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.
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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)

 

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.
  • Support available: (Update as on June 2019) Yes, via a message board and also the owner is active in facebook groups
  • 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. (UPDATE June 2019: Jessica has returned and is once again responding to requests).

 

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 some pictures/drawings to illustrate 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.

 

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’m also interested to see how Keys changes when Jessica returns.

 

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.

Feb 2019 TPT Sale: Our Favorite Sellers

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Teachers pay teachers is having their quarterly sale with discounts in the 20-40% range.  Not only that but some of my favorite sellers are matching/beating the sale on their own websites (where TPT doesn’t take a cut).  Sale ends at 11:59 PM (so midnight) Eastern Time on Feb 27th, 2019.  Use code TICKTOCK for the discounts (25+% off)

 

Math

I particularly like TPT for math task cards since you can adapt almost any word problem to using the Montessori materials.  And then there are the Montessori-specific sellers:

  • Montessori Kiwi (25+% off)
    • We love the number bonds worksheets shown above, the hundred board task cards, etc.  If you want a review of how we use a lot of these materials as “transitional” from primary to elementary, you can read my blog post here: Learning Math Facts: Addition and Subtraction
    • For my oldest, I started this year (her elementary 2 year) with a review of place value using these materials: Advanced Place Value Cards
  • Rachel Lynette TPT sale (25% off)
    • We have her 3-4 grade and 4-5 grade task cards bundle.  I like that this resource is more analogous to what my daughter might experience on our state-mandated tests so it provides exposure
    • Topics covered include factoring, divisibility, operations with fractions, etc.
  • Montessori Math Command Cards (Gr 1-3)
    • Shown above with blue outline
    • These cards use a lot of Montessori materials (stamp game, golden beads, etc).  They are not our “go to” right now because she’s beyond some of these materials but I’ll be breaking them back out in the fall for D.
  • Divisibility Bundle
    • This bundle was absolutely EXCELLENT for working though the mastery of divisibility.  Divisibility isn’t the most flashy topic but I thought the creator did a great job of really making this resource fun and varied

 

I have these on my wish list for additional number sense work: Number Talks – Grade 4 (Full Year Curriculum)  . In case you want to read about my obsession interest with number fluency and number sense, I wrote an entire post here: Number sense & Montessori

Update: May 2019.  I purchased these in the February sale and it is EXCELLENT.  Highly recommend for those implementing number talks at home.

 

Geometry

We love these angle measurement cards which get the child using their protractor: Angle Measurement Cards

And these are on my wish list (50% off) for more advanced geometry task cards: Geometry Task Cards Bundle

 

Fractions

Update May 2019.  I’ve been loving these advanced fraction task cards now that I’ve worked through my own fraction boxes with the kids (see an entire post on that here: Learning Fractions):

 

Science:

I don’t use a ton of science printables but we have really enjoyed these Science Anchor Charts . They provide good information but stick very much to what an elementary student might need to learn about science topics (energy, food chains, ecosystems, water cycle, etc).  I have found them easy to adapt and a nice reference.  They also come in black and white so a younger child could use as a coloring sheet.

 

Cosmic:

If you’re planning on teaching the Great Lessons next year (here’s my entire series on that: Great Lessons), there are several resources you could consider stocking up on now:

  • Grooving Through the Grades has 3 Part Cards that match the Prehistoric Toobs:
  • Montessori Kiwi (25+% off)
    • Too many to link specifically.  Materials on Clock of Eras, each Era (Mesozoic, Cenozoic, etc.), etc.  There are also PowerPoints and scripts to help you get started writing your own stories.  I won the Great Lesson giveaway from this store in the fall and it was very helpful to me especially in Great Lessons 4/5.

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My items on sale (20-30% off):

I don’t make many printables; I usually just upload them when someone asks me where I got them so my offerings are way less fancy than many but I am participating in the sale as an FYI:

DIY Equivalency Cabinet

As a homeschooler, I try to make thoughtful decisions about what materials to buy and what to try and make myself.  This decision is different for every situation and includes considerations of budget, space, the number of children, and the children’s interests, to name just a few.

 

One of the important materials in the Montessori geometry curriculum is called the Equivalency Cabinet (also called the Iron Materials).  This includes equivalency materials and the Pythagoras plates.  These materials are typically made of metal and they are simply gorgeous:

Equiv Figure

 

But as you can see, that’s only the material, doesn’t include the Pythagoras plates for that price OR the cabinet it comes in.  Together, they can cost between $400-$1,000.  For me and many (all?) homeschoolers, that’s simply not feasible.  I also particularly struggled with the fact that I learned geometry mostly abstractly in 10th grade (non-Montessori) so I figured that I could always teach my children a more standard geometry curriculum.

 

Being the crazy person researcher that I am though, I did hunt for alternatives.  The usual DIY blogs and sources turned up nothing that anyone made on their own except for a handful of people with very sophisticated computer-aided wood carving machines.  Finally though, I did find this printable version (note that the Pythagoras “plates” actually come in their fraction bundle): Making Montessori Ours Printable Equivalence file

 

I wanted to find a way to make these more manipulative than printed paper so I began thinking about how to approach this.  First, I had the materials printed on glossy cardstock legal size (larger than a standard sheet of paper) – total cost $19:

This treatment made them thicker and larger which helps with durability and sensorial impact.  Please note that each “plate” comes with 3 pictures: a picture of the cabinet “tray” (don’t need to print), inset plate (print), and pieces that go into the insets (print).

 

Then over a series of evenings, I cut out each of the insets and matched them into their plates.  Then, using Modge Podge (could also use glue) and red push pins I created “knobs” by applying the Modge Podge to the base of the push pin and then pushing it into the inset while it was aligned in its plate.  It was extremely simple to do this as I pushed them all into styrofoam.  After each piece dried, I separated the pieces from the plate.  I’m storing the plates flat and the pieces all on styrofoam.

I tested it to see how “strong” it was.  Also the Modge Podge dries clear so you don’t have to worry about wiping it off too perfectly.

 

In terms of the styrofoam, I used the thin styrofoam from my Pin It Maps or you can get it from a craft store.  If you buy from Pin It Maps, it’s about $10 to get their nice foam shipped to you in the US (under the replacement tabs); it doesn’t seem to “shed” styrofoam as much as the craft store version does.  I’m storing them directly on the styrofoam mat as well when they’re not in use.

 

My foam took a beating from an overexcited 2 year old but it works great for this purpose!

 

So how did it turn out?  GREAT!  We were able to get the sensorial experience of the pieces matching/fitting together and it was definitely far more affordable.  It’s fine for 1-2 children at a time but obviously it’s not going to stand up to 35 children at a time.  I’m very encouraged though because of course pieces are easily “replaced” just by printing them again.  I hope this helps someone!  It’s not the most common thing to DIY but it can really save you a lot of time and $$.  Oh and if for some reason your pieces needing “re-gluing”, I’m sure superglue or similar would also work but I just didn’t have any at the time.

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Oh and how did we do the Pythagorean theorem part of it?  So the Pythagorean theorem plates show how two types of right-angled triangles (isosceles or scalene) both follow the Pythagorean Theorem.  You can prove the scalene one with Legos (legs are 6 and 8 legos long, hypotenuse is 10) which works great and delighted her.  After I showed her the triangle, she built out the squares and showed how they could overlap the square formed by the hypotenuse:

This does not work for isosceles (or I couldn’t make it work) because I couldn’t figure out what length to make the two legs to make the square of the hypotenuse an even number.  So what we did instead is to create them in card stock and prove it that way.  This isn’t a concept she’s meant to totally understand right now but the sensorial experience will stick with her when she encounters that proof again.

I cannot take credit for this idea,  it’s widely available online but it worked well so I’m happy to share it with you.

Learning Math Facts: Addition and Subtraction

One of the things that I found very stressful initially was how to teach math facts to my daughter.  The nice thing about Montessori is that it does not force full memorization before moving on to different math activities (the children either partner up with someone who does know the facts or use a chart of facts) but this is still an important skill.  C (age 7) has now learned almost all her math facts but D (age 5.5) is just starting so I’m going back to the approaches that worked for us the first time around two years ago.

 

The traditional way to learn math facts in Montessori is to fill out a variety of tables using an equation box.  The child selects an equation from the box and using tiles or paper fills in the equation table which they then check against a classroom table.  There are several steps in this process that you can see here: Using an Addition Chart .  Long story short, it did not work for us.  My daughter completed each chart exactly once and then was wholly uninterested in repeating the work enough times to actually memorize anything.

 

So, I got to research other ways to teach math facts and came across the idea of number bonds or fact families.  Number bonds emphasize the idea that addition and subtraction are related (and multiplication/division) so that “fact families” can be learned as followed:

For the numbers 2 and 4, this is the fact family:

  • 2 + 4 = 6
  • 4 + 2 = 6
  • 6 – 2 = 4
  • 6 – 4 = 2

Once the child is taught how the numbers in a fact family will relate, the can easily learn (or reason out) their math facts.

 

So I set out teaching my oldest number bonds to 10 when she was 5:

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She looks so little (2016)!  (Wooden disks = 0)

You can see that we simply used cuisenaire rods and wooden numbers.  It was easy to start and I used what I had.  Number bonds are often shown as a 3 circles in a relationship (addend, addend, sum on top) so you can see that we progressed to that.  I would write the sum and one addend and she would figure out the missing one:

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She likes to check her own work (backwards checks are hers)
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C checking her own work using an addition table (age 5.5)

 

In this way, she learned her addition/subtraction facts in concert.  A few years later and we’ve gotten more materials so you can see more Montessori incorporated into what I’m doing with D but it’s the exact same idea:

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Bead houses (number fact families)

 

And here’s our current version of number bonds:

 

I prefer these newer versions because they match our Montessori materials but they would work with any manipulative.  Here are the printables used:

  • Bead “houses”
    • I printed on colored cardstock and then used an exacto knife to cut the “slots”.  I also painted the “10 house” gold with gold colored paint.
  • Colored bead “fact families”
    • These show the entire set of the number bonds (so the addition and subtraction) and we will be using these next for D
  •  Number bonds cards
    • These are print and go, I printed 2 per page

 

In addition to teaching addition facts, it’s also very, very useful for a child to learn “doubles” (3+3, 4+4, etc) so I teach them explicitly.  This is useful because they can apply this knowledge to problems with “near doubles”: if you know 3+3=6, you know 3+4=7 because it’s simply one more than the double.  I made a really simple DIY version of this flip chart to introduce doubles.  Mine shows bead bars but you can use whatever rods/manipulatives that your child would be familiar with:

 

And now we’re using these task cards on adding doubles: Doubles Task Cards

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It’s almost Valentine’s Day here and she LOVES using these little heart markers on her work.

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These approaches have been really helpful for my children and more engaging than repeatedly using the tables.  I’m certain those tables work for some children but they just weren’t a good fit for our family.

 

FYI, many of these activities and the hundred board activity cards (shown below) that we LOVE are available (Feb 2019) as a bundle here.  I already purchased most of these a la carte but they’re bundled here at big savings: Junior Math Bundle

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Disclosure: Last week I became an affiliate for Montessori Kiwi so some of the products linked above are affiliate links (at no additional cost to you).  However, all but one of these materials (the colored bead fact families) I purchased prior to that arrangement at full price and have used for years in our homeschool.  My posts are meant to be informative and helpful; you can count on me to always recommend the best product I’ve found whether or not I am an affiliate.

Daily and Weekly Rhythms

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2016 – Our rhythms have changed a lot since then!  That was 2 zip codes ago.

Before I started homeschooling, I was very interested in what a “normal” day looked like for homeschoolers and how homeschoolers prepared to teach their children each week.  Now that I’ve done it for 18 months, I’ve settled on what works for us (at least for now) so I decided to share how we approach our weekly and daily rhythms.

 

Weekly

 

As previously discussed in this post, I have a pretty good sense of our upcoming lessons so the first thing I do each weekend (usually Sunday afternoon) is consult 1) my lesson plan and 2) the prior week’s work journal.  Our work journal is laid out by subject so this allows me to see what (if anything) was left over from the prior week.  If a lesson wasn’t finished, it is added to the upcoming week’s work plan but if it was, then I know that I’ll give the next lesson in my lesson plan.

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All my books for a planning session.  I know it looks like a lot but I’m only skimming.  It goes quickly!

 

I can already anticipate that there would be questions as to why something would be unfinished in a prior week’s work plan.  The short answer is that it’s relatively rare but if it happens, it happens by agreement.  We informally review (literally by glancing at it) the work plan during the week so if it is clear that we’ve run out of time/decide to pursue other work at the expense of something on the chart, we discuss bumping that item to the next week.  It is a shared decision between C and I to do so.  Typically, this happens because I’ve planned too much work; since I’m not a trained guide, I’m never quite sure how long follow-ups and rabbit holes will take.

 

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Meeting White Board (Jan 2018) – Black are my notes, blue are her additions
Meeting (today) – black are my notes, blue are her additions

I copy my rough plan for the week onto a white board (shown above) and then we have our “meeting”.  C and I meet together quickly and we run through the lessons/topics for the week.  I show her any new material (not demonstrating it, just physically showing it to her) and tell her what we will be studying in history, science, etc. The meeting gets her excited about work that is coming up.  It is not uncommon for her to choose the first few things she wants to work on during the meeting, even if she won’t start work on them until the next day.  Sometimes, we modify the plan based on her feedback.  For example, she recently declared that she “already knew everything” (gotta love the confidence of a 6 year old) in our science lesson because we had discussed those items during the Great Lessons earlier in the year; after asking her to explain the topic to me, I determined that we could skip over that particular science lesson.  This is uncommon but it has happened.

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Dec 2018 Work Journal

Once we’ve agreed on the weekly lessons, I copy them into our work journal.  We use a short-hand notation of “(p)” if something requires a presentation from me before she can work on that independently.  The number of lines represents the number of times that something should be accomplished and we date each activity as it is completed.  The “number of repetitions” is the most often thing we debate during the weekly meeting but we have a minimum family requirement of 5 “problems” or “practice opportunities” before each line is satisfied and receives its date.  Either of us can date an activity after it is finished; now that’s she’s accustomed to the system, I trust her to complete the agreed upon activity.

 

Daily

I thought I might do this section as a time diary of one of our days.  I work PT from home in the afternoons so that section won’t apply to all families but this is a faithful documentation of our day on Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2019.  Please keep in mind that Tuesday is a heavy presentation/minimal independent work day in our homeschool because it’s our first day of the week (we do coop on Mondays).  Weds-Fri is generally significantly “quieter” in terms of fewer presentations and C working independently.  There are a lot of pictures…

 

5:30 AM: Run and Bible study/prayer time.  I have been a runner for 10 years and I love starting my day this.  And doing my prayer/Bible study time as I cool down has meant I do it more consistently.  No pictures of sweaty me, no one wants to see that.

7-7:30 AM: Kids awake and eating breakfast

7:30-8:40 AM: Getting dressed, mama showering, getting D and R (ages 5 and 2.5) ready for preschool

8:45-9:15 AM: Preschool drop off

9:15 AM: Bible study/prayer time with C.  We are currently in Mark, chapter 15.

9:15-9:45 AM: Flags of Africa.  She reviewed the 10 flags she knows so far and selected 10 new flags to learn this week.  Her follow-up work is practicing the flags and then checking them against the key.  For more on our use of Pin-It-Maps, please see this Pin It Maps

She’s chosen to start with the flags of southern Africa

9:45-10:45 AM: Science presentation on distinguishing materials.  We are using the curriculum from Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. We don’t have a great follow-up from this lesson, I really need to get better about planning follow-up options for them.

We began by reviewing that all “human-made” objects are made from natural or biological materials (prior lesson in the curriculum).  Then we categorized the materials we could find in our homeschool room or around our home (metal, wood, plastic, stone, rubber, etc).

Then we determined some properties of these materials and made some observations in a chart form (we’re very visual so lots of things get “chart-ified”); observations included the strength, flexibility, magnetism, and weight of material.  This led to a discussion of why certain materials are used to make certain human-made objects and not others (e.g. we don’t see glass cars driving around).

When I asked for her permission to share the entire day including lots of pictures, she agreed but she wanted me to be in a picture. So here is her photo of me and our list of materials in our homeschool room.
Determining the magnetism of our stair railing
Our comparison of different properties of materials

Lastly we finished with an extremely popular old video from Mr. Rogers about how crayons are made and the materials that go into that.  She was fascinated and is now very interested in the many, many videos on YouTube of how things are made.

 

10:45-11:05 PM: Geometry presentation on the nomenclature of lines (line, ray, line segment, vertical, etc).  She categorized lines by their positions during the lesson and the follow-up work is the line task cards from ETC Montessori.

11:05-11:30: Language presentation on alphabetization.  This is review for her as we did some work with dictionary skills last year but it was a good refresher.  She did two drawers and will complete more for follow-up.

11:30-12 PM: History presentation on the Indus River Valley Civilization.  We are using the guide from History Odyssey for our focus on Ancient Civilizations this year.  It includes readings from the encyclopedia, Story of the World, and map work.  She completed her initial follow-up (drawing/writing a sentence about what she remembers from the lesson).  As another follow-up, we also plan to look up modern day India in our “Children Like Me” reference which is excellent.

She remembered the Indus River valley civilization was the first cultivation of cotton but wanted to use our encyclopedia to double-check all of her spellings.

So that was our morning! I’m going to publish this now because the rest isn’t going to change; afternoons are all the same around here and it’s all in big blocks of time.

 

12:00 PM: I begin work by checking my emails, C goes downstairs to eat her lunch.  She delights in the quiet of lunch and reads her book while she eats.

12:30 PM: Our nanny arrives and she and C head off to preschool to collect D and R.

12:30-5:30 PM: I work and our nanny plays with the kids and/or drives them to activities (soccer, swimming, dance).  C often completes follow-up in the afternoons as well for 30-60 minutes but this is optional and completely at her discretion.

5:30-7:30 PM: Dinner, bath, Bible with Daddy, read-alouds (currently read Anna Hibiscus – highly recommend!). My husband is usually home around 6 PM which is a huge blessing after years with him working very late.

7:30-9:30 PM: My husband and I clean up, eat dessert (I have a big sweet tooth!), and watch TV before bed.  I sometimes am laminating/preparing new materials though I try to take a break and not do that every night.

Hope that helps anyone who is curious! Feel free to leave me questions in the comments.