Back to School Homeschool Style: Welcome to 6th Grade

I used to be afraid of getting past the elementary years. I figured there were a lot of elementary school subjects that I just couldn’t mess up so my kids would most likely be just fine. But middle school? Isn’t that when school gets hard?

Thankfully I realized that fear was unfounded. I couldn’t have asked for a better student, better curriculum, or a better all around situation. I am now in my 6th year of  homeschooling, and this boy has been my patient guinea pig through it all. It wasn’t wrong for me to be afraid, nervous, uncertain, and very careful – that helped get me to where we are today. And I really like this place! But now that I am here, it is also really nice to look back and see that the fear was unnecessary.

Now, if I can just recreate this feeling as I get closer to homeschooling high school kids! I’m honestly quite a bit nervous for how that is all going to play out.

Here is my 6th grade breakdown of curriculum and extra curriculars. Just remember, on paper/screen, this is probably going to look impossible and overwhelming. But we don’t do things in big chunks over here. We just do them bit by bit. And we aren’t afraid to adapt and adjust if necessary. We don’t do every assignment the books tell us to (well, mostly we cut out science labs here and there), and we take plenty of time off for in-the-field learning experiences (as in we are going on a 9 day vacation in something like three weeks. “School” doesn’t hold us down from learning and doing all the fun things we want to do. We just turn our learning and fun experiences into our “school.”

OK, let’s see if I can get through all of this – and all the stuff I can’t take a picture of!

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Math

Saxon Algebra 1/2. It took me a long time to figure out which math book my son was supposed to advance to after Saxon 7/6. The two options were 8/7 or Algebra 1/2. Both are pre-Algebra courses. In the end, we went with Algebra 1/2 because his math skills are pretty solid and he is ready to move a little further, a little faster. Math is done every  day, one lesson a day. Each lesson has, well, the lesson (duh), lesson practice problems, and then a mixed practice assignment cumulative of all the previous lessons. There is a test after every 4th lesson, meaning he will take a test every single week. If he gets 100% on his math tests, then during the week he can just do the odd problems on his mixed practice assignments. He can do his math all by himself, but I am there to help him if he needs it.

Grammar

We are starting Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind from our good friends at The Well-Trained Mind. We did all their elementary grammar books, but last year their intermediary books weren’t published yet so we switched over to The Good and The Beautiful Language Arts Curriculum. Although both good and beautiful, it was certainly not what I was looking for. Thankfully, this new set came out so I snatched it up. There is a teacher’s manual/textbook that gets used for 4 years. Each year you go through and teach the exact same lessons. However, the student workbook has different practice problems for each year – so you buy one teacher’s manual, and then either the purple, red, blue, or yellow workbooks. (I don’t actually know all the colors. Right now only the purple books are out, so that is what we bought.) I like this company because their grammar books are rigorous, thorough, well organized, and simple to use. I have no doubt we will really like this series. Grammar will be 4 days a week.

Handwriting

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting level 6. Meh. It’s fine. Two days a week.

Writing and Rhetoric

My 6th grader is on levels 5 and 6 this year – “Refutation and Confirmation” and “Commonplace.” This series doesn’t disappoint. I have absolutely no idea how to teach writing. Well, that’s not completely true. But if I had no resources to help me, we would undoubtedly run into a multitude of gaps and then roadblocks. I feel like this series has it all. Plus, I love the classical approach, the quality reading pieces in the books, the grammar support it gives without being just repeating our grammar books, and the focus on elocution and presentation. This is high quality stuff, yet fun and interesting for kids. Did you see his most recent creative writing piece? (just scroll to the very bottom of the post.) There is no way he could have done that without W&R. Writing and Rhetoric will be 4 days a week.

Spelling

Ugh. The only thing I am not looking forward to. We are in need of intervention here. I purchased the first 4 levels of All About Spelling (mostly used) and I’m just going to start at the beginning and move him up as quickly as I can until I find the right level for him. I know many people are pretty bad at spelling, but how bad is really bad? Some people take the stance that if your child reads enough, the spelling will just naturally come. That is actually how it kind of worked for me, and now spell check just takes care of the rest. Viola! It’s totally magic. But this kid reads A TON and I don’t see any improvement in his spelling. I have this fear that one day someone will noticed he can’t spell very well and blame it on his being homeschooled. That would make me mad. Thus, the quest to find a spelling program that works. Spelling will probably end up being 2 days a week.

Latin

We’re sticking with Classical Academic Press on this one, too, but the 6th grader has graduated up to Latin Alive 1. When I checked online, it looked like students who had completed all three levels of Latin for Children would probably be fine starting with Latin Alive 2, but both my son and I thought it best to start with level 1 and solidify what he has first. Latin is not his best or favorite subject. Latin is 5 days a week.

History

Back again to the folks at Well-Trained Mind, the 6th grader is moving up a huge step from “Story of the World,” which is the elementary history collection, to “History of the World” which is meant for high schoolers. I would like to know why nobody over at WTM thought there was a need for a middle school level history curriculum. He has a super fat book to read (I’ve read the first unit, it is fascinating!) Each chapter has four assignment sections. The first is a short answer section of about 15 major players, events, objects from the chapter that need to be defined. Page and paragraph number are provided for the student to reference if needed. It’s an open book thing. The second section is almost identical to the first but looks for comprehension instead of just definition.  The third section focuses on critical thinking and provides a few longer essay questions. And the fourth section includes map copy work related to the geography of the chapter. The daunting part of all of this is that there are 85 chapters!! If we wanted to get through it all in one school year, that means we’ve got to cover 2 chapters a week. That is A LOT of work for a 6th grader. So at this point, I am planning on reading ahead and dropping chapters I don’t think are necessary, then assigning 8 or 9 short answer questions OR the map work for each chapter, and only assigning a longer essay question at the end of the unit. I’m thinking I’ll let him pick the chapter that was most interesting to him in the unit. And if the units are extraordinarily long (the first was only 6 chapters long) than we might just do an essay question after every 10 chapters or something. But like I said, we will just see how this goes.

Science

I’ve left RSO science for Real Science 4 Kids. The RSO was fabulous, but it was just way too much and I felt it was too expensive to buy such a big curriculum and then choose to not do half of it! Real Science 4 Kids seems nearly as in depth, but each semester is only 10 chapters! There isn’t too much extra to take up all his time, while still being enough to stay interested and learn from. We are doing Geology and Astronomy – 10 weeks of each. A lot of our science this year will be field trips. I’m excited for this! With such a hefty history load, it will be nice to go a little lighter on the book work for science.

Music

My husband convinced me to sign the older boys up for Millennial Choir and Orchestra. I had been resisting this for a while since my 6th grader really doesn’t actually like to sing – and as he accurately points out, singing is pretty much what choir is all about! But the quality of youth in this organization is unmatched. He will be running with an excellent crowd. Plus, the opportunity to be a part of something BIG and powerful is one I think every person should experience. So, now he’s got choir as well. It’s just once a week with enormous and breathtaking concerts at the end of each semester. Seriously, concert time is crazy intense, but worth it. Piano lessons will continue – but those are just two times a month, although he is required to practice about 30 minutes, 5 days a week.  Oh yes, and symposium. We do a quick classical music appreciation type deal every morning where we listen to a piece I have chosen for the kids. We stay on the same pieces for 2 weeks. It only takes about 15 minutes every morning and all of us love it! Our first song – starting tomorrow when school starts officially over here is Saint-Saens’ Samson et Delila: Bacchanale. That should be fun!

Technology

I almost forgot! This is my son’s favorite subject already! (I let him start during the summer.) I bought 3 courses from Codakid.com for him. He is learning to write Java in the first two courses and some other computer language in the third. Although screen time and computer games are kind of my least favorite thing in the world (I know, there are worse things out there) he just eats this stuff up. I figure if he lets me subject him to Latin, choir, and piano, I can at least let him do what he loves once a week on Friday afternoons. (Ok, he can do it more than once a week.) We don’t even own any computer games! He learned a version of coding via Scratch.com through a 4H club two years ago. I don’t love it. But he loves it. And I love him. He deserves this – especially since he has so graciously accepted his enrollment into choir, which is probably his least favorite thing in the world.

Extras

My 6th grader also is doing soccer, just through the city rec league. That only takes up about 5 weeks in the fall and 5 in the spring. The neighborhood elementary school here (they don’t actually have a middle school, just junior highs so I suppose all my neighbors will still figure he is an elementary school aged kid) has a fabulous 4H program with a wide variety of club offerings. Last year he did underwater robotics, but we’ll see what he wants to do this year (I’m kind of hoping he does the robotics again.) And my husband likes to take him out on long distance cycling rides a few times a month. Although I do wish I could go too, this is probably one of my favorite things that my husband and son get to do together. It is so good for their relationship.

And then there is Boy Scouts. We have just entered a new realm of scouting. This is going to take up a lot of time – but if I can manage it, we will make it through with our heads still on. On his list of to-do merit badges he’s got Weather, Geology, Astronomy, Cycling, Reading, Hiking, Kayaking, Signs, Athletics, and maybe even another couple I haven’t heard about yet. He’s been studying his scout book and merit badge book the last couple nights before going to bed.

Oh boy, kid. Well, I’m happy to support you in that.

Welcome to 6th grade! It’s going to be great!

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