Thursday, August 16, 2012


Over the last two and a half years, our homeschool schedule has evolved to a pretty nice sweet spot.  We still tweak things here and there, but overall all, I would say we've settled in to a nice routine.

For a long time, I tried various ways to schedule our homeschool time and plan Bean's work.  The first idea that worked well was to come up with a standard school time and stick to it.  We start as close to 9 AM as we can and almost always finish by 11 AM.  This works nicely for both Bean and I since we're morning people and our brains are freshest after my second cup of coffee and before her lunchtime carb fix. We both also like the predictability and structure of having a set time for school.  I plan whatever I need to get done for the day in the afternoon, and Bean knows she has that time coming up to do whatever she wants.

As we added and subtracted things from the overall lesson plan each year, I struggled to figure out how much and what to do each day and to figure out how often to do each subject.  In order to avoid resolving this, I weighted each subject, from math to health, equally and had what I thought of as a scrolling schedule.  I listed the next assignment for each subject and we just went down the list, covering whatever seemed like the right amount in a day.  Gradually, it became clear that we could do about six things in a morning.

Soon after we officially started Fourth Grade last fall, I finally admitted that language arts and math should get top billing in the schedule and show up each day.  It helped that we finally settled on workable curricula for each of those subjects.  Once we had work we didn't mind looking at, it was a lot easier to commit to doing them every day.  We alternate language arts and math with other subjects, covering six things total every day.  I try to arrange the day with a nice rhythm, alternating tasks that require more writing or brain energy on Bean's part with those that are more passive.  I also try to make sure there's some variety: world history one day US history on another; music and art happen on different days as well.

Foreign language ended up anchoring every day until I realized that as often as not, we were too tired/hungry to do it when it came around and it was getting passed over in favor of lunch with a (usually unfilled) promise to do it in the afternoon.  Now, Bean starts her day with Rosetta Stone.  I used to specify which language she was to work on each day in attempt at keep her progress even, but often as not, all she wanted to do was Dutch. Or she wanted to do Arabic on the day I had planned to do French.  I reasoned that since foreign language was entirely optional at this age as far as the state was concerned, she could do whatever language she wanted each day as long as she was doing one.

My latest tweak is moving to what I think of as a modified block schedule.  Instead of assigning subjects to specific days, I gave each group of subjects a letter A through D (since Bean usually attends a homeschool class one morning a week, we only homeschool four days and this works out nicely with the amount of subjects we cover.) Until I read about the block schedule used by a local private school, we would do geography on Monday, art on Tuesday, etc.  If we missed a Monday for a sick or Dr. Yap homeday, we missed geography that week.  After a while this got confusing with my lesson planning and the lack of continuity was leading to a lack of enthusiasm for some things.  Now, we just start with the next letter day in the schedule.  For example, if we take Monday off for Labor Day (also known as an extra Mommy homeday in these parts) and Tuesday is an "A" day, we finish the week on a "C" day and start the next week on a "D" day.

So here's what our schedule will look like when we officially start Fifth grade in two weeks:

A Day

  • Rosetta Stone I record the chosen language after the fact.
  • Read aloud from Fifth Grade Literature list We're finishing up the Chronicles of Narnia and one of us cannot wait to finish that and start the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
  • Language Arts 1-2 pages from the Critical Thinking Co.'s Language Smarts D (This is technically a third grade book, but it's large and we're slow and it's totally appropriate for Bean.)
  • Geography Bean is finishing up a States workbook - it's taken us a year, but we've made it to South Carolina; then switching to topics from What Your Fifth Grader Should Know and Color Yourself Smart: Geography - I hate the title, but it really is a great series.
  • Math Topics vary throughout the year, but we mostly use the Key to...Series.
  • US History Westward expansion, the Civil and Reconstruction. Oh my.
B Day
  • Rosetta Stone
  • Read aloud
  • Language Arts
  • Literature topics We're starting with an introduction to Shakespeare (Midsummer Night's Dream) and then do some poetry.
  • Math
  • Latin This is Bean's request, but I think it's a great idea.  I don't consider Latin a foreign language, I think it's a great foundation for many things: building vocabulary, spelling, understanding medical and scientific terms, critical thinking.
C Day
  • Rosetta Stone
  • Read aloud
  • Language Arts
  • Science We'll do some reading in the physical and natural sciences, but this year I'm trying a lot of hands on kits, preferably those that do not require "common" household items that I never seem to have on hand.
  • Math
  • World History We're covering the rise of Western civilizations, starting with a peek at what happened in the millennia between Lucy walking out of Ethiopia and the pharaohs building giant monuments to themselves in the Nile Delta.  After that, we will run through Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, with as much of a side trip into Mesopotamia and Byzantium as I can muster, but these aren't the most resource-rich areas, in terms of curriculum.
D Day
  • Rosetta Stone
  • Read aloud
  • Language Arts
  • Study Skills A dreaded but important subject, since she isn't naturally building these over time in school and many of them don't come naturally to Bean. We're using the excitingly-titled Study Skills for Early School Success.
  • Math 
  • Music We're reading through the music theory and history in What Your Fifth Grader Should Know, listening to music and occasionally using Simply Music's piano instruction.  
One noticeable absence from this schedule is art.  I have come to the end of what I can teach or facilitate in terms of art theory and practice.  Bean continues to produce all manner of art on her own, and I will keep exposing her to art and art history, but I want to outsource art instruction.  I was hoping to start her in private or small-group lessons with a wonderful woman nearby, but that was before Bean decided to take three dance classes and a homeschool gymnastics class.  On the plus side, I never have to worry about PE. 

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