Friday, June 05, 2009

Our Homeschool Year in Review

An end of school year analysis, since I know lots of my friends ask questions about what I use and why I use it. It's proving to be a long summary, but it's helpful for me to write it down and hopefully helpful to others who are homeschooling or planning to homeschool, as well as others who are curious about what we do!

In summary, we had a wonderful kindergarten year. Mary Clare has grown in so many ways and has learned a lot of new things! We've tried to work about 4 days a week, 30-40 minutes a day this year. Next year, we'll shoot for 45 minutes 4 days a week, and plan for 160 school days which I will record. Here is our progress this year in the subject areas and the materials we used, including some of the things I've started with Ellie.


I'm very happy with Math U See. This book focuses on addition so she has been learning to add without using her fingers and she's showing a real familiarity with numbers in general. She does mental computations and enjoys word problems. We're about 1/3 of the way through the Alpha book (roughly 1st grade) so hopefully we'll finish that in the middle of the next school year and move on to Beta. I like that we can go at our own pace with books, and take breaks when we're at a frustration point and just do review for awhile. I will also say that I'm hearing rave reviews about the math curriculum called "Teaching Textbooks" which starts at grade 4, so we'll probably move into that at some point. Everyone seems to love it! I'm hoping to start Ellie in Math U See Primer sometime during this next school year.


This is Mary Clare's least favorite subject. She just doesn't have a lot of confidence in her ability to read, although she has gotten about 3/4 of the way through 100 Easy Lessons and can read early readers fairly well. It seems to take her a lot of effort to sound out words, and I think it mentally tires her. We've taken lots of breaks from the book and tried different approaches. But in the end I think she just struggles with phonics; she may have some slight dyslexic tendencies (likely hereditary) and we'll just continue to move forward and encourage her in the way that seems to work best at the time. I don't think she needs outside assistance at this point, but I am open to that in the future if she's still struggling. I'm considering moving to a hard-core phonics program like Sound Beginnings or possibly trying the Little Angel Reader program next year. I'm still deciding on that. We read a lot of books and did a few lessons from the "Before Five in a Row" literature program. We check out lots of library books and we're always on the lookout for good used books deals at thrift shops, garage sales, and the library's used book store. Ellie has done a few lessons out of 100 Easy Lessons, which we will continue next year.


Mary Clare loves to write and does so VERY phonetically. I have some pictures of a card she made for her godparents upon their arrival back in the States a couple weeks ago. It says, "WelcuM to hyoostiN GRSeus" (Welcome to Houston, Garcias). She also has a sign on her door, "NO BOYS ALAWD." So funny! She is very confident when she writes so that's good. She enjoys writing and dictating stories.

For handwriting, she finished the Handwriting Without Tears 1st grade workbook and then moved to Catholic Heritage Handwriting Series (kindergarten level). As you can see in her little example above, she still needs lots of help with writing upper vs. lowercase and still struggles with letter placement on lined paper. This year we'll finish the CHC kindergarten handwriting workbook and probably move onto their 1st grade book, and maybe go back to Handwriting Without Tears 2nd grade when she completes those. Each handwriting workbook seems to take her about 3-4 mos, so that's why we've done so many different books! We've also just started a Catholic Heritage Spelling book (My First Catholic Speller), which she's enjoying and is reinforcing the phonics skills. We will continue that next year. Ellie is learning how to write her letters and numbers and has been using the preschool Handwriting Without Tears workbook.


We started off the year trying to do our weekly bible narrations. Those kind of phased out by the end of the year, but I'm still hoping to continue with this in the coming years in the narration binder I have started with both the girls (to put narrations from all different subject areas). We did some lessons using the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism, which she enjoyed. We started the year praying a morning offering and the pledge, but that phased out too. We'll try it again for 1st grade. We've also been praying a rosary decade or Divine Mercy Chaplet at bedtime and making short visits to the Blessed Sacrament at the church. I'd like to get back into making one daily mass a week, but we may be at the point where we need to do that in the evening with Daddy. We've read lots of saint books and a few prayer books. We've done activities and read books dealing with the liturgical season, particularly during Advent and Lent.

This next year I'd like to use the Faith & Life Grade 1 text with her and continue with our liturgical lessons and books, as well as the Bible narrations. I plan to focus a lot on Penance and the Holy Eucharist the next 2 years as she prepares to make her First Confession and First Holy Communion in 2nd grade. She's also memorized the basic Catholic prayers (Ellie needs to work on these next year), and we'll try to add some more prayers in both English and Latin!

Poetry/Foreign Language-

Mary Clare has done a wonderful job memorizing poetry! She can recite some fairly lengthy poems for her age (6-10 lines) and speaks with good expression. I started in PreK using Robert Louis Stevenson's "Child's Garden of Verses" text since it was so inexpensive, but then I realized we'd want some more variety in our poem choices. We found some poems online, but also ended up buying Laura Berquist's "The Harp and the Laurel Wreath" which has a very wide selection of poems for grades 1-12, so hopefully it will get a lot of use! I had goals of doing some Spanish lessons and Latin prayer memorization, but we didn't do much of that. So those will be goals for next year!

Our science learning has focused mostly on exploring and enjoying the natural world around us. We try to go on frequent nature walks and have nature club outings at parks several times a month. We've done a bit of gardening and have hatched butterflies. We've collected leaves and rocks and gone fishing with Daddy. We've gone to some nature preserves and have taken several trips to the zoo. Daddy (being an "Animal Scientist" by degree) teaches them a lot of animal facts and always has some kind of scientific, geographical, or historical lessons to teach them at the dinner table! We have large maps in our schoolroom which we use whenever we're talking about other cities, states, or countries. Hopefully they are gaining a foundation in geography which we will continue in the coming years.

We've also talked a lot about the human body, using some big books I had from my teaching days. Since we've faced various physical ailments of our own family and friends, we've used those as occasions to teach them how their body works, what doctors and surgeons do, and how important it is to pray for those who are hurting. The knee surgery has helped Mary Clare and Ellie gain compassion for others who are ill, and now having a good friend going through cancer treatments will be another occasion to grow in compassion and charity.

Next year we'll probably do some more history lessons, focusing on some of the the national holidays and historical figures in our country. Hopefully a big one will be the Fourth of July this summer since we're hoping to host a big family party that day (note to all the B family, we'd love to host that out here if y'all are up for it!).

Fine Arts-
The girls are both gaining a true appreciation for music. Last year Steven bought me an iPod, and since then we have filled it with a variety of musical selections, from Christian contemporary favorites to Irish songs, hundreds of Classical pieces, opera, Christmas favorites, Country, Latin, and children's music. They love to turn on the iPod and dance around the living room! They love a wide range of music types, which I'm so happy about. I'd like to get some of the Classical Kids CDs or iTunes albums to listen to next year. They tell the stories of different composers. They've learned a bit about composers in our Nature/Fine Arts club meetings. Both the girls take ballet at a local Christian studio. They are learning grace in movement and forming friendships with other sweet homeschooled children. Their recital next weekend is a full ballet telling the story of Moses. I can't wait to see it!

We've done some picture studies and had a wonderful field trip to the Art Museum. But I'm really hoping to find a good picture study routine for next year. I need to do some more online research, because there are museums that will send you large prints and lesson plans that you can use and return. The girls love to draw and paint and color. Mary Clare seems to lack some patience in creating her artwork, so we'll work on that this coming year. We used Draw Write Now and some other how-to-draw books as well. I'd love for Mary Clare to start piano at some point in the near future, but that will be a huge investment in time and money that I don't think we're quite ready for. The girls like to play around on NeNe's piano though!

Physical Fitness-
Ballet class and park outings are the girls' main form of exercise. Not to mention running and dancing around the house all day! Mary Clare had a rough time this year with her knee injury and surgery and wasn't able to attend many of the homeschool group PE classes. But she's been attending physical therapy two or three times a week for the past few months, and those will be finishing up next week. We're trying to work with her at home, doing straightening exercises (she still can't fully extend her knee), and riding her bike to work on bending. Swim team has been an excellent form of exercise for the girls; they are so tired every night after swimming! I think it will be a great family sport for us to continue in the years to come! Next year we plan to continue ballet and possibly the homeschool PE if the group still offers it.
Toddler update:
Since I've talked a lot about the girls' progress I'll make a quick list of the things SJ is working on!
Words-Mama, Dada, Dog, Ball, Nonononono
Shaking head for "yes" and "no"
He can throw a ball slightly up in the air and catch it back in his hands!
Hitting, biting, and slapping :-P
Climbing, digging, kicking balls, trying to jump
Drawing all over the furniture with markers and crayons
Cutting his eye teeth
Getting over a croupy cough

Okay, this has taken me the better part of a morning to finish in the midst of cooking lunch, finishing our last day of homeschooling, and getting ready for a park outing with friends. As for homeschooling, we'll probably take a break the next 2 weeks and then try to work 2 or 3 days a week during the summer, officially starting our new grades in August. Thanks for sharing in this journey with us and feel free to leave comments, advice, or ideas if you have any!


kelly said...

You should post this on HSM!

Tracy said...

Hi Blair,

I hear very good things about Math U See, it’s a good program that many of the teachers I work with have implemented. If you wouldn’t mind a suggestion for an alternative math outlet, DreamBox Learning offers an engaging online math curriculum for Kindergarten - 2nd grade children. DreamBox also has many great resources for teachers and parents, including our our math development growth chart at: I am currently working with DreamBox in the effort to create a dialogue with the homeschooling and teaching community, and it would be a real treat if you could try our product for free over the summer. If you’re interested, we’d love to have a link on your site and feature Marie Clair and Ellie’s experience on the DreamBox Blog. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions by contacting me at

Andrea said...

Thanks for posting this, Blair. It's very helpful and I am going to star it on my google reader for future reference.
We are starting with MUS also, and after hearing about Teaching Textbooks, I'm very excited to do that once we get to that level. I am NOT a math person, and it looks great!
Anyway, thanks for a very thorough post that will be helpful to me, and others as well, I'm sure!

Anonymous said...

interesting. (I'm one of those just interested in homeschooling.. for practise we'll see when we have kids...)

Anyway big fan of latin here: you can try the singing approach with prayers such as salve regina, rorate caeli etc.

Congrats on your year of learning!! Your kids seem so fulfilled and balanced. Prayers for you and your family during this difficult time.. :)

Lillian said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful year, Blair! Say hi to everyone!

Anonymous said...

Oh Blair! I'm sooo glad you shared this with everyone. I was just looking at your blog the other day (before you posted this) trying to find the beginning of your school year. I distinctly remember you posting about what curriculum you'd pulled together and was so impressed last fall. I admire the effort and forethought you've always put into researching these educational topics/subjects. Thanks so much for posting this!

We're leaning towards Math U See for Kindergarden in the fall. That and Rightstart Mathematics (which my good friend used this past year in Kindergarden- has an abacus...way cool!)are the only two I've considered since they have a lot of hands on and my kiddos are very hands-on.

I get a little concerned about the boys and dyslexia as well considering it runs in my family also. But if we have to go through that, I'm sure God will give us the strength to endure.

Melissa said...

Wow Blair! What a great year of homeschooling you have had. I am sorry to hear about MC and her knee. I hope you have a wonderful summer!

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