critical thinking)
  • Estimation
  • Graphing
  • Rounding
  • Study of multi-digit multiplication strategies

 

And earlier in the year, we also started doing a lot of number sense work (I wrote about that at length here: Number sense & Montessori) including advanced number lines and “number talks” 2-3x per week.  I still need to write a post on number talks in a homeschool but I have it saved on my Instagram videos which you can access here if you don’t have the Instagram app: McHomeschool Insta (it’s the video called “# talks”).

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Recording a Number Talk

Math was a real highlight for us this year.  I think this was because I felt so lost in the planning with so many threads and not sure the order in which to teach things.  After having jumped in and tried things, I think I’ve realized that there’s probably no exact “right” way and that it’s easier to just start so you can adjust on the fly.  I feel a lot more confident going into next year.

 

Next Year: We will definitely continue Number Talks/Number Sense work and will continue on with the Montessori progression where each girl is ready.  Math is the area where we most purely stick with Montessori.  Next year I’m pretty sure that our big topics with C will be completing the decimal fractions thread and diving into squaring and cubing.  I’m also eyeing the Hands On Equations curriculum which covers concrete algebraic concepts for elementary schoolers but I’ll probably wait until at least mid-year on that.  For D, we will be doing a lot of transitional math from primary to early elementary (think: golden bead operations).

 

Geometry

Plan: This was another area where I felt pretty lost in figuring out the order of the presentations.  My plan was to cover the following:

  • Polygons
  • Angles
  • Protractor use
  • Lines

Actual: We were kind of all over the place with geometry.  I had trouble figuring out a scope and sequence and honestly I think my ETC geometry task cards really added to the confusion because I wasn’t sure when to use each topic, etc.  I actually like the content of the cards quite a bit and used them as follow-ups but I just haven’t quite figured out the order of geometry presentations very well yet, I need to work on that this summer.

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Making Polygons in cat ears

As best I recorded, we actually covered:

  • Story of Geometry
  • Polygons (names of, parts of, etymology of the names)
  • Review of triangles
  • Angles (parts of, addition/subtraction)
  • Protractor use
  • Lines (nomenclature, position of 1 and 2 lines)
  • Circles (parts of, position relative to lines, position relative to two circles)
  • Pythagorean theorem
  • Quadrilaterals

None of these topics were in depth except probably angles/protractor use.  I am treating the geometry curriculum as something we will spiral back through in coming years since I cannot imagine she will have retained all of this by next fall.

Next Year: We will continue…doing something.  I really need to dig into the scope and sequence more and figure out a plan here.  I just felt like I was ping ponging around all year and not necessarily giving her a great experience with any of the materials.  This is on my list to figure out this summer.

 

Bible

Plan:  Finish Mark, then find new plan

Actual:  We finished up our line by line study of the book of Mark in January and we’ve moved on to a book called “Long Story Short”.  It’s an (almost) chapter by chapter study of the Old Testament.  It’s designed to take 3 years but I often put 2-3 lessons together so I can teach a whole Bible story (for example, the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Issac was broken into 3 but I combined them).  I love that it comes with easy to understand questions and prayer recommendations based on the topic.  It alternatives between the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament all to point to how the Old Testament portion actually points us to Jesus and/or the character of God. When we get to the end of a book or book section, we watch the video from The Bible Project on that biblical book.

Next Year:  We will continue with “Long Story Short” and the Bible Project Videos for sure. Although I admit that the book “Leading Little Ones to God” has me intrigued.  *sigh* Constant FOMO from the homeschooling mom…

 

Language

Plan: To address the following four threads:

  • Grammar: Continue with adverb, preposition, and pronoun
  • Word study: Compound words, prefixes, suffixes
  • Spelling: Words Their Way word sorts
  • Writing: Complete Writing with Ease (Level 1) book

 

Actual: Oh my. Remember above when we spent so much time on math, well language is probably what suffered the most.  We just weren’t that into it.  Here’s what we actually accomplished:

  • Grammar: Adverb, preposition, and pronoun
  • Word study: compound words, suffixes
  • Introductory sentence analysis
  • Spelling: Only made it through about 10 WTW sorts all year
  • Writing: This is a 36 week program if done 4 days/week (about 15 minutes per day)…we are currently on week 18.  We did do it every week, just not every day.  To be clear, I really like it, we just weren’t consistent enough with it.

That may look like a long list of things we actually accomplished but believe me, it was really a bare minimum.  Where we would spend hours on math practice problems and follow-ups, we would often do the most basic possible version of word study or spelling quickly and just move on.  And she did almost no writing this year except for the occasional single sentence to accompany a history drawing.

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Grammar Work

 

Next year: Clearly I need a more intensive plan for C to do more writing.  My issue is that a lot of the programs are comprehensive language arts plans (writing, spelling, grammar, AND writing) and I really only need writing.  The issue that I’m grappling with, of course, is time!  If she wants to do this much math, we simply won’t have time for hours of writing.  I was looking at a curriculum the other day (a writer’s workshop style) that suggested working towards 45-60 minutes of writing a day which actually blew my mind.  I’ve got a few things I’m looking into and I’ll report back.

 

Also, I’d really like to do some basic literary analysis (setting, characters, plot) and I’m currently looking into some of the unit packs from Blackbird & Company.  I love that they take excellent picture-style books and use them to teach literary analysis.  I’m excited to do some unit studies that both girls can participate in.

 

Weekly Schedule

Plan: 

  • Sunday – weekly meeting (20-30 minutes of discussing the upcoming week)
  • Monday – CC coop day, geography
    • Since geography is mostly independent, she can work on that while I’m working on Monday afternoon
  • Tuesday — Great Lessons/History, Geometry, and Language (Spelling/Writing)
    • The Great Lessons will take the most time and I’m not planning any geometry for the first 10 weeks to allow immersion in the Great Lessons.  Once we’re doing regular history, we’ll be incorporating geometry
  • Wednesday — Math, Language (Word Study/Grammar)
  • Thurs – Science
  • Friday – Flex day including Art if we haven’t already completed.  Follow-ups and additional exploration

 

Actual: Oh wasn’t I so cute with my weekly schedule?  I have no idea what I was thinking.  I don’t think we ever followed anything close to this.  She choose work and we did it, the end.  I actually do think next year I might schedule some presentations because we will have some joint ones (history, literature units, maybe science) but this whole daily schedule thing just didn’t work for us last year.  It felt unnecessarily rigid especially for one child.

 

Final Thoughts

We had a great year! I’m really happy with my first attempt at curriculum planning and will definitely look to do something similar for next year especially so I can do things like properly time the literature units/history.

 

I would love to hear from you about what did/didn’t work for your family this year!  Please feel free to comment or message me (Instagram is best for private messages).

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Love this sweet note about our school year.

Fundamental Needs

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October 2018 – C’s interpretation of “Stone Age Communication” (Cave Drawings)

 

The framework of fundamental needs is probably my favorite Montessori concept (though it’s not totally unique to Montessori).  It is the idea that each culture or people group through history has the same fundamental needs and that what varies by culture is how people have met those needs.  It provides a framework for studying other cultures while still honoring how similar we all are.  Fundamental needs can be studied within a culture (i.e. How did the Ancient Chinese meet their fundamental needs?) or across cultures (i.e. What are some different ways people met the need of defense?)

 

Fundamental Needs Introduction

Fundamental needs can be introduced as a concept during Great Lesson 3 (the Coming of Humans) or as a stand-alone concept.  I think it’s extremely powerful either way and if you’re using another History curriculum and not doing the Great Lessons, I think it’s still an excellent framework to use.  We are using it this year even as we use History Odyssey as our overarching history curriculum; this means that we cover the History Odyssey lesson but then take extra time to discuss the fundamental needs of the Greeks, Romans, etc.

 

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Feb 2018

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Fundamental Needs Chart with Definitions

 

I first introduced C to the concept of Fundamental Needs in Kindergarten (last year) through some materials I created to introduce the concept.  I created my own materials because I couldn’t find any that matched with exactly what I wanted to show.  Fundamental Needs are split into two categories: Material and Spiritual.  For C, I decided on the following categories:

  • Physical: Nourishment (including Medicine), Defense, Transportation Clothing, Shelter
  • Spiritual: Religion, Communication, Art and Ornamentation, Music and Dance

 

While there are standard concepts that appear in all lists of Fundamental Needs (Shelter, Communication, Transportation), there is some variation in other categories as some lists include “Tools”, “Money”, “Legal System”, etc.  The variation actually highlights some very interesting concepts and would be a very good research project for an upper elementary student.  Since C is young, I’m trying to keep it relatively simple and generalizable across cultures and time.

 

Here are some other resources for you to explore as you select the best representation of Fundamental Needs for your child – you need to choose which fundamental needs list you prefer and whether you like photos or drawings:

  • Fundamental Needs of Humans – This is the material I created.  It uses photographs and comes with a chart and definitions.
  • Montessori Kiwi’s Fundamental Needs – Flip book by Montessori Kiwi, Interactive with more needs listed than mine (tools, money, etc), uses drawings instead of photos.  Lots of other supporting materials that match it.  No explicit chart but could easily make one.
  • Montessori 123’s Fundamental Needs Work and Sorting Chart – Can purchase only the chart or the chart + sorting work.  Has fewer needs with categories similar to mine.  Uses photographs; other supporting materials to match it.  Comes in a chart format.
  • ETC Montessori’s Version – Gorgeous materials but pricey.  Uses watercolor images.  Chart format.

 

I introduced the topics with definitions for her to sort until she understood the basic categories (using my DIY chart).  Given her age, I wanted to work through more examples and definitions of each concept and also to start to distinguish between “needs” and “wants”.  So I created a Fundamental Needs workbook.  Each page provides a definition and then some ideas to work through.  For example, the communication section talks about different forms of numbers (tally marks, roman numerals, etc) and letters (characters from other alphabets).  I realized afterward that Montessori Kiwi also has a similar Montessori Kiwi Workbook (matched to the categories in her materials) that is also excellent.  If you wanted to mix/match Fundamental Needs products, you could easily just remove the pages (or add other topics).

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February 2018 – Fundamental Needs Workbook

We also did a collage project (old school 90s style) where we created our own fundamental needs chart with drawings and pictures cut from magazines.  She found multiple examples in each category and made and labeled her own chart.

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Spring 2018 – She looks so young!

 

Fundamental Needs through History

That brings us to this year, so how am I using it now?  We use it when we study almost every people group (and I reminded her of it during Great Lesson 3).  So what form does that take?  It varies; sometimes we keep it really simple and other times it takes on the form of an entire week’s lesson.

 

When we studied Stone Age peoples, we simply made a list and then she wanted to create a book as a follow-up.  We made the list using our Encyclopedias and a Magic Treehouse Research Guide.  She then presented her book to her coop class during presentation time:

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October 2018 – Our brainstormed list

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Oct 2018 – Her book

 

For other cultures, we’ve used some prepared materials and depending on what cultures you’re looking for different sellers have you covered:

  • Montessori Kiwi Bundle:Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Native Americans, Industrial Age British, Medieval, and Modern – Uses drawings, doesn’t cover all topics if they don’t apply because her fundamental needs list is longer (i.e money in the Stone Age).  The lists are tailored to the time period
  • Montessori123 bundle: Prehistoric, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Rome, Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern – Uses mostly photographs, some drawings.  Uses a more narrow list of fundamental needs so all covered for all time periods.

We’ve used these materials after we’ve done our own research to get additional ideas and confirm our thoughts but also sometimes just as standalone information to learn about each culture.

 

Fundamental Needs Research

We are now moving into the next and very exciting phase of Fundamental Needs and that’s as a research tool.  C is still young so she’s not ready for “research papers” but she is ready to begin recording her research.  As you can see, this is laying the foundation for non-fiction writing someday about a topic.  I remember as an upper elementary child being given the fundamental needs “topics” to research on a culture but I don’t think she’s quite ready for that yet.  So I have created a quick guide to help “scaffold” these ideas; for each fundamental need, it introduces some questions to ask about the culture plus some upfront context questions.  For example (just a small subset):

  • Context:
    • What is the name of the culture?
    • What did they call themselves?
    • In what modern countries was the culture located?
    • When did this culture exist?
  • Fundamental Need: Food
    • What plants did this people eat? Did they grow or find these plants?
    • What animals did they eat? Did they raise the animals for food or hunt them?
  • Fundamental Need: Language
    • Did this people communicate in writing or orally?
    • Have historians been able to decipher the written language to translate it?

I have made this resource available here for those who might like to use it: Fundamental Needs Research Prompts

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April 2019 – Fundamental Needs Research on the Ancient Greeks

The questions will help her look for information in her research sources and there is space to record them.  I’ve also listed all the questions at the end of the resource so that an older child could just record the topics in a research notebook.  This will also raise the idea that not all information is known for every culture.  Eventually as she learns research techniques, we can add non-fiction writing including citing sources.  I’m very excited about this next phase of learning.  We won’t do this for every culture but I think she’s really going to like this and of course she is welcome to illustrate or represent the answers if she tires of writing.  I do recommend preparing some questions in advance the first time you do this and of course having at least 1-2 books that include information about the culture on hand (libraries are always my first choice!).

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Ancient Greek Fundamental Need: Wine

 

For older children, there are myriad ways to expand on this.  Some ideas might include:

  • Looking at cultures across time
  • Envisioning how future cultures might meet their needs differently
  • Science-related research projects discussing how climate change, population growth, etc. impacts fundamental needs
  • Considering whether money, mobile phones, personalized medicine, or internet access are fundamental needs

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Comparing her findings to the Ancient Greek Fundamental Needs cards from Montessori123

 

MontessoriKiwi has a lot of ideas for students ages 9-12 on this topic as well as a  Fundamental Needs Bundle  that covers all of these resources at a discount.  I also highly recommend the materials at Montessori123 on Fundamental Needs  , particularly if you’re doing an Ancient History Unit since it contains so many good resources on Ancient Cultures.

Elementary Album Review

One of the first choices that a homeschooling parent has to make is what curriculum they will use.  These choices are informed both by state/national requirements, your family preferences, and your child’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses.  In Montessori, curricula is usually delivered in the form of topical “albums”.  If you were formally trained in Montessori, you would actually write your own albums during your training or there are some available for purchase.  I am constantly asked what albums I use because there are several choices out there and they’re all pretty pricey so people want to make the “right choice”.  Montessori albums are, by nature, somewhat complex because of the integrated nature of the curriculum; a topic like biomes may be covered in science, geography, botany, zoology, history, and cultural curriculum.    So, just a last disclaimer that I don’t think it’s “easy” to produce albums, I empathize with everyone who’s ever attempted this and I’m so grateful for what’s available to us as homeschoolers without formal training.

As with anything, album choice is personal preference but in this blog, I’ll share my personal experience and what’s worked for us.  I’ll present the options and rate them on aspects that are important to me.  I hope other bloggers will chime in with their opinions too, I have seen many, many people who LOVE albums that I don’t care for.  In fact, here’s my favorite blogger’s opinion on this same topic: “What did we do all day” Blog.

Here are the albums I currently have access to:

  • Keys of the Universe – complete set
  • Cultivating Dharma – math, language, geometry (all that’s available)
  • NAMC – Math 1 & 2 (which includes geometry), language, 5 Great Lessons (and I have seen all the other Lower El albums they have available)
  • Montessori R&D – Language Arts 2 & 3 (I have seen samples of others – these are available on their website)
  • Update Oct 2020: I have added a review of the Mainly Montessori Timeline/Album.  It is evaluated with the same criteria and can be found here: https://mchomeschoolblog.wordpress.com/2020/10/30/review-of-mainly-montessori-album-timeline/

Also, there is a scope and sequence that I sometimes refer to at Montessori Compass , it is free but is not printable or customizable unless you purchase a subscription (I have not).  Although this seems maybe extraneous, a scope and sequence is actually really important; there are, for example, 6+ strands of math at any given moment and the albums are arranged topically so you have to jump around to present things in an appropriate order and to know when the stopping point is for each topic at each approximate age.  No matter which albums you choose, I highly recommend that you acquire and review a scope and sequence regularly.

Keys of the Universe

  • Keys Albums
  • Price: $240 for complete set of albums ages 6-12 + $120 for online support
  • Printables Included: Yes, if you buy the online support, a large library of printables for almost all albums including cosmic timelines, grammar boxes, etc. that can be very pricey to buy
  • Organization: Can be a little difficult to follow and find every topic, table of contents not always up-to-date
  • Scripted: Very little scripted though sometimes key phrases are listed to remind the child of prior work
  • Scope/Sequence available: Yes, in the online support forum, provided in multiple formats in Excel documents (by topic, by suggested age, etc).  Can be a little hard to follow but the only album that provides this.  Here is the link to purchase the Excel based scope and sequence which I highly recommend since it’s so detailed and you can manipulate it: Excel Based Scope & Sequence
  • Support available: (Update as on June 2019) Yes, via a message board and also the owner is active in facebook groups and responsive to emails. Ongoing updates to videos and content as well via the message board.
  • Physical album available: Not unless you print it yourself

Keys is the most affordable way to buy an entire set of albums for ages 6-12.  They are also the only album with any support available in the form of a forum/Q&A from the writer of the albums.  Unfortunately, the writer Jessica is not currently available (she may be back in Aug 2019) so this really limits the support available.  Prior to her leaving (just as I was starting to homeschool elementary), I found her to be responsive and helpful in her forum and on Facebook.  I think her absence is a real blow to this curriculum because often once she provided an answer, I was able to proceed very easily. (UPDATE June 2019: Jessica has returned and is once again responding to requests.  I have found her to be very engaged and helpful!  Reach out with any question or tag her on Facebook, you’ll get a response).

Keys is a popular album but I find it can be a little hard to follow sometimes.  I prefer the presentation layouts in Cultivating Dharma and some of the scripting I see in other albums.  I often have to read the presentations in Keys several times before I know what to do; my brain just must work differently than the writer’s does.  I also find that the organization can be hard to follow and it takes me a while to find things.  Does include pictures/drawings/photographs to illustrate most concepts.

Keys is also one of the few albums with printables included particularly of the timeline material.   The quality of the printables can be quite low, I found the timeline images to be relatively low quality and there was not a finished picture or an order of the images so I was not able to put it together (this has since changed as someone posted pictures to the forum but the pictures are still lower quality).  The timeline images are basically hand drawings and in the age when many bloggers have high quality printables available, I didn’t get great value out of these printables.  The written printables for grammar/language are fine since these are typed pages.  Keys is also the only album to include videos (on the online forum); they aren’t the best lighting/quality but sometimes it’s helpful to see the presentation.

I mainly use these albums for math/geometry/some geography and the detailed scope and sequence that I can manipulate in Excel to create a scope/sequence that tracks what my daughter has completed presentation by presentation. It’s been hugely beneficial for me to have an editable version of the scope and sequence and it’s how I plan my year every year!  Highly recommend her timeline for your own planning purposes.

Cultivating Dharma

  • Cultivating Dharma Albums
  • Price: Free, but only math, language, geometry available (covers ages 6-12)
  • Printables Included: No
  • Organization: Relatively easy to follow
  • Scripted: Very little scripted though sometimes key phrases are listed to remind the child of prior work
  • Scope/Sequence available: No
  • Support available: No
  • Physical album available: Not unless you print it yourself

This is an incomplete set of albums available for free.  For the subjects available, it’s one of my favorite albums (particularly geometry).  I find the presentations easy to follow and clear.  It has good pictures for many concepts and I find the examples very helpful.  Given that this is an incomplete set of albums, it cannot be your only albums but I really, really like these.

NAMC

  • Lower Elementary Manuals
  • Price: $1,825 for the full package of lower elementary (14 manuals, DVD videos, printables); less for a smaller package.  I’ve heard rumors of a homeschool discount but I have no official confirmation of that.  Can also buy them a la carte for $149 each.
  • Printables Included: Yes, for a fee ($250 a la carte)
  • Organization: Topically organized, good table of contents, good theory notes/additional points beside some topics (teacher education)
  • Scripted: Almost nothing scripted
  • Scope/Sequence available: No
  • Support available: No
  • Physical album available: Yes, in large binders in full color

This set of albums seems to be the most “controversial” amongst Montessori homeschoolers; people either love it or hate it.  I personally think it’s extremely, extremely pricey at $1,800+ for lower elementary only (traditionally ages 6-9).  This means you’d have to buy a second set of albums for upper elementary (9-12).

I admit, I want to love this option because it comes in full color manuals and they’re really pretty.  The presentations are step-by-step though they’re not scripted.  They tell you what to do but not what to say.  This can be helpful for parents who want every single step written out.  There are also suggestions for “extensions” on materials to deal with special cases (e.g. a zero in a multiplication problem).

The printables for math/language are mostly “worksheet” style which can be good for checking understanding at the end (that’s how I use the math ones) but not necessarily for introducing concepts.  They do include some printables to DIY things but I don’t think many of them would actually work in practice (for example, the checkerboard printable is a single page when the real thing is 2 ft x 3 ft).  There are also no printable timelines at least in the version I have.  There are no grammar box/sentence analysis materials included in my printables for language so you’ll have to buy those materials as well.

My real issue with this option though is that I don’t think it covers enough in Lower Elementary to be truly “Lower Elementary”, especially in math.  It starts with materials that are often used in primary (addition/subtraction strip boards) which is totally fine as many children may need to start with those but it simply doesn’t cover enough ground.  The Lower Elementary set doesn’t cover stamp game (intermediate step between golden beads and other materials), divisibility, any squaring/cubing prerequisites and only partially covers some topics.  An example is long division with the racks and tubes, the first 4 presentations (no abstraction/recording) are in the lower elementary album but the final 4 presentations are in the Upper Elementary album.  Thus, if you have a child of 7 who is capable/desires to continue on to abstraction, you run out of presentations!  This may not be a problem for every family, check out the complete tables of contents for each album on their website to reference the presentations you’ll need.

This set of albums would also exhaust my entire homeschooling budget but since it still assumes you own many of the Montessori classroom materials, you’d still need to spend more to acquire them all.  Still, it’s a good solution for those who want a full set of albums and don’t mind the price.

Montessori R&D (“MRD”)

  • Elementary Albums
  • Price: $1,000 for the full package of elementary but they are available a la carte for $20-$50; also available online for slightly cheaper at Montessori Parent (with limitations on how many devices you can use them on).
  • Printables Included: No but you can DIY
  • Organization: Topically well organized
  • Scripted: Completely scripted
  • Scope/Sequence available: No
  • Support available: No
  • Physical album available: Yes, in bound books and the company worked with me on media mail shipping to save on shipping costs.

The MRD albums are very nicely scripted.  The scripting includes references to prior lessons (e.g. “remember when we learned about compound words, suffixes also contain a root word”).  I really like the clear layout and tables of contents available on their website and their samples are very reflective of the material covered.

I also really like that they come in small albums at an affordable price so you only pay for what you need.  For example, I had already DIYed grammar work from a prior source so I didn’t have to pay for their Language 1 album.

Another feature I really like is that some of the materials contain enough information that you could DIY some of the work yourself even though it doesn’t come as a “printable”.  For example, their language album covering word study (Language 3) includes all the “suffix sets” required for a study of suffixes.  The language album covering sentence analysis (Language 2) includes pages of example sentences that you could easily type up yourself or write on a white board.  So although it’s not “printable”, it does feel like you have enough material that you wouldn’t have to purchase more materials in order to provide a full sequence of lessons.

My only dislike with the language albums so far is that Language 2 seems very, very redundant.  The first 40-50 pages of lessons are very similar.  Since I have some other albums, this doesn’t seem necessary to me but that’s because I have other albums to compare.  Also, Language 2 doesn’t appear to cover any advanced sentence analysis (adverbial clauses) and from what I can tell from their TOC on their other language albums, I’m not sure it’s every covered.  By that point, I don’t think I’ll need an album (or I’ll consult another one) but it would be a downside if I didn’t have the free ones from Cultivating Dharma to consult.

My ability to assess their math albums is limited but from their samples, I can see similar scripting and a really thorough coverage of the material.  I did ask for a sample lesson I was specifically interested in via email and they provided it promptly.  I also know that their botany/physical geography manuals include the charts printed in color (I have friends who have these manuals) so you may not have to purchase a full set of charts to use those materials.  I am planning to purchase the physical geography manual this summer.

So What Do I Do?

Short answer: Bounce around like a crazy person and find the presentation I like.

Longer answer: I use MRD for sentence analysis/word study, Cultivating Dharma for Math/Geometry also consulting Keys for Math/Geometry.  I use Keys for some cosmic/history/science but have also gone to other curricula because I need something easier to follow.  Going forward, I have plans to purchase a few more MRD albums and then I’m probably good on albums.

I think if I were starting over today, I’d consult Cultivating Dharma to see where I should start my child in math/language and then use those plus MRD albums.  Because we are somewhat eclectic in our Montessori journey (using other science/history curricula), I probably didn’t need to buy an entire set from Keys because we just don’t use the printables or the albums beyond math/language/geometry; that being said, the scope/sequence from Keys is hugely helpful and I might be lost without it.  It’s almost like, I needed a combination of albums to “find my way”.

Disclaimer: This is an honest review and represents only my opinion based on my family’s experience; every family will be different.  I have not been compensated in any way or received any free albums, everything I reviewed was purchased by me.  I have represented each option to the best of my knowledge but as listed above, I do not have access to every single resource offered by each company.