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I love the new year! Among other reasons, I look at it as an opportunity to review our homeschool lesson plans. I take a look at what works and what doesn’t, then make adjustments as necessary. While we do advance to a new grade every September (to coincide with public schools), we homeschool year-round, taking a week or two off here and there. These plans are for a fifth grader.
Because of this, taking the new year to make changes to our homeschool lesson plans makes sense for us. And it adds a bit of excitement. My son, CJ, and I are both looking forward to the slight changes! And I’m sure other homeschool mamas will agree, keeping things exciting is part of the battle!
We also make a slight change to our curriculum in the spring, after public school has been released. For our family, these three changes work well. Partly because of the excitement factor listed above and partly because my husband is a public school employee (yes, I know this is a bit of a dichotomy) and his job changes as the school year ends. We try to coincide and coordinate our school days with his work schedule. I am a full-time telecommuter. My schedule is a little wonky, but basically I’m “on-call” 55 hours a week; Monday through Friday. I also work on site a few times a year. Sometimes CJ will go with me, sometimes I go on my own.
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I’ll be the first to admit, my 5th-grade homeschool lesson plans set up to start in September were more ambitious than usual. And sadly, more ambitious than realistic. I usually start the plans by consulting a variety of articles detailing what the grade we are starting should learn. Here’s one article I used to put our original curriculum together. Then my husband, son, and I discuss what we think our focus should be on in the coming year, beyond the basics of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.
Many of the plans put in place in September were things that needed a lot of monitoring and checking. I had to set things up early in the day or the night before for CJ to complete. About two weeks in, I was regularly dropping the ball. My husband tried to help, but things were still not working out the way they should. So… we’ve made some changes before this mid-year change.
We’ve used CTC math since he was in kindergarten. The online program works well for us. The lessons are presented in a video format, then there are a series of questions to answer. Usually, he’ll need to use paper and pencil to complete the questions but sometimes they can be answered in the way the digital format is laid out.
Reading now consists of daily reading aloud, silent reading, and evening reading with my husband. Since our son was a baby, my husband has read to him almost every night. They recently finished most of the Little House books. Right now, they are reading the final book in the Treasure Hunters series. Sometimes they read books about hiking or local history. It’s a great tradition, and they both enjoy their reading time together.
Writing is a combination of copy work, book reports, essays, and short stories. We try to do handwriting. Putting pen (or pencil) to paper is not something he enjoys. While my husband and son read in the evening for enjoyment, during the day we’re reading to learn.
Most days, we start lessons by taking turns reading from Proverbs (coinciding with the day of the month) and then CJ picks out a verse to use for his copy work.
For our daytime reads, we focus on things with an educational component. These books often correspond with another subject. We might read poetry (one of my favorite books has always been Where the Sidewalk Ends; I’ve shared this book with all of my children and even bought a copy for my new granddaughter), or history (we’re enjoying the Captivating History series, more on this later in the post), or civics/government, and so on.
What We’re Keeping
We’re sticking with our current plans for math, reading, and writing. Besides for CTC math, we have several other curriculum from past years, which we’re keeping for now. Most of what we use is online, both for ease of convenience and because it works for our son.
Mystery Science and Super Charged Science are our main science courses. Both are membership programs. Our son loves Mystery Science. so that is a membership we keep current (they often offer free memberships so check that out here). Super Charged Science is very detailed and wonderful, but we found we weren’t using it as much, so we let that membership lapse. We received free bonus DVDs with the membership, which we’ll be using next. And there are often free webinars offered. You can learn more here.
We also have books, lots and lots of books. We have a large physical book library. This year, the solar system is one of our focus items, he loves this book.
Grammar and more
Kahn Academy: He’s taking classes on grammar, art history, extra math classes, and more. We’ll use this for videos on subjects we want to learn more about. Kahn Academy is free, but donations are welcome.
Confession time! I don’t do well with printables. Until recently, we lived off the grid and I was challenged to keep my printer connected to the internet, without keeping it plugged in all the time. Our solar system electricity was at a premium. At one time, I had a cord to connect the printer directly to my laptop, but it mysteriously went missing. So…printables are not my friend.
The Tuttle Twins weekly curriculum uses printables. I’ve never printed them. Here’s what we do. We view all of the documents (PDFs) on the computer. We read and discuss the lesson. Then we look over the printables. Most are coloring sheets or something similar. For the question and answer part of the printables, he writes the questions down in a notebook (handwriting/copy work!) then adds the answer.
We have daily silent reading as part of our homeschool lesson plans. During this time, CJ reads a set number of pages in his current book. Set number of pages became important for us. We tried “read for 20 minutes” but that didn’t work out. So a set number of pages keeps him on target.
Once or twice a week we also add in audiobooks. There are several articles that encourage audiobooks as part of a learning comprehension program. CJ likes to listen to a story while building with LEGO blocks, drawing, or doing something else. We’ve been using Tales2Go, which has a large catalog of books. I also have a collection of Shakespeare for Children from LibriVox, which we enjoy. LibriVox has public domain works and is definitely worth checking out. I have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited and there are many audiobooks available with my KU subscription. CJ loved listening to The Hobbit through KU audio (try KU for free at this link). I don’t have Audible, but that is also a good option for audiobooks.
Fun-Schooling With MineCraft
So, this is curriculum was what CJ most looked forward to at the beginning of 5th grade. The book, Fun-Schooling With MineCraft, arrived before we started our 5th-grade classes. He was anxious to dive in immediately. We waited until the official start of our 5th-grade homeschool lesson plans. We expected this to be our core piece. Honestly, it’s meh. He loved it the first couple of weeks, but it isn’t a great fit for us.
The book is designed to cover almost every subject (add your own math and they recommend a history program). Before beginning, we were instructed to choose our topics. He listed and drew pictures of eight things he wanted to learn about. Then we were to “go to the library or bookstore. Bring home a stack of at least eight interesting books about these topics. Choose some that have diagrams, instructions, and illustrations. Choose some books about science, history, and social studies related to the topics you want to study.”
We’ve had a challenging time covering the eight main topics. There isn’t clear guidance on when to go to which book. I’d love it to say, “Go to your topic number 3 for this lesson.” I think that would be very helpful. So we did incorporate that as part of our plan in order to cover all of the 8 topics.
There’s a lot of repetition (I stole the following from an Amazon review on the book, giving an example of the repetition. I added my own comments in the parentheses).
1. Watching a movie and drawing a scene (CJ would be happy to do this daily, and it comes up pretty often in the book. We pick out movies based on the 8 things he chose as topics)
2. Taking a nature walk and drawing a picture (I do like this one, a reason to go outside, and think it comes up about the right amount of times)
3. Reading a book and writing and drawing about it (when this comes up, we incorporate it into the daily silent reading time)
4. Copying a paragraph from a library book (when this comes up, we incorporate into our copy work)
5. Picking a country on the map and learning about it through the internet (CJ loves this one; he would spend all day on this and do nothing else if I’d let him)
6. Choosing some words for a book and practicing spelling (I like this one, CJ doesn’t)
None of these are a problem, and CJ liked doing them…especially the first few times. There are other things in the book, such as studies on rocks and minerals (I guess those are big in the Minecraft game) and some origami (which CJ already loved) plus coloring and drawing pages. We’ll continue to use this book, but it’s not the basis of our curriculum we were expecting it to be.
We belong to a local co-op group. Our group meets two times per month for activities. As often as my schedule allows, we go to these co-op days. We also join another nearby group for ski day twice per month starting the end of December through early March, schedule permitting.
What We’re Changing
So, my original homeschool lesson plans set up in the fall were way too ambitious. And in some ways, as I look over this list of changes, I wonder if we might again be biting off more than we can chew… But the big difference is the way we’re learning. So much of what we started at the beginning of the year required me to either set something up, or give hands-on assistance in some way. He didn’t like that, and I wasn’t keeping up.
CJ loves to draw. In the past, we’ve been fortunate to have Art as part of our co-op. Unfortunately, the Art teacher moved and we weren’t able to find a replacement. Once in a while, we’ll find a one-off Art class at a local establishment. But we want this to be a regular part of our homeschool lesson plans, so we added an online art class through Udemy.
This is a class on character drawing for cartoons, animation, and things. He also has the followup class on coloring and painting characters. We bought these courses a few months ago, during a sale my daughter found, but haven’t really delved into them. For a few more days, until January 9, Udemy has its huge New Years sale going on. Most of their courses are $9.99!
We also occasionally order a craft or art box. These are available as subscriptions, or one-time purchases, from a variety of retailers.
As a family, in September of 2018, we started taking Yongmudo. We also hike, ski, snowboard, etc. as a family. But we’ve not had an actual Physical Education program as part of our homeschool. So that’s a change we’re making.
Yongmudo is usually two times per week (Tuesday and Thursday), and we have homeschool ski day every other Friday. CJ is part of a ski club on Saturdays in January and, possibly, February. But what to do on the other days?
The nature walk from the Minecraft curriculum will be at least one day per week. Jen from Healthy Moving has a Parent-Child class we’ve done together a few times and enjoyed. I do Jen’s online classes one or two times per week anyway, so this is a regular part of my schedule already. I’ll just have CJ join me. We recently ordered him a mat, and he seems excited. I’m not sure we’ll ever have daily P.E., but I’m glad we’ll be increasing our movement.
History and Economics
While I consider this part of our homeschool curriculum, this is something we’re doing as a family. In the evenings, during the time we’d sit around and watch a movie, we’re taking history and economics courses through Liberty Classroom. We’ve only started the courses, but so far we’re enjoying them. The first class we chose to take is on Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of the things we are learning I already knew, but much of it is all new information.
Fair warning: These classes are advertised as not politically correct. They teach things not often taught in public schools. You may find the delivery (and especially the emails from the Tom Woods, the founder) to be very direct. I’m okay with this, you may not be. Reading over the main page will give you a good idea of what you can expect. You can also try out a few of the courses for free at this link.
Shortly before our Christmas break, I discovered the Captivating History series. These are an inexpensive addition to our Kindle library. I can’t remember how I found this series, but the collection for my Kindle started with a few freebies they sent me when I signed up for a newsletter. You can sign up here and see if their books work for you. Once on the mailing list, they send out a weekly newsletter with their sale book of the week. The books are easy to understand and well-written. I envision using these books as a starting point for in-depth studies.
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My son loves Japanese culture. I think it started when he was researching swords (he loves swords too) and blossomed from there. Last summer, he started teaching himself Japanese. He’s learned how to say and write a few words. Udemy has an entry to Japanese course he’s starting. We picked this up at part of the $9.99 special.
CJ has been teaching himself the piano with a tiny little keyboard his sister bought him. He loves music and has done an amazing job with learning from YouTube videos. Recently, a different sister loaned him a larger keyboard. He’s ready to learn more. Udemy and their $9.99 classes, again, to the rescue! We bought two different classes, Pianoforall: Incredible New Way to Learn Piano and Keyboard and Pianoforall-Classics by Ear.
Putting It All Together
Something new we started in September, which works very well for us, is a daily list. This is a simple handwritten assignment sheet out on a notepad. I keep a master list (in a word doc on my computer) of what needs to happen each day as part of our homeschool lesson plans. The master list is super simple. I list daily items — math, copy work, read aloud, etc. — then each day of the week has the focus studies for that day.
The list works well for keeping us on target to complete what is needed. It is also helpful for him to continue with his lessons if he gets stuck on something and I can’t help him at the moment. So, if he’s having trouble with math and can’t move past the lesson he’s on (CTC math requires a minimum score on the lesson to mark as complete), and I’m not available to help right then, he can put the match aside and move on to another subject. Then, later, we go back and work on the math together. It’s not ideal but it works for our needs.
When the daily list is completed, then we’ll listen to a story or he’ll have free time. Sometimes the daily list isn’t finished until late afternoon or, on rare occasions, we’ll need to go back and complete it in the evening.
I hope this glimpse into our homeschool lesson plans is helpful!