Back to School Homeschool Style: Welcome to 4th Grade

I can handle that my oldest is now in 6th grade, and I’m cool with the fact that my 4th child is a kindergartener this year – I still have a toddler after all, so I can’t be that old. But for some reason, having my little girl in 4th grade seems so unreal! That little itty bitty baby girl wasn’t supposed to ever grow up. I don’t know why that weirds me out so much, but it just does. I think she thinks she’s ready for it, though! In her own words…

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She still loves dolls and stuffed animals and hasn’t discovered boys, so I’m at least safe on that front.

This sweet and fierce (yes, both) little girl gets to bypass guinea pig status, unlike her older brother, but that also means she never gets to do anything new. Everything she does, we’ve done before, for better or for worse. Still, her course load is fun and enjoyable.

She tells me now and again that she doesn’t like school – but what she means is she doesn’t like imperfection. The academia of school isn’t a problem for her. She routinely does really, really well in all of her subjects. She expects that of herself because she knows she can do it. But don’t you remember being a kid and having in mind some awesome craft, drawing, painting, project, or similar scheme? You had it all planned out, exactly how the finished product would look. And then, in trying to actually physically create your dream, it fell painfully short of what you had intended. You just couldn’t make it as perfect in real life as you could in your imagination.

Yeah, well, this girl doesn’t like it when that happens. And she gets frustrated.

And she’ll let you know.

Perhaps a byproduct of this, or more reasonably just another piece of her beautiful personality, is that she is painfully slow in getting her work done because, in her mind, she must create something perfect. I am very aware of how this may become (and sometimes already is) a huge obstacle. Remember, she isn’t exactly shy in expressing her frustration. On the other hand, this could also be a great strength. So I am constantly assuring her that her best quality work is what we are aiming for, not perfection. That is a fine goal, and on a micro level it is even achievable in some situations. But true perfection is only possible by admitting our weaknesses, by acknowledging our flaws and mistakes. Perfection – being whole – is found in our relationship with Christ. We shares with us His perfections in our humility.

And it usually takes a lifetime or more to fully understand what that even means.

We can work on that, too. But in the meantime, let’s not take hours on a math assignment, or days on a writing project. Or months on cleaning your room. Let’s just do it and try to get a little better each time.

I’ve gotten better at working more at her pace. And she’s gotten better at accepting who she is and where she is in her progression with things. And boy, when she is done with something – it is amazing! I’ll show you near the end of the post.

Here is her course load this year.

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Math

Saxon Math 6/5. Like all the children, she is one year ahead in math. The math system for these upper elementary years is really simple and I love it! She has a timed test fact sheet (that we never time – for reasons mentioned above ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and some mental math for warming up, all of which she can do on her own. Then she reads through the lesson, follows the examples, and works on the short lesson practice problems – usually between 5 and 10 problems a lesson. Finally, she works on the 25 to 30 cumulative mixed problems set, drawing on concepts taught from all previous lessons. Every five lessons she has a test. Every 10 lessons she has an “investigation,” which is a more hands-on or creative thinking math experience. All of this she can do on her own, but like always, if she needs help, I am there to walk her through a problem or clarify a confusing explanation. So far, the 5/4, the 6/5, and the 7/6 books are my very favorite Saxon books. (We skipped 8/7, but I assume it is much the same.) She does math 5 days a week.

Grammar

She’s moved up to First Language Lessons Level 4 from the Well-Trained Mind. This level is the last in WTM’s First Language Lesson series. The Series begins so basic – to the point that I feel like skipping book one wouldn’t be a problem in anyone’s language education – but by level 4 she will be diagramming some fairly complex sentences and have a much deeper understanding of grammar than I EVER had growing up. In fact, I didn’t even know much of the stuff she will learn in this book until I started homeschooling and teaching it myself. These books are written in the direct instruction style. There is a written out script for mom to read, and questions and exercises for the children to answer. It is straight forward, simple to use, and an excellent grammar curriculum. She does grammar 3 days a week.

Handwriting

We are sticking with Zaner-Bloser handwriting books. This was the handwriting workbooks that were recommended in first edition ofย The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home,ย which is the one I read. I’m sure the newer editions have updated handwriting curriculum lists. But frankly, although I care about how neat their handwriting is, I don’t actually want to use too many brain cells thinking about it. I’m assuming that handwriting just improves with conscientious practice. The other kids are at grade level with their handwriting, but because she is so conscientious in the quality of her work, she is still somewhere in the middle of last years book. So, we are just starting there. She also has the nicest handwriting of all the children. She does handwriting 3 days a week.

Writing and Rhetoric

The Writing and Rhetoric series I am always raving about is new to my 4th grader this year. She gets to start with Fable and Narrative I. So far (yes, it’s only been 2 days) she is really, really liking it. This sort of creative exploration with words is just up her ally. This is the girl who wrote an entire book – by herself – in kindergarten; “The Girl with Purple Hair and Green Skin.” It’s a nail-biter! She is my most natural and expressive rhetorician. I hope she ends up loving this series as much as I do. They just get better and better. She does Writing and Rhetoric 3 days a week.

Spelling

Oh, don’t remind me. Can’t spelling just magically happen? I think the biggest hang up here is my own bad attitude. I just really don’t want to do this. My 4th grader’s spelling is probably the best of all my children, but there is still a ways to go. (This also may be more of a commentary on my not knowing what level of spelling is appropriate for which ages. She may be right on target, but since there are still mistakes on easy words, I feel like we need to address those.) I bought the first 4 levels of All About Spelling and I think I will start her on level 2 and just move up quickly until we find the right placement for her. But if today is any indication, we may not work on this a whole lot. We finished school at noon today – all except her spelling that is. I just keep finding other things I need to do first!

You know, like blogging. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ideally, we would do spelling 2 or 3 times a week. We shall see.

Latin

This little miss is on her second year of Latin. She might say otherwise, but I think this is her least favorite subject. Latin is hard. She is using Latin for Children Primer B. I personally feel like Primer B is the easiest of all three of the Latin for Children books. Primer A has a TON of parsing and labeling. Primer C brings in the 4th and 5th declensions, which aren’t so bad until you start adding in matching/supposedly matching adjectives. But Primer B is just right. Challenging, but not overwhelming. She does Latin 5 days a week.

History

We are big Story of the World fans over here – in classical homeschool lingo, that would be SOTW. (That took me a while to figure out. I’m still learning all my homeschool acronyms – WTM, CAP, HOTW, WWE, EIW, LFC, LOM, OC, CC, OG, etc. – I don’t even know what some of those mean and I don’t care.) I love the narrative style of the “textbook.” There are entire workbooks and activity books that go along with the original book, but I’ve never bought them. We use the SOTW manual as our backbone, and then check out a bazillion related books at the library for the specific chapter or topic in history we are covering at the time. There are usually lots of really fun books full of stories, information, and projects out there for the more popular subjects – such as ancient Egypt, the Revolutionary War, and the the Samurai. But library resources are pretty limited on stuff like Byzantium, Charlemagne, and the Phoenicians. We just do our best. I really love history. It is by far my favorite subject to learn and teach. My 4th grader especially likes history because she likes it when we all sit around in the living room and the kids either draw quietly or just listen as I read to them. I like that part, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ We follow the 4 year rotation system and are on Medieval Times this year. History is 2 times a week.

Science

Earth and Space science. Honestly, I wasn’t excited about returning to this topic. You know, rocks and stuff. The weather cycle. Seen it. But instead of just following strictly to our book, Earth and Space Science from Real Science Odyssey (RSO), we are going to take as many field trips as we can. We live in Utah, for goodness sakes! This is like the geology capitol of the world! Ok, probably not, but there are numerous really fantastic geological sites we can explore and still be able to get home in time for dinner. I’m going to take advantage of this more. Also, we’ve just acquired a telescope, which will bring all those far away stars and planets just a little bit closer. I’m hoping to make this year’s science “class” more of a science “experience.” I still really, really like the RSO level 1 products. I don’t plan leaving those anytime soon. But I’m ready to stray a little more from the book, and supplement more with real life. (Wow, that is a funny thought – that life would just be a supplement. Maybe I’m focusing too much on the “school” part of homeschool, and less on the “the possibilities, the experiences, the learning, and knowledge are endless and unlimited” part of homeschool. There is always room from improvement.)

Music

This will be my 4th grader’s 3 year with Millennial Choirs and Orchestras (MCO). See, I am just expanding your mind with all these acronyms today. She started in the Children’s Choir when she began 2nd grade, even though she wasn’t really that interested in singing and didn’t really know what this all entailed. But she was good at music, and she isn’t afraid to speak or perform in front of people. We decided to give the choir and try and see if it was a good fit. Rehearsals were never her favorite – it is pretty disciplined and there isn’t a lot of time to just talk and make new friends – but boy, after that first big concert up in the big city, in that fancy concert hall, and under those bright lights singing with the force of a full orchestra behind you – there is no other experience like that! These kids routinely get standing ovations. But not the every-participant-gets-a-trophy kind of standing ovation. These children deserve every ovation they get. The most frequent comment you hear after an MCO concert is “Wow! I had NO idea!” And one of her favorite things about choir was it was just for her – none of her brothers were in it.

Until this year. Sorry, sweetheart. But I promise, we will still make it special. Choir rehearsals are once a week, with concerts at the end of each semester.

Plus, she has piano lessons, twice a month, and Symposium, our special form of classical music appreciation, every morning.

Entrepreneurship

As part of our homeschool experience, we have joined a distance education public charter school. Really, that just means I do a little reporting each week and we get some of our approved homeschool materials reimbursed. The school district gets to count our children as part of their student load and then the state gives them more money. As long as my parental rights aren’t infringed, I will stay with this system. It’s been great. But the other requirement is that my children each have a technology, engineering, or entrepreneurship class each year. This year, my 4th grader is continuing with, adapting and fine tuning her jewelry business. Like last year, our main “curriculum” will be Biz Kids episodes that we watch an Amazon Prime. She will have to adapt her budget, her business plans, her goals, her marketing strategies, and make any adjustments to prices if needed. This is the class we spend the least amount of time on. I’m willing to give it thirty minutes on a Friday afternoon, max. Obviously, there will be times we need to do a little more. It takes WAY more than 30 minutes for her to produce a quality piece of jewelry. (This is where that perfectionism is a strength! Look at the details she has the patience to create! Her creativity and demand for high quality really pay off in these kinds of endeavors.) We’ll see if we can expand her market and customer base, too.

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Extras

My 4th grader really loves art. She signs up for all the art clubs in our neighborhood 4H program that meets after school hours in the elementary school. This summer she took some art classes from a neighbor, and if I can find something like that again in my price range (so, you know, basically free) I will see if I can get her into those.

And sewing, too. Her second great love is sewing. You thought I was going to say her first love was art, but actually her first love is all her stuffed animals. (She’s so cute!) So when sewing instruction opportunities pop up, we usually jump on those, too.

She has done city league soccer in the past, but has decided she doesn’t really want to do that right now, which is a huge relief to me. Soccer season gets too busy! But I would like to get her into some sort of physical activity, even if it is just waking with mom in the mornings or riding her bike with dad on the weekends. We hike all summer long (Hike it Homeschoolers, ever heard of it? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) but I’m not crazy about winter hiking, or taking too much time away from book school to hike as much as I would had I nothing else to do all day long.

Furthermore, she is a member of Activity Day Girls. This is a group of girls from church who get together twice a month for fun activities, generally based on spiritual, educational, or physical goals. Her group has really, really fun activities! I know all about it, because I’m her leader! We’ve got swimming, caroling, a mother/daughter activity, and other really fun events scheduled for the next 4 months. It’s going to be fun.

There is another girl group I’ve heard of in my area where the girls get together to humanitarian projects. I think she would LOVE something like that. But, I don’t know. My plate (and hers) is already pretty full. I will keep that group in mind, though. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.

And that is about it. Fourth Grade. It’s going to be so good. I remember thinking I was so big and grown up in the fourth grade. I don’t want her to feel that way. I want her to feel just as she is – just like a 4th grader – just like a kid. Nothing more and nothing less than the wonderful person that she is.ย  Welcome to the 4th grade!

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