We’re just about done with our 1st semester here in Japan. It’s been a busy and successful one. Adding a 4 year old to the mix for pre-K is a bit chaotic. He wants enough work to feel included but not too much that it impedes his plans to play for the day. I’m excited about our new kitchen arrangement. We’ve put together a small desk arrangement in one corner of our kitchen (we live in a tiny townhouse) where the boys can do the majority of their supervised work, and I can mill about the kitchen or finish up with laundry in the down time. Before I had to be in Logan’s room with him on the 2nd floor and didn’t get much else done during that time. I can’t stress enough how much happier you will be if you integrate homeschool into your daily life. Don’t work your life around homeschool. The wonderful thing about homeschool is you can mold it to fit exactly where you need it.
Here’s a run-down of our curriculum we’ve been working through this year:
Math: Logan finished the 2nd half of Saxon Math 2 and has just begun Saxon Math 3. I’m still not entirely sold on the program but we had the Math 2 and Math 3 books given to us so we’re using them. I may also supplement with Life of Fred if I can get my hands on a few to preview before I purchase the series.
Language: I’m using the First Language Lessons Level 1 with a few homework worksheets I’ve found in workbooks or online to supplement the lessons that seem a bit sparse. I’m not sold on this lesson book, but I also have not been able to find a better replacement. He’s almost finished with the level 1 book so I’m on the lookout for another one to finish out the school year. I’ve also adjusted Story Starters for Logan’s writing ability. (He loves telling stories, but writing is a challenge for him.) We take 1 story each week. Logan reads the story starter to me. It’s usually a page that sets the scene and characters and stops right at or before the climax. Then we use the writing prompt to finish the story. By the end of the year we are hoping he will have written about 35 stories. A few times he’s wanted full control over writing a story without a story starter and I’ve let him take the reigns. Here’s how the week works:
Monday: Read the story starter and dictate the ending to Mom, who writes it down. (Here’s where Logan’s imagination starts running wild when he isn’t impeded by writing.)
Tuesday: Polishing: Reread and add any other details.
Wednesday: Copywork: Rewrite the story in journal.
Thursday: Finish copy work and Illustrate story.
Spelling: All About Spelling Levels 1 & 2. Love, love this program.
Vocabulary: We’ve just started using the Wordly Wise online program and I’m already a big fan of this program. Logan can for the most part complete the levels without too much help from me and they give him additional reading, and spelling practice without him even realizing it. By the way, if you aren’t a part of the Homeschool Buyers Coop group, make sure you sign up. You can find group buys on sites like this one that are normally priced for classrooms and bulk orders.
Science: Apologia Science Zoology 2. Logan picked the Swimming Creatures this year.
Handwriting: I don’t have much of a plan for this. I’ve pulled off some free copy work online that I plan to incorporate here and there, but with the story starter copy work and writing in the other subjects we’ll work on handwriting throughout the day.
Typing: We’re using Mickey’s Typing Adventure.
Spanish: With PCS orders back to the states in a few months, we’ve (I’ve) given up on Japanese. I’m so much more comfortable teaching Spanish. We have the Rosetta Stone Spanish program but I’m still not sure how this will work for a 1st grader. Spanish was taught to me in elementary school through building vocabulary words and then building those words into sentences and conjugating verbs. So I may go back to this method with him if I still feel he isn’t grasping the immersion method through Rosetta Stone.
Piano: Logan finished up Alfred’s Basic Piano Prep Course – Level A and has moved on to Level B. I love these lesson books and would highly recommend for those who want to teach their child the basics before moving on to a private tutor.
Art: We have wonderful Japanese art instructors here at our library and I try to get him into a few of those classes each month.
P.E. Our soccer season here extended into a weekly soccer clinic which we absolutely love. He has a wonderful instructor and mainly practices soccer drills. We don’t worry too much about P.E. Both of my boys are very active, always running and riding their bikes and we try to get them involved in group sports when we can. Family Time Fitness recently had a yearly subscription for $18 so I went ahead and bought it to try out. It’s a 5 day/week 60 minute child-play curriculum that you can use indoors and outdoors. I’m hoping to incorporate a few days a week into our schedule especially in the winter months when physical activity outdoors seems to be lacking. For B, I’ve enrolled him in a weekly gymnastics program as well.
Field Trips: I think field trips are my favorite kind of learning. So far this school year our field trips have involved learning what a relief image is by standing right in front of giant one and seeing the 1500-Arhat statues saved from the anti-Budhist movement. In October the boys learned the different stages a waterfall can take based on the weather and the seasons and how the Japanese used to make straw sandals to get themselves over the rocks and down to the water. They’ve seen beautiful Japanese plants and how they also change with the seasons. We went to the Kawagoe festival where we watched beautiful festival floats competing in a hayashi performance- traditional Japanese orchestra with flutes, drums, handbells and dancing. I learned that the Japanese festivals are a way to bring the whole community together in times that are good and merry as a preparation of sorts for emergency later. The communication is already planned out and practiced. In Osaka Logan saw many of the swimming creatures we’ve been learning about in science at the Osaka aquarium and learned about the “ring of fire”. Seeing the Osaka castle he learned about different protection measures a castle can provide during an attack and although he’s probably a bit young to understand, he’s starting to grasp different periods of time and the cultural differences and challenges that existed. We’ve visited the Imperial Palace in Kyoto where he was introduced to rank and social class. He’s starting to learn that the world has many religions and we’re all learning about the Buddhist and Shinto religions by visiting the many shrines and temples here. He’s seen a traditional tea ceremony and gone on a hike following a map through wetlands and forests, around waterfalls and rivers. We’ve learned how a roof is thatched and why the steeper roofs keep heavy snowfall off of it so it doesn’t cave in. We’ve learned how an entire community relies on each other to get themselves through the winter.
In Hakone he has learned about hot springs and that eggs boiled in the hot springs will turn black from the iron and sulphur. While in Hawaii the boys had subtle introduction to WWII watching a film at Pearl Harbor with a trip out to the USS Arizona. We loved the Bishop Museum on Oahu where we had a lava demonstration and watched a scientist heat volcanic rocks up to 900 degrees and pour it out. Logan learned the differences between volcanic rocks and how many of them are formed. At the planetarium we all had an introduction to celestial navigation and helped the instructor guide us from Hawaii to Tahiti using only the stars.
We try and use field trips as an introduction to the thirst for learning. The biggest gift I can give to my children is the desire to be lifelong learners and that happens away from the textbooks and the classrooms. Yes, they are young and they probably won’t remember the majority of what is taught, but even when we’re reading a book about volcanoes I can say “remember when we saw them heat up the rock and pour it out? Remember what it looked like? Remember how slowly it poured out and how quickly it cooled?”
Before summer started I pulled my 4 year old out of preschool. We had some major behavioral issues going on and I felt like he needed to be home with us. And that was the best decision I could have made for us. But now he’s with me every day, all day, and he isn’t too happy that I spend so much one-on-one time with Logan getting through his school day. I’ve started noticing a few things with B though that I hadn’t before. His brain doesn’t seem to process things the same way as his brother’s at that age. We had spent the better part of a year trying to learn his alphabet and he still hadn’t made any real progress. So after having his eyes checked and being reassured that everything was fine, I started researching different types of learners and I’m pretty sure B is a right-brained learner. I took a chance and invested in these SnapWords alphabet and sight words cards and after just a few sessions with him he’s able to tell me each letter of the alphabet and has learned about 15 sight words. Complete turnaround from him not being able to recognize the majority of the alphabet letters. I see lots of researching ahead in my future trying to figure out how a very left brained teacher can switch gears to teach a right brained student for Kindergarten. B has also restarted the Reading Eggs program. Logan learned to read using this program and I had started B on it earlier in the year thinking he would learn his letters but he just wasn’t ready for it. They need to be able to recognize letters before starting on the program since it moves into sight words so fast. Now that he knows all the letters and most of the sounds they make, he’s excelling in the program and is eager to work through his lessons without me having to ask if he wants to. He’s only 4 though so we mainly do a lot of reading and exploring and sometimes he has enough attention to soak up his big brother’s lessons.
This is our 2nd year to homeschooling and I still feel very new to it, but we’re finally feeling “in the groove”. My advice to anyone just starting out is to start slow. Homeschooling is a very fluid process. Get your core subjects in and start adding as you feel comfortable. We found we consistently had more time in our day so we started adding typing, Spanish and a vocabulary program this year.
Wishing everyone a blessed New Year and happy 2nd semester!